Guest Post: Can Police be trusted to administer the Arms Act?

A guest post by Grant F, Board Member of the Council of Licensed Firearms Owners:

The Arms Act 1983 controls the ownership of firearms and some types of airguns in New Zealand. It is a world leading piece of legislation as it focuses on the firearms user as opposed to the firearm itself. Essentially, to legally possess a firearm a person must be “fit and proper”, have appropriate security, and have attended a training course. Firearms that are considered requiring extra control are stored to higher levels of security and are registered, and may have an additional requirement such as a pistol owner must be a member of a bona fide pistol club. This system has worked very well for many years and must be considered a success. Despite the very high firearms ownership rate in New Zealand the rate of misuse of firearms is low. Sporting rifles and shotguns do not need to be registered as this is demonstrably costly and ineffective- with Canada having abandoned their long gun registry due to unprecedented cost blow outs which ate into the budget.

Until recently, the relationship between firearms groups and the Police has been harmonious. In the past few years, however, this relationship has begun to fray quite badly (as was shown by a North Island Gun Club halting the Police from using their range) and a number of legal challenges through the Court system. Firearms owners are reporting to COLFO ( The Council of Licensed Firearms Owners) an increasing number of worrying issues with the Police administration of the Arms Act.

Just this week firearms users spotted a serious problem with the Arms Code 2017. The Arms Code is the primary safety handbook for safe firearms usage.  The online version contained a number of errors and when this was pointed out to Police it was swiftly taken down. Police advised in a statement that this was only an IT error and regretted. It was then pointed out that a printed hard copy with the same errors was also available at Police stations and then the thousands that have been printed were withdrawn. The cost to the taxpayer of withdrawing this is unknown but must run into the thousands of dollars.

DPF: These errors were not an accident. They were the Police asserting the law as being what they thought it should be, rather than what it was. There are parallels to their activism on alcohol issues where they are trying to impose their view of what the law should be on license holders.

Firearms licences are renewed every ten years. COLFO is aware that people have applied for a renewal of a licence and this process can take up to 9 months. This means that a person is no longer licenced and cannot legally possess firearms that they could the day before. Dealers are reporting serious business flow on effects for the failure of police to action requests for import permits for stock for their businesses. When security is inspected license holders are reporting unlawful requests by Arms Officers regarding justifications for firearms and ammunition lawfully held, which are not in the Act or regulations.

Unfortunately, these are not one offs. COLFO is aware of:

  • Inconsistent interpretation of the Arms Act across districts and individuals,
  • Police publically stating that they were using licence photographs for purposes which they were not taken for (this was stopped after a threatened reference to the privacy commissioner);
  • Poor investment, accountability and transparency on administration of Arms Act, record keeping, funding, actual manning versus paper manning of positions;
  • No regular oversight or audit of performance;
  • Long list of underfunding that has now resulted in issues for operation, however the blame has been placed on the door of compliant firearm owners;
  • Low priority on administration of Arms Act due to operational conflicts;
  • Political positioning within Police to use marginal services as a lever for careers;
  • Disingenuous engagement with the community;
  • Sloth in renewing arms licences (up to 9 months reportedly);
  • Revisions to storage requirements for all categories of licence holders; and
  • Changes in Arms Code without legal backing of Act or Regulations.

The position has now been reached that the many shooters do not believe the Police can administer the Arms Act, and that this is now rapidly becoming a political issue for many shooters. Many law abiding shooters feel that they are “low hanging fruit” and are being made accountable for the actions of the criminals who won’t bother with a  firearms licence anyway. New Zealand First has positioned itself as being very pro-lawful firearms users and it remains to see what this will mean in terms of votes. If social media is anything to go by, they may well have just snagged many tens of thousands on this one issue.

The job of the Police is to enforce the laws passed by Parliament, not to enforce their view of what the law should be.

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