Monday, March 4, 2024

McKee takes aim at firearms legislation

Neal Wallace
Survey highlights dissatisfaction with police and registry system.
Reading Time: 3 minutes

A survey of licensed firearm owners showing rock-bottom confidence in the police and the new Firearms Safety Authority is a matter of concern for the minister overseeing firearm reform.

Associate Minister of Justice Nicole McKee attributes that loss of trust to owners ceasing engaging with police and officials following the far-reaching and unpopular reforms introduced by the previous government.

The Council for Licensed Firearm Owners (COLFO) annual survey asked owners how much confidence they have in the police’s ability to administer the Arms Act (1983), using a scale of 1-10, one being little to no confidence, and 10 being very confident.

Asked the degree of trust in the police to “fairly balance the promotion of possession and use of firearms with the need to impose controls on unlawful activity”, respondents returned a score just 1.3 out of 10.

McKee said firearm owners and shooting ranges raised concerns about the behaviour of Christchurch Mosque shooter Brenton Tarrant, which went unheeded, but subsequent changes to firearm regulations were considered excessive.

“Firearm owners are sick of being blamed for something they didn’t do.

“They feel as if their private property rights have been taken away and that they are being treated no better than gang members.

“I want us to get back to where we had some respect and arms legislation that will keep the public safe.”

Six security data breaches since 2019 in which the names and addresses of firearm owners have been stolen have also eroded trust.

“It’s become a real concern for the safety of individuals and their families.

“Licensed firearm owners feel they are becoming a target not just by the previous government, but also gangs.” 

McKee is promising a review of the 1983 Arms Act during this term of Parliament to simplify regulations and increase public safety so firearms don’t fall into the hands of criminals, saying constant tinkering has made it unwieldy.

She is also considering introducing a three-tier licensing system: standard; restricted, for those yet to meet standards or need extra administration for a minor violation; and enhanced, providing special conditions for roles such as pest control.

McKee said regulatory changes must reflect that for groups such as farmers, firearms are a tool and not just a hobby.

One of her first actions will be seeking to replace the section of the Arms Act that heightened regulations that shooting clubs and ranges must operate under, and which COLFO said has caused 10 to close in recent months.

Shooting ranges and clubs were required to become incorporated societies, which means the names and addresses of volunteer office holders are published on the Companies Office website.

These obligations have public safety implications, she said.

McKee intends by June to initiate a review of the firearms registry to see if it is working as intended and to address concerns it is difficult to navigate.

She is also seeking advice on transferring responsibility for policy and regulation of the Arms Act to the Ministry of Justice and the role of the Firearms Safety Authority, which administers the Act, to the Department of Internal Affairs.

The COLFO survey also revealed low confidence in the police administering the Arms Act without showing personal bias, with a score of 1.6 out of 10, down from 2.1 in 2022 and 2021.

Confidence in the turnaround time for licensing scored two out of 10, only slightly up from the 2022 score of 1.9, which came at a time of 12-month waits for licence renewals.

Confidence in the Firearms Safety Authority is also close to rock bottom at just 1.9 out of 10.

COLFO spokesperson Hugh Devereux-Mack said the survey shows the relationship between police and licensed firearm owners is deteriorating.

“Our survey shows that 100,000 firearms on the [firearms] registry is only evidence of compliance, not confidence in the police or system.”

Devereux-Mack said repairing licensed firearm owner’s trust and confidence in the system should be top of mind for the new government.

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