Government officially establishes gun register, ACT vows to repeal it if elected

The Government has finally launched the gun registry it promised in the wake of the Christchurch shooting.

It officially took effect on Saturday, requiring firearms licence holders to update as they buy and sell guns. Using a new online system, gun owners have up to five years to register their firearms.

The $208 million registry was one of the recommendations from the Royal Commission of Inquiry into the Christchurch mosque attacks in 2019.

"Until now, there has been no complete picture of where all the lawfully held firearms in our community are and no visibility of how firearms are moving around the community - when people are buying, selling or passing firearms on to other people," Police Minister Ginny Andersen said in a statement.

"That changes from now. As licence holders fill in the new Firearms Registry, it will give a much clearer picture and this transparency will help stop firearms being transferred into criminal hands.

"This is an important milestone for our country and for our firearms community."

Earlier changes to New Zealand's gun laws after the Christchurch terror attack, during which 51 Muslim worshippers died when Australian Brenton Tarrant opened fire in two of the city's mosques, included a ban on military-style semi-automatics and assault rifles.

The Labour/NZ First Coalition had almost-unanimous backing in Parliament in 2019 when it passed that law, except for the ACT Party - which also opposed the gun registry and vowed to repeal it if elected to Government in October.  

"This is not a good use of taxpayer money. Overseas experience has shown that full registration of firearms doesn't work," ACT Firearms spokesperson Nicole McKee said in a statement on Saturday. 

McKee. Photo credit: AM

"This is the result of the Arms Legislation Act that was rushed through Parliament in June 2020 by Labour and NZ First. ACT was the only party in Parliament to stand up for firearms owners and vote against the Bill then, and we will continue to stand up for firearms owners now.

"Registration will not keep our communities safer. It's a money pit that Labour is hell-bent on pouring hundreds of millions of dollars into."

But Police Commissioner Andrew Coster said the register would make it harder for gangs and criminals to get their hands on guns.

The registry would give the police a clearer picture of where licensed guns were and when they were changing hands, he said.

Andrew Coster and Police Minister Ginny Andersen.
Andrew Coster and Police Minister Ginny Andersen. Photo credit: New Zealand Parliament

Coster said it would allow police to better trace guns that might be used to commit crimes.

"The Registry gives us a new and powerful tool to disrupt the diversion of firearms. It fits alongside the work of police investigations that go after gangs and criminals directly. 

"It's part of intelligence gathering and making it hard for criminals to have firearms in the first place."

The registry would also have a direct impact on the safety of frontline police officers, he said.