How effective were the Government's gun law changes and buyback scheme?

Violent firearms-related offences have been increasing in recent years, but the Government's gun law changes in the wake of March 15 have made a difference, according to police. 

Six days after the Christchurch terror attack in 2019, the Government announced a ban on all military style semi-automatics (MSSA) and assault rifles, as well as related parts used to convert guns into MSSAs and all high-capacity magazines.

A buyback scheme at a cost of more than $100 million followed, along with harsher penalties for possessing a gun without a licence and a promise to establish a firearms register from June 2023 though it will not be fully implemented until 2028. 

There are growing concerns about the effectiveness of the reforms, with a 49 percent increase in injuries recorded as a result of firearms crime in Auckland, and rising gang numbers.

At the time of the gun buyback, Mongrel Mob leader Sonny Fatu said his members and associates would not hand in the illegal firearms they possessed.

However, Fatupaito later said in October that year that members were advised to hand in their weapons if they were of the military style. He said he further advised members that any non-compliance was on their own shoulders if they were found to be in breach of the new legislation.

"I think the major shortcoming of the gun buyback scheme is that it's failed to get illegal firearms out of New Zealand and away from gangs and gangs don't voluntarily give up their firearms," said National leader Christopher Luxon. 

"Each day there's serious firearm crime and it's up at record highs. It's never been this high for over a decade. And so there's a real need for us to fundamentally say, how do we get hold of those illegal guns and get them off gangs and therefore lower gun crime in New Zealand?"

Police records show that nationally, violent firearms-related offences have been increasing in recent years, from 901 in 2018 to 1142 in 2019, 1143 in 2020, and 1324 in 2021. 

The number of firearms licences revoked has also been going up, from 507 in 2019 to 788 in 2020 and 1161 in 2021. 

The number of reported stolen firearms has been going down, from 821 in 2019 to 551 in 2020 and 490 in 2021, though there are reports of guns being imported into New Zealand

Did the buyback work?

In an official response to a request from Newshub for evidence that the 2019 and 2020 firearms law reforms helped to reduce gun violence in New Zealand, Superintendent Mike McIlraith pointed to the two buyback schemes. 

In the first buyback in 2020, Sup Int McIlraith said more than 60,000 firearms and more than 200,000 firearms parts were surrendered to police, while 2800 firearms were modified. 

In the second buyback in 2021 to recover a smaller group of firearms prohibited after the second tranche of law reforms, more than 1000 firearms, 240 pistol carbine conversion kits and 2400 accessories were handed in. 

"The number of high-risk firearms previously lawfully held in New Zealand has been reduced, the importation into New Zealand of semi-automatics and the semi-automatic parts used to convert semi-automatic into military style semi-automatic firearms has been dramatically reduced, and the importation of and access to large capacity magazines stopped," Sup Int McIlraith said. 

"Turning off the supply into New Zealand has reduced the potential for harm. The number of firearms held unlawfully remains unknown.

"Once the arms register is in place from June 2023 and fully implemented by June 2028, the opportunity for diversion of firearms from the legal to the illegal market will be reduced. The combination of these initiatives will reduce the supply of those who seek access to firearms for criminal purposes."

A statutory review of implementation of the changes introduced through the Arms Legislation Act is required to be commenced in 2026. 

"In preparation for that review, a number of performance indicators are being developed to measure the progress towards meeting the safe use and control of firearms in New Zealand," Sup Int McIlraith said. 

In addition, Police Minister Poto Williams has asked her Arms Advisory Group to contribute to the development of performance measures.

Williams has often pointed to Operation Tauwhiro, a long-term and nationally coordinated police operation that as of March 1 had resulted in 1531 firearms and 53.74 kg of methamphetamine seized, and 1255 arrests. The operation was extended until June. 

And police numbers across the country have increased under Labour. The Government last week graduated its 3000th police officer since 2017. The Government is on track to reach a net gain of 1800 police officers on the beat by June 2023.

Williams has also dismissed the police's National Gang List as a reflection of gang growth, because it's an "intelligence tool" that was "never designed to be an accurate statistical count of gang membership in New Zealand" and it doesn't account for gang members who quit.