23 Jul 2019

Firearms register a 'pointless exercise' - former police officer

10:50 am on 23 July 2019

A former police officer turned lawyer says the government's proposed gun register is political grandstanding and won't make New Zealand safer.

050518 Photo: Richard Cosgrove / Fish & Game NZ
Opening Day of the 2018 water fowl season in Canterbury hunters in action on a pond in the Selwyn District

Photo: Fish & Game New Zealand

The government is rolling out the second phase of its gun reforms in response to the 15 March mosque shootings, which includes creating a gun register to record gun owners when they get a licence, get one renewed, buy or sell firearms.

Phil Mitchell, who's also a hunter, told Morning Report the register, which is expected to cost around $50 million would be better spent by police enforcing existing gun laws.

"It hasn't made a difference anywhere else, if you look at the experience of Canada, Australia and the UK - who all have similar registers, it's has placed an enormous compliance cost on lawful firearms users," he said.

"Remember criminal firearms users aren't going to be affected; they don't comply with existing firearms laws.

"The first thing criminals do is file off a gun's serial number so that doesn't get you anywhere."

He said the government should use existing laws to target criminals because a register wouldn't make a difference and was a "pointless exercise".

"Registering cars doesn't reduce the road toll, does it?"

"Every town and city in New Zealand has a gang pad and in those gang pads, there are small or large arms caches. Police know where the guns are and what criminals have them, but that requires confrontational, hard police work.

"All that this is proposing is to target a guy going off for a weekend duck shooting or your local gun club - these are law-abiding people who are going to get targeted and have huge administration costs put on them. It's not going to make diddly-squat worth of difference to the safety of our community."

Instead he said police should take responsibility.

"What's being overlooked here is the police gave the mosque shooter his firearms licence. The police have the tools under the existing legislation to govern and administer the arms act ... everything's there, the police need to do their job."

As well as creating a register, the government wants to create a more stringent application process, and reduce the licence renewal period from 10 years to five.

Chris Cahill speaking the Police conference in Wellington focused on the cannabis referendum.

Chris Cahill Photo: RNZ/ Rebekah Parsons-King

The New Zealand Police Association has been calling for a gun registry for years.

Its president Chris Cahill told Morning Report if police knew where criminals had their guns, they would be doing search warrants and seizing those guns.

"So to say police know where guns are, in the hands of criminals, and don't take them is just ridiculous."

"Police have certainly not administered the firearms act well and they've acknowledged that."

In Canada "where a register didn't work" he said about "11,000 times a day, police officers check their registers so that gives you an idea how useful it can be".

He said a register would help police officers assess risks when acting on search warrants.

"We know criminals get their firearms from stealing them from law-abiding firearms licence holders. So when there's a registry we know what firearms someone has, we can make sure security is appropriate for the number and type of firearms they have."

"Police need to put resources into combating organised crime gang members and criminals with firearms," he added.

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