New Zealand Law Society - Select committee recommends Arms Legislation Bill

Select committee recommends Arms Legislation Bill

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The Finance and Expenditure Committee has reported on the Arm Legislation Bill and recommends by a majority that it be passed with amendments.

The Committee considered 3,527 submissions and heard oral evidence from 318 submitters.

The bill will amend the Arms Act 1983 in order to provide public safety by imposing tighter controls on the use and possession of firearms.

On 12 November the Minister of Police released Supplementary Order Paper 408 (SOP) which proposes various changes to the bill to better meets the aims of the bill and the Arms (Prohibited Firearms, Magazines and Parts) Amendment Act 2019. The Committee recommends that the be incorporated into the bill with some amendments.

Proposed amendments

Prohibited firearms and proposed amnesty

  • Amending Schedule 1 of the bill (which would insert new Part 2 of Schedule 1 of the Act) to amend clause 8 and insert new clauses 16C and 16E in order to set up an amnesty and compensation scheme.
  • Expanding the definition of “small semi-automatic pistol” to make it clear that the 400mm length would exclude any silencer, conversion kit, or other muzzle-fitting attachment.
  • Excluding from the definition of prohibited firearm pistols held by collectors or theatrical agencies (such as historic service pistols).
  • Expressly identify centrefire pump-action rifles as prohibited firearms (amending clause 6A to insert new section 2A(1)(a)(iv) and (v)).

The proposed registry

  • Excluding temporary transfers for less than 30 days of firearms not subject to endorsement so that they would not need to be added to the registry (amending section 94).
  • Amending section 34 to remove the reference to notifying the Police if a person changes where any firearms in their possession are kept as such notification is better addressed under the registry sections.
  • Amending section 38Z (2) to give the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the New Zealand Customs Service access to the registry only in “in relation to the movement of lawfully permitted and lawfully possessed arms items”.

The role of health practitioners

  • Inserting subsection (3) in section 24 (clause 35) to make it explicit that, once a firearms licence is issued, the Police must notify the health practitioner that their patient is a firearms licence holder, which was always the intent, but including this provision makes it clearer.
  • Narrowing the definition in clause 6 (of health practitioner), section 2(1) to professionals who are most likely to encounter situations relevant for assessing the competence of a patient to hold a firearms licence. This appropriately balances the objectives of privacy and safety.
  • The bill gives the Police discretion to require a licence holder to undergo subsequent medical assessments. The Committee recommends amending clause 83, new section 91(3) to expressly state that any subsequent medical assessment may be required must be carried out by a different health practitioner, independent of the practitioner who made the initial assessment.

Proposed licensing system for individuals

  • Amending the bill so that assessors are directed to consider any charges against an applicant that are currently active. The fit and proper test includes whether the person has ever been charged with certain criminal offences. This provision prompted concern, based on the fact that a charge is not evidence of guilt.
  • Extending clause 36, new section 24A(1)(d) so that an assessor may also consider whether a restraining order was ever made against an applicant.
  • Amending section 24A(1)(f) so that the focus is on whether an applicant has actually shown symptoms of a mental or physical illness or injury that may adversely affect their ability to safely possess firearms rather than whether an applicant has “significant mental health issues”. The wording of this provision as introduced appears to associate mental illness with gun violence, which the Committee sees as stigmatising and potentially misleading.
  • Amending clause 35, new section 24(1) by changing the word “may” to “must”. This would ensure that an applicant, having satisfied all of the requirements for a firearms licence, will be entitled to obtain one, rather than granting discretion to an assessing police officer even after an applicant has satisfied all of the criteria for a firearms licence.
  • Proposing that first time applicants have a 5-year licence, but subsequent applications would be for a 10-year licence, following concerns by submitters about the 5-year (from 10 year) licensing period and the costs and workload to the police.
  • The bill as introduced also obliges a licence holder to “produce any firearm within the licence holder’s possession to a member of the Police on demand” (clause 36, section 24B(1)(b)). As this was not policy intent, section 24B(1)(b) should be amended so that the requirement to produce a firearm on demand would only apply when a person was actually carrying their firearm.
  • Specifying a 90-day time limit on suspensions by means of section 60A(2)(d). As introduced section 60A enables Police to suspend a licence pending its possible revocation. This could theoretically apply indefinitely if there was no decision given.
  • Allowing the Police to evaluate visitors’ proposed storage arrangements, as visitors to New Zealand might not require storage facilities (amending clause 35).

Changes to types of activity that require a dealer’s licence

  • Amending section 5(1) by introducing a threshold requirement to meet the definition of a dealer.
  • Inserting section 5(1C) to limit the definition of a dealer by specifically excluding the occasional commercial hunting guides who supply no more than 6 firearms for the use of clients.
  • Clarifying that a dealer’s licence is not required where the sale or supply is for the purposes of a not-for-profit shooting club, the revenue is used for the benefit of the club, and the supply by a designated club member is with the approval of the managing committee of the club or the majority of club members.
  • Changing the definition of ammunition seller so that it excludes licensed dealers.
  • Deleting new section 6(a)(ii) of clause 10. This section includes as criteria for determining whether someone is a fit and proper person to hold a dealer’s licence that a person has been a director of a company and gone into receivership or liquidation. The Committee considers that this not helpful in determining whether someone is suitable to be a licenced firearms dealer.
  • Deleting new section 6(b)(i) of clause 10. This section includers requirement criteria that an applicant has “suitable staff”. Submitters were concerned that Police would have undue influence over the business delivery methods of dealerships.

Shooting clubs

  • Tightening the rules around the inspection for shooting clubs and shooting ranges, clarifying section 38T and specifying that the Police would need to give at least 7 days’ notice of an inspection.
  • Creating safe storage requirements for clubs, by inserting section 38E(e) so that clubs holding firearms must demonstrate proper storage facilities.
  • Amending clauses 14 and 15 in Schedule 1 so that clubs and shooting ranges need simply to apply to be certified within 12 months of the commencement date rather than having to be certified within 12 months.

Endorsements on licence

  • Amending clause 46, new section 33C so that a pest control endorsement would last for 2.5 years rather than 2 years, so that a first-time licence holder would only have to apply twice during their 5-year licence period.
  • Amending new section 33C to make it clear that the 1-year limit on endorsements refers exclusively to endorsements held in a licence holder’s capacity as an employee.

Importation of firearms

  • Amending clauses 21, 22, and 24, sections 16, 16A, and 18 of the Act to allow for the importing of prohibited ammunition in certain limited circumstances. A permit could only be granted if the individual was able to possess prohibited ammunition under regulation 28Y and was the holder of a firearms licence. They would also need a special reason why the ammunition should be allowed into New Zealand.
  • Specifying that in proposed new section 18(4) that an importer of firearms must hold the corresponding firearms licence.
  • Amending new section 18AAD as inserted by the SOP so that an import permit could apply to multiple consignments and would continue to apply for up to 30 days after the initial consignment arrives in New Zealand.

Paintball guns

  • Amending clause 31, new sections 22B, 22C, and 22D, by expressly excluding projectiles fired from paintball and airsoft guns from the ammunition provisions.

Offence provisions

  • Adding new subclauses (6) to (8) to clause 7 to provide immunity for members of the Police in situations where they undertake covert activities for law enforcement purposes.
  • Changing the legal standard the bill would require for criminal offences by adding “without reasonable excuse” to offence provisions in clauses 19, 21, 29, 30, 51, 53.
  • Amending clause 59 to insert section 43A (3) to extend the offence provisions for selling an arms item or ammunition over the mail to include pistols, restricted weapons, prohibited items, or certain ammunition.
National Party

The National party members do not support the bill. They consider that it is improperly targeted, and that firearms reform should be focused on genuine criminal activity and gangs.