23 Nov 2018

Regions with the highest rates of gun-related deaths revealed

11:37 am on 23 November 2018

Hawke's Bay and Gisborne residents are among the most likely to be killed by a gun in New Zealand.

Gisborne town centre

Gisborne residents are among the most likely to be killed by a gun in New Zealand, figures show. Photo: RNZ / Rebekah Parsons-King

Police's Eastern district has the highest rate of murder or manslaughter involving a gun, figures released by police show.

Despite that, Americans are still 22 times more likely to be shot and killed in the United States than someone in the Eastern district.

Data obtained through the Official Information Act by RNZ reveals 10 years of gun crime data, from 2008 until 2017.

It looks at all instances of crime involving a firearm, the injuries caused during those incidents, and the number of murders or manslaughters.

Most importantly, it looks into the rates of gun crime compared with the estimated population of each region.

The Eastern region has the highest rates of gun deaths, while Northland has the highest rates of offences and injuries involving a gun.

At the other end of the spectrum is Auckland City, which has the lowest rate of gun offences and death. Wellington is where someone will be least likely to be injured in an incident involving a gun.

While figures might suggest gun crime was low in the country, New Zealand Police Association president Chris Cahill said gun crime was severely under-reported by police officers.

One survey conducted by the police showed frontline staff dealt with 86 gun incidents in a period of 79 days, and only five of them were officially reported, Mr Cahill said.

"We would accept that the murders and manslaughter figures, and possibly the injury figures, are probably correct," he said.

"But the wider figures we'd say would be well short.

"Even by themselves, 3100 offences a year, that's eight, or more than eight offences a day, which we would say is serious enough in itself."

Police Superintendent Chris Scahill acknowledged that police would always like the numbers to be even lower.

However, he said perspective was needed when looking at the figures.

"We need to just keep in context that gun crime, including serious crime with a firearm, is still very, very, very low for our population, and in comparison to our total crime."

Of the 76 murders or manslaughters involving guns between 2008 and 2017, 10 occurred in the country's third smallest policing region by population.

People living in the Eastern region had a one in 200,000 chance of being killed by a firearm each year.

Mr Scahill said that did not mean the region was dangerous.

"It's a little bit like comparing apples with oranges," Mr Scahill said.

"You can get a district, a high rural community with a lot of farmers, and hence per capita, potentially a higher rate of gun ownership, and then your hunting, fishing, shooting, legitimate activities that can happen in a district like that."

Mr Scahill said the same for Northland, the country's least populated police region, which had higher rates of gun related crime than any other region.

They also had more injuries from those incidents, and had a spate of six deaths in 32 months between 2015 and 2017.

Mr Scahill's assertion that rural areas have more guns for sporting reasons was supported by the owner of firearm seller Guns NZ, Jim Yates, who said people in rural areas loved their guns.

"I mean they're just a bunch of rural rednecks who want to hang out with their buddies, go duck hunting, go to the range, go to the pistol club, the trap club, the rifle club, you know," Mr Yates said.

"This is why the gun ownership, in a country of 4.5 million people, we have 1.5 million firearms."

However, Mr Yates said police should have tougher punishments for people caught using a gun illegally and anyone found with an illegal weapons should be locked up immediately.

Mr Cahill said that wouldn't work, and believed every gun should be registered. He said further regulation would not necessarily punish those responsible for gun crime.

"Legitimate firearm owners have legitimate reasons for firearms and no-one disputes that," Mr Cahill said.

"But we also know that the majority of firearms that end up in the hands of criminals come from being stolen from legitimate firearms owners.

"So there is an issue around security there, but there's also a debate to be had about how many firearms are actually needed in New Zealand, and the types of firearms that are needed in New Zealand."

On a global scale, New Zealand's rates of gun violence are extremely low.

In 2016, there were nine gun murders or manslaughters in New Zealand, a rate of 1.87 per million people.

By comparison, Australia had nearly 10 deaths per million in 2016, Canada had 5.4 deaths per million, and the United States had 106 deaths per million.

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