Firearm Rights and Responsibilities
Unlike the USA where the right to own and possess firearms is enshrined in the Constitution under the Second Amendment there is no such legal protection in New Zealand.
The 1688 English Bill of Rights States “That the subjects which are Protestants may have arms for their defence suitable to their conditions, and as allowed by law”. In New Zealand the Law, based on the English legal system, that allows the possession of firearms is the Arms Act 1983, subsequent amendments and associated Regulations, whereby persons judged to be “fit and proper” may be in possession of a firearm if they have obtained the appropriate Firearms Licence or are under the direct supervision of a licence holder. You can read the Arms Act here.
A Firearms Licence is issued by the NZ Police and the steps required to obtain one are as follows:
Obtain a copy of the Arms Code from your nearest Police Station, this spells out your obligations and responsibilities as a firearm owner and also contains an application form.
After you have studied the Arms Code apply to your local Arms Officer to sit the Firearms Safety Test administered by Mountain Safety Council and police volunteer instructors.
When you have passed the Firearms Safety Test pay the appropriate fee at your local Post Shop and submit your completed application form along with your receipt from NZ Post and two passport size photos to your local Arms Officer.
Police will then carry out checks to ensure you are a “fit and proper” person, this includes interviewing two referees (one the person you live with) and also check your firearms security arrangements, before your licence is issued. This process may take one or two months.
A standard Licence (known as A Category) entitles you to own any number of sporting long gun, such as hunting or target rifle, a shot gun or a specially dangerous air gun.
If you require other types of firearm then you must apply for a special endorsement. For a Pistol you will require a B Endorsement, Restricted Firearms (such as SMGs and Machine Guns) require a C Endorsement and for a Military Style Semi Automatic (MSSA) an E Endorsement. These all require further vetting of the licence holder, stricter security arrangements and special reasons for possession, such as membership of a Pistol Club (B), part of a genuine collection ( C) or Service Rifle Shooting (E) as well as conditions for use.
Those engaged in the gun trade whether manufacturing, repairing or sales require a Dealer’s Licence (D Endorsement) renewed annually and for a specific premises and an F Endorsement to allow Dealers and their employees to handle restricted firearms that would normally require a B,C or E Endorsement.
As a firearm owner you have responsibilities to keep others and yourself safe from injury, this is achieved by always observing the 7 Basic Rules of Firearm Safety.
- Treat every firearm as loaded – always check it yourself.
- Always point a firearm in a safe direction.
- Load a firearm only when ready to shoot – unload when shooting is finished.
- Identify your target beyond all doubt.
- Check your firing Zone – what else could you hit.
- Store firearms and ammunition securely.
- Avoid alcohol and drugs – these will impair your judgement.
These rules have been developed over many years to suit the particular shooting environment found in New Zealand and when unintentional shootings occur it is generally found that one or more of these rules has been ignored.
Things you should know
Search and Seize
Under the Search & Surveillance Act 2012, Police may search you, your home or vehicle, without a warrant, using force if necessary, and seize any firearms and firearm licence that they find, if they have reasonable cause to suspect that you have firearms and are in breach of the Arms Act 1983, or due to your physical or mental state are unable to exercise proper control of your firearms, or may kill or injure any person, or a protection order has or may be taken out against you for domestic violence.
Note in normal circumstances Police will gain access by force at a time of their choosing (dawn) in order to reduce the risk to themselves.
If this unlikely event should happen to you, with or without a search warrant then do the following:
- If detained give them your name, address and date of birth [Police Act 1908].
- Inspect and keep hold of a copy of any search warrant that they serve on you.
- Record the name of the “OC” (officer in charge), their station and contact details. Record QID’s (collar) numbers of police attending search.
- Be calm and polite, but firm about (7), (8) and (9) below.
- Open any safes for them where firearms are stored if requested to do so.
- Show them any licence you must carry, such as your firearms licence [Arms Act 1983].
- Say “I do not wish to make any statements or answer any questions”. Do not under any circumstances be tempted, convinced, threatened or coerced to vary from this stance by any promises or statements made by the police.
- If the police try to ask any questions except for (1) above, say “No comment, thank you”.
- Say “I wish to speak to my lawyer, without delay and in private please”.
- We recommend that you contact a lawyer who specialises in firearms law:
NICHOLAS TAYLOR – Barrister at law; Ph: 021 362 123
In the case of any routine firearms security check by Police you have the right to defer it to a date and time of your choosing, also to refuse the taking of data on sporting firearms (A Cat.) and photographs.
If you should become involved in a domestic dispute or become separated from your partner then there is the possibility that a Protection Order may be issued against you.
When a temporary Protection Order is made you must hand in any firearms within 24 hours, or earlier if required by the Police. Your firearms licence will also be suspended. If you have access to firearms or weapons the Police, the Court or the applicant’s lawyer must be told. Once the Order is made final, after 3 months, your firearms licence will be revoked unless you have satisfied the Court that the applicant will be safe.
You may challenge a Protection Order within the 3 month period before it becomes final.
Revocation of Firearm Licence
If Police consider for any reason that you are not a “fit and proper person” or a person who is not a “fit and proper person” may have ready access to your firearms then they may revoke your Firearms licence. Reasons for not being a fit and proper person may include such things as a criminal conviction, drug or alcohol abuse, domestic violence, mental illness.
You must then surrender all your firearms and your licence. Once your firearm licence is revoked you may not be in possession of any type of firearm or air gun, even under supervision of a licence holder. If your licence is revoked you may make arrangements to sell your firearms to an approved person within 3 months. You have the right to apply to a District Court Judge to appeal the decision to revoke.
If you suspect that you may be vulnerable to a situation that may involve a Protection Order or a Revocation make arrangements to store your firearms at an alternative safe location, with a friend for example who is suitably licensed. Also talk to your local Arms Officer about these arrangements.