16 Feb 2018

Number of NZ schools with guns unknown

7:55 pm on 16 February 2018

A number of schools own guns which are used by students but no one is sure exactly how many schools or where they are.

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Photo: 123RF

Attempts to create a register were abandoned in July last year when it was pointed out it could provide a 'shopping list' for criminals.

But while the Ministry of Education could not give an overall number of how many schools keep firearms.

New Zealand Secondary Principals' Council Chair James Morris, said the level of interest varies from student to student.

"For some students it will just be part of their life in their rural community on the farms. For some students they're involved in it as a sport and we've had some a number of students who have been very successful with their shooting, just like being involved with any other sport," he said.

Last year the Health and Sector Reference Group decided against making a list of schools which use the guns for sport and gun safety training, because it could fall into the wrong hands.

Firearm Safety Specialists' Nicole McKee, was part of that group and said it made the right decision.

"We do have licensed legal owners that are burgled and once you have a public list of where firearms are being kept unfortunately the criminal element may be able to obtain that list and schools will be broken into," she said.

The group has been criticised for having 18 members representing firearm owners.

Marie Russell from Otago University's department of public health was unhappy about the make up of the 48 members.

"From the research we've been doing it seems as though firearms organisations have had ready access to Prime Ministers, Ministers and MPs, that they are well organised in that lobbying and they've had the ear of government in this case over the Ministry of Education," she said.

Public health authorities should also have been included, she said.

"This makes it very challenging for e the regional public health authorities, who want to go to schools where firearms are used to talk about lead for example, which is a health risk for children," she said.

But Ms McKee defended the position of firearm owners in the group.

"Firearm owners are vocal and they need to be vocal in order to obtain what they have and move forward with any changes.

I just think we have a loud voice and we're entitled to have that," she said.

The group is also helping the Ministry to create safety guidelines for keeping guns in schools.

There are no current instructions, although schools must comply with firearm legislation by keeping guns disabled, locked in a safe and only using them under the supervision of those with a license.

A Ministry spokeswoman said while it does not support unsupervised access of firearms, it acknowledges there may be legitimate circumstances where they are used as part of education or sporting activities.

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