Following the amendments to the Arms Act 1983 (“the Act”) that came into force on 11 April 2019, a second tranche of proposed changes, the Arms Legislation Bill (“the Bill”), is currently under review by the Select Committee. This next step in the reform of the Act looks to establish a firearms registry and amend licensing requirements with the intention of reinforcing positive behaviour that is required of firearms owners.
Not much is currently known about the firearms in New Zealand in respect of how many there are (legally), who has them, who is buying and selling, and how secure the firearms are. The Bill proposes to create a firearms registry that would store this information about firearms and link them to licence holders. Information about licence holders, their weapons, and ammunition would be stored on the registry. This would allow every legally held firearm in New Zealand to be monitored.
The licensing regime would be strengthened with the Bill aiming to tighten the current rules for both individuals and dealers. The licence period would be shortened to five years from the current ten-year period, with potential increases to the fees as well. Licence requirements would also be extended to cover parts, magazines, and ammunition.
A new system for warning flags is proposed in the Bill to give the police more tools to vet people and allow them to intervene if concerns are raised about a licence holder. This system would capture behaviour such as encouraging or promoting violence, hatred or extremism, serious mental health or substance abuse issues, having close associations with gangs or organised crime, and being convicted of certain offences. The aim here is to filter out high risk people that are deemed an unfit and improper person to hold a firearms licence.
Shooting clubs and ranges would also have a licensing regime introduced by the Bill. There are currently no licensing requirements for clubs and ranges in New Zealand. Clubs will also be required to have rules in place in regards to the safe operation of firearms. Ranges will be required to meet safety standards.
The recent amendment to the Act saw increases in penalties relating to firearms offences. This Bill will see further increases in penalties and also introduce new offences. An example of the degree of change that is proposed under the Bill is the penalty for being found guilty of selling or supplying firearms to an unlicensed person. Currently, a person found guilty of this is liable for up to three months imprisonment or a $1,000 fine. This would be increased to up to two years imprisonment or a $20,000 fine.
The Bill looks to re-state the purpose of the Act to put an emphasis on owning a gun being a privilege not a right, and people with that privilege have a responsibility to act in the best interests of public and personal safety.