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Gun law reforms: Government to set up firearms register

A selection of firearms which are now prohibited. Photo: RNZ / Ana Tovey.

The government is to establish a firearms register and make major changes to the licensing regime, in the second phase of gun law reforms.

In the aftermath of the 15 March shootings, the government made certain weapons illegal and set up a buy-back scheme.

A second piece of legislation will now set up a national register, which is expected to take about five years to capture the estimated 250,000 licence holders in New Zealand.

Gun owners will be required to sign up to the register when they get a licence, get one renewed, or when they buy or sell firearms.

If a licence holder is not on the register after five years, they will have to proactively sign up.

The register will be similar to the one for motor vehicles and will hold the licence holder's full name, date of birth and address, details of their licence number and any endorsements, as well as details about the firearm including its serial number and how it's stored.

The register will be an "online self-service model" but a paper-based option will be available for those without easy access to a computer.

The legislation will also require licences to be renewed every five years - at the moment it's ten.

Owners will also have to go through a more stringent application process: showing knowledge about the safe use of firearms and their legal obligations, behaving in a way that "ensures personal and public safety". A licence will also be required to buy magazines, parts and ammunition.

Anyone convicted of crimes in the previous decade such as violence, gang activity, misuse of drugs, firearms offences or with a Protection Order made against them will be disqualified from holding a licence.

A new 'warning flag' system will be introduced allowing police to intervene and seek further information about an applicant or existing licence holder in certain circumstances including encouraging or promoting violence, hatred or extremism, serious mental ill-health or attempted suicide, showing disregard for others' property or land, posing a risk to national security, being subject to a Protection Order, being involved in drug abuse or committing crimes involving violence or alcohol.

Visitors to New Zealand, such as those on hunting trips, won't be able to buy a gun here - they may get a short term firearms licence but will have to bring their own weapon and register it, or lease one.

The licensing regime for dealers will also be tightened; they will have to "meet a high test of being fit and proper, and demonstrate excellent character and sound technical capability", including "sound knowledge of their own legal obligations and the ability to communicate firearms law to other licence holders; scrupulous financial dealings and record-keeping systems; and the ability to prove business partners and close associates are also fit and proper persons".

The definition of "dealer" will also be broadened to anyone who "buys, sells, manufactures, repairs, invests in or otherwise carries out commercial transactions involving firearms".

The new bill will also impose a licensing regime on approximately 260 shooting clubs and ranges, which are currently unregulated. There will be a licensing system for the operator, owner or manager, a requirement for members to follow club rules, training programmes and an inspection regime.

The legislation will also make clear in its purpose statement that owning a firearm is a "privilege", not a right, that carries with it an expectation of a high standard of conduct.

An independent advisory group of up to nine people will be appointed to make recommendations and advise the Commissioner of Police on "matters of public interest" around firearms - that will include people from within and outside the firearms community.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said penalties would increase under the new law, however those details won't be made public until the Bill is introduced to Parliament in the next month or so.

The March terror attack highlighted the flaws in the current system, she said.

"Our gun laws date from 1983 and are dangerously out of date.

"Since then, the firearms manufacturing industry and the ability to buy and sell online has markedly changed.

"Successive governments have known since the Thorp review of 1997 that our gun laws were too weak. Further attempts to change the system in 2005 and 2016 both failed."

The government will release a discussion document about how fees should be levied, saying at the moment it costs police more than $13 million a year to administer firearms licensing but they only receive $4m in fees.

This article was first published on Radio NZ.