Back in April, NRA-ILA alerted readers to the results of the New Zealand Parliament Law and Order Committee’s “Inquiry into issues relating to the illegal possession of firearms in New Zealand,” which proposed that a raft of new gun control laws be foisted upon the peaceful island nation. Not content to see the legislative process take its course, the New Zealand Police appear eager to mislead current and prospective gun owners into thinking that the country’s existing firearms laws are far stricter than what statute provides.
In the 2017 version of the New Zealand Police’s Arms Code Firearms Safety Manual, several rules pertaining to firearm ownership are characterized as broader than the underlying law. The Arms Code is meant to summarize the Arms Act 1983 and serve as a guidance document to help gun owners comply with existing gun laws. These discrepancies were brought to light by a writer at the Kiwi Gun Blog.
Of chief concern were passages pertaining to the number of firearms a license holder may keep in their home and specific firearms storage requirements. The new Arms Code stated,
Every firearm licence holder must have Police approved security at their home that is suitable for the number of firearms held.
A licence holder may possess any number of sporting-type rifles and shotguns although you will be required to justify the number of firearms you hold when the Police inspect your firearms security.
The document also contended that when storing firearms, “Trigger-locking devices are required for firearms that cannot be taken apart.” Other discrepancies included onerous firearm shipping requirements and a broadened definition of a “firearm.”
The Arms Act of 1983 does give significant authority to the Governor-General and Executive Council to promulgate regulations to carry out the Act. This includes the power to make “provision[s] for the security of premises at which any firearm or class of firearm is kept,” and to define “firearms either generally or for the purposes of any particular provisions of this Act.” However, the Kiwi Gun Blog contends that the New Zealand Police’s actions were unauthorized, noting, “This is a Police wish list being pushed as policy under colour of law.”
Since the matter was publicized, the Police have removed the 2017 Arms Code from their website and issued a statement retracting that version of the document. In a press release, authorities argued that what went online was an “incorrect version” of the Arms Code, but admitted that the version posted “contained a number of errors.”
Moreover, Kiwi Gun Blog reported that the New Zealand Police have reached out to members of the Firearms Community Advisory Forum (FCAF), which is a group of members of the shooting community that consults with the Police. According to reports, a message sent from the Police to FCAF members further acknowledged problems with the 2017 Arms Code, explaining, “Members of the firearms community have correctly noted errors in this document.” Further, the Police made clear, “It is our intention to complete our review of the Arms Code and this process will include consultation with FCAF members.”
Complicating matters, a number of print copies of the misleading version of the Arms Code have been circulated. Even after police had removed the online version of the Arms Code, New Zealand publication Stuff was able to acquire a copy of the 2017 Arms Code at a police station. When confronted, a Police spokesperson told the media outlet, “we have become aware that a print-run was done recently… that featured incorrect guidance. We advise members of the firearms community who have acquired a 2017 Arms Code to destroy their copy. Remaining copies in stations will be retrieved.”
The accuracy of the Arms Code is important, as it is the resource many New Zealanders rely on to help them navigate the country’s gun laws. The importance of the document is compounded by the fact that it is used to test prospective licensees. The retracted Arms Code made clear that in order to pass the firearms safety test required for new licensees, “You will have to study the Arms Code and attend training on firearm safety.”
Unfortunately, this sort of official obfuscation and intimidation is not relegated to New Zealand. In January 2016, U.S. gun owners were confronted with an Obama administration effort to curtail certain types of lawful private firearms transfers.
Following much fanfare and misleading news coverage, the Obama Department of Justice released a 15-page “guidance” document that purported to explain the type and volume of firearms transfers would require a transferee to obtain a Federal Firearms License. At the time, NRA wrote of the former president’s actions, “Even though the president cannot unilaterally expand the law, he can still instill fear in gun owners and intimidate them into believing that private transfers are now illegal.”
Gun owners must stand guard not only against legislative threats to our rights, but also against government officials that would chill our rights by convincing gun owners to refrain from lawful conduct. The New Zealand gun rights community should be commended for its vigilance on this matter and for forcing the New Zealand Police to rectify their error.