New gun laws explained, but Government gets critical detail wrong

The Government has admitted to Newshub that it was wrong to say gun licences would only be granted to New Zealand citizens

As part of the second round of gun reforms, visitors to New Zealand will no longer be able to buy guns. 

When Newshub asked the Prime Minister which of the proposed changes could have stopped the Christchurch terror attack, she pointed specifically to that one. 



"We've made changes around people visiting from overseas and their ability to purchase firearms," she said.

But the accused gunman, Brenton Tarrant, wasn't a visitor - he had lived in New Zealand since 2017 and held a New Zealand firearms licence. 

When asked to clarify whether permanent residents from Australia would be able to buy guns, Jacinda Ardern said her understanding was that they would not. 

"He was an Australian visiting, my understanding is that this provision would have meant that he would not have been able to purchase weapons here."

And Police Minister Stuart Nash took it further, when asked to clarify if people needed to hold New Zealand citizenship to gain a firearms licence - he replied: "Yes". 

But that is not the case, the Government later clarified. 

The proposed changes will only mean that those on visitor visas who've been in New Zealand for less than 12 months will not be permitted to buy firearms. 

"Visitors to New Zealand, such as those on hunting trips, may be issued a short-term firearms licence but will not be able to buy a gun. They may bring their own and register it, or lease one." 

But the alleged gunman may have been stopped under another proposed change - the proposed surveillance of gun owners' social media activity.

Gun licences are only granted if the applicant passes a 'fit and proper person' test. New under the proposed changes, police could take action if a gun owner encourages or promotes violence, hate or extremism, or shows signs of serious mental ill health or attempts suicide, under the proposed legislation.

They could also intervene if a gun owner poses a risk to national security, has a protection order against them, or commits a crime involving violence, alcohol or drugs.

"I think people would expect that the police would be able to consider some of the issues that we are now putting into legislation, but at the moment, that's not what the police are able to do," Ardern said.

Police will have new powers to act on gun owners they suspect of being unfit to hold a licence.

Those interventions range from issuing a notice to improve behaviour, through to a temporary suspension of licence, temporary confiscation of weapons, or revoking licences entirely.

"What we think this will do is make the regime a lot safer," Nash said. "We've given for example medical professionals will have a responsibility to report if they think one of their patients may have fallen out of the fit and proper person (test)."

Nash made the announcement on Monday alongside Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. She said she believes New Zealanders will agree that the proposed changes are fair.

"If someone is very openly espousing violent views, talking about, for instance, wanting to kill others, I think rightly New Zealanders would say that's grounds to say they're not a fit and proper person."

It's the second set of gun law changes - after banning military-style semi-automatic weapons and assault rifles - following the Christchurch terror attack on 15 March.

It will now be enshrined in law that owning a gun in New Zealand is a "privilege".

How the gun register will work

The changes also include the introduction of a gun register. 

"We do not know exactly how many guns are in circulation, who owns them, who is selling them, who is buying them or how securely they are stored against the risk of theft or misuse. The firearms register will address this," Police Minister Stuart Nash said. 

The Government expects the register to be somewhat similar to the NZTA register of motor vehicles. 

It will hold the licence holder's name, date of birth, address, licence number and any endorsements.

Details of all firearms will also be stored, including serial numbers, how and where the gun is stored. Some details of parts and ammunition will be collected and held on the register too.

When guns are traded, the register must be updated whether that trade is a transfer, sale, purchase, import or export.  

The register is expected to be up and running by the end of next year but, as previously reported by Newshub, gun owners will not have to register immediately - they'll gradually move on over about five years either when their licence comes up for renewal or when they buy or sell a gun. 

Changes to licences and penalties

Nash pointed out how there are higher penalties for unlawfully taking fish than for some firearms offences. It's also more expensive to get a licence for a dog than a gun.

Gun licences currently cost $126.50 and last 10 years. 

"If you compare that to something like dog registration, that's $264," the Prime Minister explained. 

The Government indicated the price will likely rise and new licences will only last five years. Five-year licences will only begin being rolled out next year so all licences issued between now and 31 December 2019 will last 10 years.

The Government gave no indication on the new cost of licences, they did give somewhat of a hint. 

"With most of our licencing systems we tend to cost recover for the amount that it costs to administer the regime," Ardern said.

It currently costs Police more than $13 million a year to administer the Arms Act, they only recover $4.1m through licencing. 

"So the taxpayer at this point in time is subsidising the regime to the tune of about $8.9 million," Nash explained. "And fees haven't increased, apart from increases in GST, since I understand the 1980's."

When Newshub pushed for clarification that this could mean a tripling of fees to cost recover the shortfall of $8.9m, Nash wouldn't commit. 

"Well, no, this will go out for consultation. The cost of a licence is not part of the second tranche of changes."

A licence will be required to purchase magazines, parts and ammunition.

There will also be a new licensing system for gun clubs - the approximately 260 rifle ranges and gun clubs in New Zealand currently have no licensing requirements or forced Police oversight. Under the proposed changes there'll be a licensing system introduced for the operator, owner or manager of a club as well as rules for members and inspections. 

Dealers will also face stricter licencing rules, including a demonstration of "excellent character" and knowledge of firearms law. 

"A dealer will have to meet a high test of being fit and proper, and demonstrate

excellent character and sound technical capability," Nash said. 

Harsher penalties for firearms offences are being finalised by Police and Justice officials.