New Zealand firearm licence applications had a 99.6 percent pass rate in 2017

9:17 am on 18 March 2019

More than 99 percent of people who apply for a firearms licence in New Zealand are successful, according to police data.

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In 2017, of the 43,509 firearm licence applications, just 188 applications were declined; a pass rate of 99.6 percent. Photo: 123RF

In 2017, of the 43,509 firearm licence applications, just 188 applications were declined; a pass rate of 99.6 percent.

Those people are then able to legally buy many guns in New Zealand, including the gun of choice for the world's mass killers, the AR-15.

The Christchurch massacre has raised questions about New Zealand's gun laws.

Murder-accused Brenton Tarrant had a valid, basic Class A firearm licence, and an AR-15 is the gun that was most likely used.

Read more:

Police Association president Chris Cahill said the success rate of over 99 percent must be scrutinised.

He said generally the vetting process was good, but there was a lot to get through - 45,000 applications a year.

He said there were good character checks, but less understanding about the reason why someone might want a firearms licence.

"There are some interesting stories. I'm aware of an overseas exchange student, 19-years-old, who was given a firearms licence, and then within months was found with multiple firearms just lying on his bed," he said.

Police Association President Chris Cahill.

Police Association President Chris Cahill. Photo: Supplied

"You have to wonder why a 19-year-old overseas student needs a firearms licence living in central Auckland."

For first time applicants, the pass rate is slightly lower - about 97 percent.

Police documents show in the nine months between September 2017 and May 2018, 7346 first-time applicants succeeded, and 207 failed - a pass rate of 97.3 percent.

The last three months of that year have a pass rate of 75 percent, possible in part because the application processes may not have finished when the data was collected - but it may also include a decline.

Mr Cahill said when an applicant was being assessed they have to show their firearm was able to be locked and not easy to access.

He said that was fine if their security was assessed as reasonable for one firearm, but they were able to buy more and there was no further check on whether the security was sufficient for additional firearms.

The majority of mass shootings around the world in last ten years have been committed by licensed firearm owners, so the vetting process was extremely important, he said.

Minister of Police Stuart Nash was briefed by police when he took on the portfolio in late 2017.

In the briefing document on the Arms Act, police outlined the criminal risk posed by converting relatively attainable AR-15s to a higher capacity rifle.

"The failure to provide for ... the conversion of an 'A category' semi-automatic firearm to a military style, semi-automatics (MSSAs) by the addition of an unregulated high-capacity magazine has opened up a risk of criminal harm, and undermines Parliament's intention to limit the number of MSSAs in New Zealand."

The AR-15 is the semi-automatic gun of choice for a lot of mass killings around the world, including Sandy Hook Elementary and the Las Vegas shooting in the US, and the Port Arthur massacre, which prompted Australia's gun crackdown in the 90s.

Legally in New Zealand an AR-15 owner with a Category A licence can only use a magazine with seven rounds. Higher-capacity magazines are able to be bought and used, which does make it illegal, but is a way of turning a basic-licence firearm, which 99.6 percent of applicants were given access to, into something more deadly.

The Minister of Police, Stuart Nash, referred questions to the prime minister, who said Cabinet will be considering a range of gun control measures today.

A New Zealand police spokesperson said police work hard to educate those wanting to apply for a firearms licence, and that often applicants will speak to their local arms officer to understand the criteria.

"Based on the education work we do we find generally only people with a high likelihood of being successful apply for a licence and this is the reason for the high rate of licences being granted.

"This results in the majority of the firearms community remaining fit and proper firearms users throughout the period of their licence."

In June 2017 the Arms Act Service Delivery Group was established to improve how the Arms Act was administered, the spokesperson said.

The spokesperson said that changes since then included:

  • Centralised permitting hub: Managing importation permits to import firearms for all 12 districts and all international visitor licence applications.
  • New firearms safety theory test and practical assessment for first time firearms licence applicants.
  • Regulation change: The Arms (Electronic Transactions) Amendment Regulations 2018 have been gazetted and came into effect on 17 January 2019.

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