Part 5: Realising the benefits of the firearms buy-back and amnesty scheme

Implementing the firearms buy-back and amnesty scheme.

In this Part, we describe the work the Police need to do to complete the scheme. We also provide some recommendations for the Police to consider as they prepare for future approaches to firearms regulation.

The Police still have work to do

Although the period when firearms owners could get compensation for handing in their newly prohibited firearms, magazines, and parts ended on 20 December 2019, the Police have yet to complete several aspects of the scheme. These include:

  • Endorsements so that certain people can continue to use newly prohibited firearms under certain conditions. As at 13 February 2020, there were 1022 applications for endorsement pending. The Police have prioritised applications from people who most rely on an endorsement for their livelihood, such as professional pest controllers.
  • Compensation for stock held by dealers. As at 13 February 2020, the process to collect, destroy, and compensate dealers for stock of prohibited firearms, magazines, and parts was not fully completed, and some stock had not yet been collected or compensated for. Out of 517 claims, 144 were still in the process of being assessed.
  • Modifications to firearms so that they comply with the new regulatory requirements. As at 13 February 2020, 1208 applications for modification were still to be completed.
  • Processing applications of unique prohibited items. As at 13 February 2020, there were 77 applications pending.

It is important that the Police complete these outstanding aspects of the scheme soon, particularly applications for an endorsement to hold and use prohibited firearms, magazines, and parts.

When the Police complete these aspects of the scheme, they should be able to provide an accurate figure of the total number of firearms, magazines, and parts that have been collected and destroyed, have been modified, or are now owned and used by licensed firearms owners with an endorsement. It will also be possible to identify the total cost of the scheme, including administrative costs.

In our view, the Police should continue to report publicly on the performance of the scheme until this remaining work is completed and report to Parliament about the final outcomes of the scheme.

The Police should build on their engagement with firearms owners and licensed firearms dealers

Through the scheme, the Police had a high level of engagement with firearms owners, gun clubs, collectors, and dealers. In our view, the Police should take the opportunity to build on this engagement to continue to strengthen relationships and foster trust and confidence in how the current and future regulatory framework is implemented.

Recommendation 1
We recommend that the New Zealand Police build on their engagement with firearms owners and licensed firearms dealers gained during the firearms buy-back and amnesty scheme to further strengthen relationships and build trust and confidence in how the current and future firearms regulatory framework is implemented.

The Police should continue to improve their information

Having good information is important for effective regulation. As discussed in Part 3, the Police did not have accurate information about the different types and numbers of firearms in the community under the previous regulatory regime. The Police state that this was largely because previous firearms regulation was focused on licensing users, rather than regulating most firearms types.

The Police had information on the number of firearms covered by an E endorsement because owning these types of firearms required a special endorsement, and a record was kept. However, there were issues with the certainty of the information about these firearms – the number that the Police reported that they knew about varied at different times from 13,175 to 15,037.

Some people with E endorsements on their firearms licence told us that the Police had inaccurate records of what they owned. Some people also told us that the Police approached them to hand in prohibited firearms that they had already handed in.

The Police kept the record of firearms covered by an E endorsement on their National Intelligence Application, which was not integrated with the SAP system used for the scheme. Rather than focusing on reconciling information from the two systems, the Police prioritised contacting every person with an E endorsement on their firearms licence to make sure that they had enough opportunity to comply with the scheme and were fully aware of the consequences of not complying.

In our view, the Police should ensure that newly endorsed licences are recorded and maintained more accurately than the previous records of firearms covered by an E endorsement.

Recommendation 2
We recommend that the New Zealand Police improve the information they use to support their regulatory responsibilities for firearms and firearms owners, and their management of that information.

The Police have gathered a lot of data during the scheme. They now need to consider how they can realise benefits from this data, particularly in designing their approach to implementing future regulatory frameworks and approaches. It is important that those future regulatory frameworks and approaches take into account manufacturing technologies that could complicate the managing the availability of firearms in New Zealand.

The Police should evaluate the firearms buy-back and amnesty scheme's effectiveness in improving public safety

The purpose of the scheme was to improve public safety by reducing the availability of firearms that can cause harm in a rapid and highly destructive way from a distance. The extent to which this will have been achieved will become apparent over time.

The Police might also inform this work by using information collected through their Gun Safe work. This is an initiative to centrally record incidents where firearms are encountered during normal police work. Over time, it might be possible to observe the effect of the scheme using the Gun Safe information (for example, whether there is a reduction in the use of firearms, or changes in the types of firearms presented at the Police and used for criminal purposes).

Recommendation 3
We recommend that the New Zealand Police design and implement a framework to evaluate the extent to which changes to firearms regulation have made New Zealand safer, including taking steps to find out what level of compliance with the scheme has been achieved, and publicly report the findings of future evaluations to ensure that Parliament and the public have trust and confidence in their administration of firearms legislation.