Letter to MP's: COLFO's observations on recent shootings in the United States of America

Dear members,

Happy New Year.

The Council of Licensed Firearm Owners (COLFO) is writing to share our opinion issues raised by recent shootings in the United States of America (USA) and a call for registration of all firearms in New Zealand (NZ) in the press in December.

As you may remember we updated you in March 2012 pointing out both Canada and Australia, were questioning the effectiveness and accuracy of their registration programs, and that Canada have removed the requirement to register all firearms due to the cost not matching a benefit to public safety.

In that email we commented on the quoting of parts of Judge Thorpe’s - “Review of firearms control in New Zealand: Report of an independent inquiry commissioned by the Minister of Police”. (1997) Wellington: GP Print. ISBN 0-477-01796-7, in the media without the qualifying statements and we have found this occurred again late last year in the call for registration. Judge Thorpe’s qualifying statement was - “If this new system is to succeed it will be essential that an adequate level of compliance is achieved and 90 percent should be the minimum target.” The experience 0of both Australia and Canada has found this is not achievable.

While the Council is not qualified to provide a solution to the complex social and cultural issues the USA faces we have observed the events with concern. We find it difficult to support some of the statements made by pro-firearm groups in the USA, however we are aware some of the statements are supported by actual events such as a shooting in a San Antonio theatre on the 17th December 2012.

The USA has a complex problem to resolve, which we do not envy. We thought it is better to highlight, to you, the differences between USA and NZ firearms laws to illustrate why the same problems do not exist in our country.

In NZ a firearm owner is required to be licensed, this is not the case for every state in the USA. While NZ require a firearm owner to prove they are a “fit and proper person” the USA has legislated ownership as a right.

To own an “assault weapon” in the USA a potential buyer must not be on the prohibited person register with the FBI. In NZ if a firearm owner is interested in owning a restricted firearm they must undergo more in-depth vetting, including a private interview by police of the applicant’s spouse, which is not the case in the USA.

In NZ you are required to produce your firearms license when you purchase a firearm or ammunition, again not the case in the USA.

Some US states license firearm owners to carry concealed loaded firearms, this is not the case in NZ, where it is illegal to transport a loaded firearm. In NZ you are only allowed to transport a firearm to and from a range, place of sale or repair, police station, place of display and your home. In addition it is illegal to leave any firearm unattended in a vehicle. For NZ pistol shooters the requirement for transporting a pistol is - it has to be unloaded, including any magazines and transported in locked box separately to ammunition.

It is illegal to store a firearm in a loaded condition in NZ, this not the case in every state of the USA. In NZ depending on the type of firearm there are different levels of security that have to be complied with at all times.

In NZ there is registration of all restricted firearms, these are physically checked by police annually or bi-annually depending on the type of firearm and its use. NZ has registered military style semi-automatic firearms (MSSA) since 1993 and in December 2012 Parliament passed changes to the definition of this type of firearm. MSSA in NZ are subject to the higher level of security required for storage. Some states in the USA require higher levels of security and access for types of firearm; however most do not in relation to MSSA.

In the USA citizens have the right to keep and bear arms in self defence; whereas NZ does not recognise self defence as a lawful purpose to own a firearm. NZ does recognise sporting interests such as hunting or competition shooting, collecting, pest control and theatrical purposes.

One of the biggest issues the USA has to contend with that states vary in their laws in relation firearm ownership and use, and this adds an extra dimension to their issues as there are no border controls between states. NZ has one set of laws across the whole country making it easier to administer and enforce.

It is interesting to note, according to police records from May 2010, there are around 230,000 licensed firearm owners in NZ. This means around 5% of NZ population is licensed to own firearms, only 0.007% of the population is endorsed to own restricted firearms, including museum curators, and only 0.0011% of the population is endorsed to own and have access to an MSSA. The number of civilians who been vetted to have access to restricted firearms is less than the number of personnel in either the Police or Armed forces.

NZ’s history of firearms legislation has shown that by controlling who has access to firearms and how they are secured it is possible to have firearms used in the community and still have one of the safest societies in the world. While no system is ever perfect NZ has managed to maintain cost effective control on firearms.

If you or your advisers require more information on firearms legislation and use, please feel free to contact us.

All the best for the New Year

Michael Dowling