Locked and loaded
There are an estimated total number of 1.32m guns held by civilians in New Zealand and 250,000 licenced fire arm owners.
Richard Munt, owner of Auckland based gun store Serious Shooters says the rules and regulations surrounding the sale of guns are decided by the wrong people, and the current system makes business tough.
“It is difficult for us when the goal posts keep moving. Police keep on inventing new rules that they have no legal basis around. They keep coming up with their own idea about how to interpret it when those things are really meant to be set by parliament.”
The Arms Act (1983) was created by Parliament but is regulated and monitored by the New Zealand Police. The act has gone through several changes since its enactment and is now administered by the police in conjunction with the Arms Order (1984) and the Arms Regulations (1992).
Munt says the perceived threat of guns is worse than the reality. By example, he notes that during game season in early May this year, every single gun incident received media attention.
“There is no increase in problems or issues relating back to firearms… None whatsoever. We sell more guns then we ever have, there is more firearms dealers around now then there has been for a while.”
Munt says the price of guns dropped drastically in 1986 when the GST of 10 percent on regulated items replaced sales tax. Now, with two hikes of GST, tax responsibilities are eating into Serious Shooters’ margins.
“On some of our more expensive guns the government actually makes more money on them then we do, some of the margins on firearms are below 15 percent. So we’ll pay for a gun, and the GST on it will be the same as my margin, if not more.”
There are no laws specifically around the sale of firearms in New Zealand that differ from normal trading rules. Munt says if firearms retailers stick to the general rules of advertising they can trade freely.
The process for obtaining a consumer firearms license is long, complicated and expensive. In other words, it’s designed to weed out people the law deems unsuitable to possess a firearm. Even more caution is applied to those seeking to trade in firearms.
“In relation to firearms, dealers’ licences must be renewed annually,” says a New Zealand police spokesperson. “We audit the licence holder and their circumstances as well as the dealer’s firearms stocks and sales.”
Munt says that in his experience, it’s better to place gun restrictions upon the people using the firearms, rather than the supplier.
“Guns needs to be restricted to the people that have shown appropriate skills. Guns are safer than a bow and arrow, more humane than a bow and arrow, yet there are more regulations surrounding their sale.
Our Arms Act has gone through almost 22 different amendments since its creation, but according to a spokesperson for the New Zealand police, another amendment is on the cards.
“We consider that we have a robust firearms licensing regime. But this will be further assisted by the government’s intention to progress the recommendations contained in the April 2017 Law and Order Report.”
The Law and Order report’s main aim is to create tighter rules around the sale of guns to high-risk offenders, and to amend the Arms Act to clearly state that a gang member or prospect must not hold a firearms licence.
“The legal framework for firearms possession and use in New Zealand is built on the concept that firearms ownership is a privilege not a right, and that access is appropriately regulated by the government,” says a spokesperson for the police.
The police say that New Zealand’s low rate of firearms-related crime (around 1.4 percent of violent crime) suggests that, in general the Arms Act is effective in helping limit criminal access to guns.
Munt feels that the suggested amendments are driven by perceptions that the threat of gun violence is more urgent than it really is. While these amendments will hinder his trading, he doesn’t believe they will have an effect on firearms-related crime.
“People are going to die as time goes by, there is no way around it. They just keep changing the laws surrounding them.”