Spokesperson, Council of Licenced Firearm Owners (COLFO)
The new normal: 100,000 banned guns retained by the public
Speech at Parliament
20 December 2019
Today is the last day of a rushed process and failed process: the national collection of a vast range of newly prohibited firearms from those who legally purchased them, with the licences they earned after intensive vetting.
The collection of newly prohibited firearms from people who owned them for their sport, their job, their investment - not to kill other people.
From tomorrow many good people will be made criminals by this Government’s arrogance.
Tomorrow our society will have 100,000 firearms in the grey and black markets directly because of this government’s action.
The Council has researched and ascertained from importers, distributors and New Zealand Customs data that there were 170,000 newly prohibited firearms in our legally owned possession. The Government will boast a success of bringing in 50,000 firearms off the streets via their collection events.
These firearms were not on the streets; they were legally stored in their Police inspected and approved secure environments.
With over 100,000 prohibited firearms still not handed in, 50,000 is not a number to boast about. We don’t know if they will still be legally secured from tomorrow. This is a failure that should never have occurred.
What happened in March was horrific and as a country we mourned the loss of innocence, of lives and peace as we knew it. But the almost immediate ban on a wide range of firearms did not bring us together - it drove a wedge through parts of New Zealand’s society.
The rushed legislation was followed by rushed policy, implementation, regulations and mountains of errors. Legal firearms owners became the new outlaws justifying their legitimacy, while the real outlaws continued with their crimes.
Throughout this process we have not been consulted with, spoken to or asked to sit around any table.
The firearms community successfully worked with Governments and Police to enhance our firearms laws and ultimately the safety of kiwis. Our involvement in previous firearm law resulted in nearly four decades of world renowned legislation. We are ranked number two in the Global Peace Index. We did that together, as a community.
Prior to March, our repeated advice to restrict the ownership of large capacity magazines was ignored. And now look now at where we are; law abiding licenced owners have been blamed for the tragic losses suffered on March 15th.
We would like to thank the media for helping to tell our side of the story to kiwis so that they can see the unreasonable manner and mistreatment of some families that we all likely live next door to.
What has been affected?
It’s important to recognise that a very large array of Bolt action, lever action, pump action rifles along with semi-automatics were banned in April 2019. Those are deer hunting, pig hunting and duck shooter firearms.
We were given a list of banned firearms in July, then again in August and September with another update in October.
Items that were not banned at the start and not handed in were then later banned at the end of October. Accessories were still being banned in December.
How were firearm owners expected to understand and keep up to date with these constantly unnotified, changing, goal posts.
I stand here, telling you that there are over 100,000 prohibited firearms that will not be handed in today. From our engagement with the community here’s why they are being retained:
People are hiding their firearms. If they are doing this, they are intentionally breaking the law. They are likely to remove the firearms from their secure storage facility to hide them. They are stepping outside their fit and proper status. They may eventually enter those firearms into the grey or black markets.
Why would they hide them? Because the compensation is not fair, it’s not reasonable or it’s not even available for the firearms, parts or ammunition they own. These are items legally purchased with the approval of Police. People are angry at the treatment they have received, what their families have received when they did nothing wrong.
People are protecting history. Over the last few months we have watched firearms and accessories of historical significance being destroyed. A large number are not even semi-automatics. On the list for destruction are some very old bolt and lever action rifles that you cannot get ammunition for anymore.
Some of these items are sought after by collectors around the world, but this Government has banned their exportation. Some people have looked after these pieces of history for decades. Once gone they can never be replaced. We know some owners will refuse to hand them in for destruction. Some of these firearms were hidden after significant wars and maybe the hiding will happen again in the hope that a new Government will recognise the historical significance of these heirlooms. These are not items that would be used in any mass shootings, and some of them cannot be used at all – but their history matters.
Owners were told that they would be granted a collector’s licence if they had items that fit their current collections. Some of these pieces were not restricted weapons, some of the owners did not have a current collector’s licence to add their pieces too. Many of the owners do not trust the process, the system or the Police to keep their heirlooms safeguarded from destruction.
People just don’t know their obligations. The public don’t appreciate the breadth of the ban. They think it is just military-style firearms. The infux of calls, emails and messages from concerned owners about whether their firearms are legal or not reached their highpoint with the COLFO Board this week.
Advertising campaigns were about compliance and the threat of jail time, not about the types of firearms affected. There are some astute and computer savvy firearms owners out there who have kept up to date with the changes and help educate others. But there are also many owners who have not looked deeply at it because they don’t imagine their firearm is banned.
There are reports of the Police 0800 number giving inconsistent advice and reports of people hanging up after not getting through. Local Police at times were not aware of some of the changes, turning people away who were trying to hand in prohibited items.
Could this have been handled differently with a better outcome?
Yes and it should have been. But when the warning signs of approaching disaster were showing and the Government should have acted but they didn’t.
What did we see from Police?
- From July to October the Police changed the list of prohibited firearms and parts 4 times, added a list prohibiting ammunition and another list prohibiting magazines. They should have extended the amnesty and compensation programmes by six months from the last changes they made and educated owners about the newly prohibited items.
- They implied that a devastating mistake in allowing access to the locations of prohibited firearms was okay because only one person accessed it. Yet they closed down and did not restart that notification system. They should have extended the amnesty and compensation programmes by six months while they worked through their IT issues with their overseas provider. They should have offered assurances to licensed owners instead of chasing someone to blame for their own incompetency. No-one can trust a full registration system when the newly implemented one failed them so badly. If registration is introduced in the Arms Act we expect fear will drive non-compliance.
- They proposed adding photos of licensed firearm owners along with prisoners and sex offenders with their new facial recognition technology database for CCTV. We have been highly vetted, our families and friends interviewed, our homes inspected - but this proposal says they think we are no better than criminals and sex offenders.
- Police are still not able to provide accurate guidance on parts that are not specifically listed in the regulations – if they sought advice from the community they would have had a better understanding of the prohibited parts implications.
- Police put pressure on an elderly firearms owner to relinquish non-banned firearms.
- Police have claimed that their policy will trump the law where required.
What failings did we see from Government?
- Despite our good record of working constructively with Government and Police for mutually beneficial outcomes over 26 years, this Government decided to not engage with COLFO.
- The Minister denigrated COLFO and its 40,000+ members, calling us names. We represent the largest registered shooting organisations in this country, ordinary hobbyists, hunters, workers, and people who have won medals at Olympic, Commonwealth and World championships.
- The Government did not introduce a public education/information campaign about the types of firearms affected and instead doubled down on rhetoric that the changes were about MSSAs and semi-automatic shotguns.
- The Minister has overseen the militarisation of our Police force.
- They’ve stuck to a political deadline of 20 December unlike Australia who had it open for a year.
- They rushed into Parliament an Arms Bill full of errors and unintended consequences.
- They gave Police power to ban other firearms at whim
- And most importantly, the Government refused to wait the findings and recommendations of the Royal Commission Inquiry.
There is no confidence in Police to administer the Arms Act
- There are errors in the current registration system.
- There are security and trust issues of the data and the providers of the system.
- The community is being targeted and demonised by Police hierarchy.
- It is quite rational for LFOs not to engage with Police and their processes when they’ve been treated this way.
COLFO has a large membership and have attempted to provide a balanced voice for our members. We have constantly had our finger on the pulse of the multiple changes in legislation over such a short time frame.
- We offered our expertise to Police and Government.
- We have encouraged LFOs to comply with the law
- We are seeking a review of the Government’s decision not to provide compensation for ammunition.
- Provided advice on how our members and supporters should interact with their MPs to voice their concerns about the changes and process
- Sought clarification from Police about the ammunition amnesty extension and communicated this to the firearms community.
- Got the Prime Minister and Minister of Police to U-turn on their statement that permanent residents would not be able to lawfully own firearms in NZ
- Had Police correct and clarify wording errors in legislation that would have banned shotgun cartridges.
- Exposed a Police data breach.
- Has been neither fair nor reasonable
- No compensation offered for ammunition, consumables, and many affected parts
- Offering less than market value by Police’s own price list
- Government has kept the costs down because they are not paying for everything, they are confiscating instead legally purchased items.
COLFO believes this can be handled differently right now with a better outcome
- Extend the compensation and amnesty period until June 2020.
Take the Australian’s advice and offer fair and reasonable compensation for all affected firearms, their parts, accessories and consumables.
- Offer compensation for the newly banned ammunition
- Purchase the items from the owners who legally purchased them in the first place.
- Install an education/information campaign to notify owners about what items are now prohibited and move away from the rhetoric that its only about MSSAs.
- Await the RCI and the learnings gained from it.
- Start uniting this country that has been so badly torn apart not by the actions of a sector of our society but from the actions of one foreign terrorist.
This new normal that we will face tomorrow is flawed and encourages our society to divide. That should not be the legacy of any Government for its people.