4 Nov 2022

Amended Arms Act to ensure licence holders not penalised due to application backlog

8:16 pm on 4 November 2022
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Police Minister Chris Hipkins says there are currently 9000 firearms licence applications in the pipeline. File photo. Photo: 123RF

The government will ensure existing firearms owners don't get caught out in a predicted backlog of new licence applications.

It's amending the Arms Act so firearms owners with an expired 10-year licence aren't penalised while their new licence is being processed.

Currently, the commencement date of a new license is the expiry date of the previous license. The licensing cycle that's been in place since 1992 means there are peaks in applications every ten years.

Police Minister Chris Hipkins said no provision was made to stagger the approach, meaning New Zealand was now experiencing one of those peaks.

"This means the current demand for new firearms licence applications is currently outstripping police's capacity to process the application and issue a new licence before the previous licence expires. Some firearms licence holders are unable to comply with the law due to no fault of their own," he said.

A more stringent approach to firearms licensing assessment processes as a result of the Royal Commission of Inquiry into the terrorist attack in Christchurch have also contributed to the backlog.

Chris Hipkins

Police Minister Chris Hipkins. Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

"There are currently approximately 9000 applications in the pipeline and approximately 2000 applicants are holding an expired licence while waiting to be processed. These numbers are expected to increase rapidly as police anticipated an upcoming peak in demand," said Hipkins.

The amendment means the new commencement date of a license will be the date it's issued, not the expiry of the previous license.

If a licence holder applies for a new one before its expiry, it will remain in place until they are told of their application's outcome.

"Public safety has been factored into these changes. They will enable police to implement an intelligence-based triage system to ensure they are focusing their efforts in the right areas during the upcoming peak in demand. Applications where there is no known risk of unsafe or non-compliant use of firearms will not be disadvantaged," Hipkins said.

The bill will also allow police to issue notices and documents electronically.

The Arms Licence Holders' Applications for New Licences Amendment Bill will be introduced to Parliament on Tuesday. Hipkins said he wanted the bill to pass "as quickly as possible."

Nicole McKee

ACT Party firearms reform spokesperson is welcoming the change to the Arms Act. Photo: RNZ / Dom Thomas

The ACT Party welcomed - and took credit for - the change.

"I have questioned three different Police Ministers on the subject over the past few years and relentlessly advocated for a solution," said ACT's firearms reform spokesperson Nicole McKee.

"It is fantastic that our dogged advocacy for licensed firearms owners has led to real change. I hope this will be a weight off many peoples' shoulders who were stressed about the expiration of their licence," she said.

National's Mark Mitchell said changing the length of a firearms license from 10 years to five years was poorly thought-out and had contributed to significant backlogs for the processing of license applications.

National would support the proposed measures so that responsible gun owners were not unfairly penalised, he said.

Te Pāti Māori said it would not be able to confirm whether it would support the bill until its caucus meeting on Tuesday.

Green Party police spokesperson Golriz Ghahraman said her party were yet to decide whether it would support the bill.

"The Green Party has long fought for stronger gun control, despite the issue having been ignored by successive government. It's good to see another step towards gun controls that will keep our communities safe.

"The Green Party caucus hasn't had a chance to consider this particular bill yet, and will do so next week. Our top priority is ensuring that guns are tightly controlled with thorough vetting procedures, and that these changes do not present a risk to public safety."

However, hunters said the law change covering the renewal of gun licences could not have come fast enough.

The Game Animal Council's Grant Dodson told Checkpoint that thousands of applications were already backed up.

"In 1992 New Zealand ceased to have lifetime firearm licences and moved to a 10 year licence, so there was a whole lot of licencing done in 1992, relicensing every 10 years since and obviously we're in 2022 - so it's not surprising that there's somewhat of a pile-up now."

The problem had been exacerbated by new firearms laws, which have slowed down licencing, Dodson said.

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