GUEST BLOG: Graeme Easte – Can new Government reign in ACT/NZ First gun fetishists?


Gun control was a quiet “sleeper” issue during the recent election – only Act actively campaigned for weakened controls over private ownership and use of firearms.  But New Zealand First had similar policies and now both parties will be part of the new Government so there are concerns about what changes they will seek to our gun laws and in particular the Firearms Register which was only launched in June this year.  So far roughly 15,000 or about 7% of active licence holders and their approximately 70,000 firearms have been registered out of an estimated 1.2 to 1.7 million guns thought to be in circulation.  This is early days as the extensive process of vetting and recording of gun owners and their weapons is planned to take five years to complete.

Before the Christchurch Mosque massacre in 2019, the deadliest shooting incident in New Zealand was at the village of Aramoana in 1990, when David Gray killed 12 neighbours, including four children, and a policeman, using his personal armoury of eight firearms including several semi-automatic rifles.  A lengthy debate on gun control followed, including the appropriateness of allowing military-style semi-automatic rifles (MSSAs) in civilian hands and the ability of individuals to accumulate a cache of firearms without Police being aware of the danger.  Mass-importation of so-called AK47 look-alikes (MSSAs) had begun in the mid-80s, shortly after the registration of firearms was abandoned in 1983.

Aramoana led directly to the Arms Amendment Act 1992, which tightened gun control and created the MSSA class of firearms – although still permitted they came under explicit controls such as the E (for Endorsed) category restrictions.  In 1996, following later incidents here and overseas, the Government commissioned former judge Sir Thomas Thorp to thoroughly review our legislation.  His extensive report to parliament was the most comprehensive review of 150 years of firearms control and made 28 detailed recommendations.  Unfortunately only one of Thorp’s proposed improvements was implemented – and even that was not passed into law until the terrible events four years ago.

The most extreme pro-gun advocacy at the time went well beyond representation of shooters’ legitimate interests and began attempting to introduce an American-style approach to civilian use of firearms.  In particular the newly formed Sporting Shooters Association (NZSSA), which was actively supported by the National Rifle Association of America (NRA), pushed for the unfettered “right to bear arms” as in the widely misrepresented 2nd Amendment to the US Constitution.  As a Gunsafe board member I recall our alarm at their attempt to introduce the NRA’s “Eddie the Eagle” program into New Zealand primary schools in 1994.  If successful, this would have led to all school-age children (about 83% from households that do not own firearms and who would otherwise have little or no direct experience of guns), being indoctrinated and trained in their use.  Carefully avoiding publicity, Gunsafe quietly wrote to all schools in the country, explaining that what they were being sold as useful instruction in gun safety was actually cunningly designed to normalise firearms as part of everyday kiwi living.  Heeding our warning, nearly all schools ignored the offer and only two actually enrolled in the scheme.  Despite this success, Gunsafe eventually gave up our attempts at sensible gun reform because the government was showing no real interest in controlling MSSAs or a comprehensive register of guns and their owners.

Only after the tragedy in 2019 was there at last widespread public support for both measures.  So the MSSAs were very quickly banned altogether, except for a tiny handful of exemptions, mainly for pest control.  And 40 years after New Zealand gave up on a proper firearms register we have at last begun the job of compiling a complete register of all owners cross-linked with a full record of all legitimate firearms.

So, what will the new Government do?  I certainly hope that National as the lead party will not agree to reverse the widely supported restrictions on automatic and semi-automatic weapons.  But I am concerned about progress slowing on the firearms register.  Even if it survives, there is a risk that the Government will simply under-resource the Firearms Safety Authority so that they are unable to complete their work busily recording arms and updating licence holder details.  One argument I expect them to use is that the exercise is pointless if gangs don’t register their weapons.  This ignores the fact that any unregistered gun found by the Police is now liable to automatic seizure and destruction.  Even though the register will never be complete due to non-compliance issues it will make the Police’s work so much easier as they will not have to prove that a given gun was used in a particular offence – if not registered it is forfeit and whoever was in possession is criminally liable.

Note, I fully expect to be challenged at to the accuracy of the numbers of registrations in my opening paragraph. The Firearms Safety Authority only update their official numbers monthly so the most recently published data is from weeks ago when the official number of items registered was 68,268 – so I am quite confident that the number has now grown to over 70,000, and probably well on the way to 80,000. Given the uncertainty I telephoned the Authority today and had it confirmed that numbers have been tracking upwards over time.


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Graeme Easte is a Long-time gun safety advocate and former Board Member of Gunsafe New Zealand


  1. Hopefully this incoming government will listen to experts in all fields and not push ideas driven by dogma .In the case of gun control the police must be allowed to run a system they are happy with because at the end ofvthe day it will be their members that will have to bare the consequences.

    • The Police bore no consequences for their blatant incompetence and failure to adequately assess Tarrant. Why will it ever be any different?

    • The police pushed hard the changes in 1983 that led to the situation in which nobody has any idea any more about how many guns are in the country nor where the weapons are. At the time many of us warned of the obvious consequences. But, you know, the police never back down, just ask A A Thomas. Or Peter Ellis, but hey, you can’t, as he died before having his wrongful conviction recognised and the police have still not fronted up with any hint of accepting responsibility for their role in his lynching.

      Police advice is seldom long sighted nor well considered.

    • I think one of the issues we have is Police are not expert on firearms issues. A specialist Authority for licensing, registration, admin, training and so on makes sense, letting Police focus on enforcement.

  2. Completely blinkered ignoring the fact that Tarrant had his gun permit legally approved by the Police who ignored/failed to investigate & assist his suitability.

    Disclosure: i don’t own guns & have never had them in my home.

    • The thoroughness of previous firearms control is just a re-herring to try and stop the register. Security of all data held by any organisation is a huge seperate issue, especially in this on-line world. The questions here are only whether a gun register is necessary to place a level of control on the current supply of firearms, and is there any need for citizens to have military style weapons.

  3. Let’s talk about treaty referendums and gun registers. A clear sign they will do nothing about real issues that affect the majority of people and our future.

    Apparently a firearms register and an assault weapons ban with stop Nicole McCharlton Heston “putting Kai on the table”

  4. This is well worth reading…some interesting statistics and info…most NZers do not own guns, but those that do are overwhelmingly male–93%, and multiple gun ownership is common. Ready access to firearms is a factor in suicides, 40% of farm suicides involve firearms.

    Hopefully the Natzos will not want change to the semi auto legislation or kneecap registration, but I would not count on it.

      • Really? And I’m sure the big political donors will want nothing in return for their cash? All the activists & protesters will go quietly home and let “Democracy” take care of everything? The lobbyists will take their briefcases & expense accounts to the Gold Coast and let the “will of the people” rule NZ? Of course they won’t! Voting is only a tiny part of Democracy and if that is all you do, you may as well have stayed home.

    • Over 60% voted for Nat/Lab. How do you equate that with Act/NZF less than 14+% and Green/TPM 14+% and say the country voted for change?
      The majority (60%) voted a conservative middle of the road.

        • A defective electoral law more like. If Luxon can make a coalition of arch enemies work he could certainly make Nat/Lab work as they vote together, according to Martyn, 70% of the time anyway.
          The law should require the highest voting parties until there is a majority to work together – that would be majority rule, not the current minority extortion that happens now.

  5. I begrudgingly registered my firearms, not by choice, but because changing address or buy/selling firearms are triggering events that force you to within 30 days of that event. Otherwise I would have left it until the absolute latest. So people aren’t “choosing” to comply, they largely have no choice if the intend to remain law-abiding.

  6. Graeme, you’ll be pleased to learn Nicole McKee has been appointed Minister for Courts and Associate Minister of Justice (Firearms). We’ll be glad to see a lot of Labour’s failed legislation removed in the not too distant future. Real safer communities together.

  7. We’ve had a couple of Firearms Registers for a long time (handguns and MSSAs) – it’s surprising that we haven’t seen evidence from them to back up the benefits of universal firearms registration.

    The other point to note is that when we got rid of the old registration for other firearms, gun crime continued to fall, it didn’t increase. Doesn’t really support the benefit of a register but perhaps there are circumstances that mean ‘that was different, this time it will work’.

    • The issue is the undocumented flow of weapons currently passing (for a price) from firearms licence holders to non licenced people (often with criminal intent). Seems the so called responsible licence holders are not always so responsible.


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