Prevalence of Homemade Firearms

Police Omission on the Prevalence of Homemade Firearms Seized Raises Questions of Reliability and Political Neutrality of Police Advice Given to Ministers


The Sporting Shooters Association of New Zealand is questioning why Police appear to not compile data that directly contradicts their claims on how effective the register will be.

The first disturbing revelation is that New Zealand Police do not keep any data on the amount of 3D Printed or homemade firearms they seize, this data simply does not exist as per a recent Police OIA. This means that when a 3D-printed or homemade firearm is recovered, it is hidden within overall Police firearm recovery data, with no separate data logging in respect to the fact it is homemade. The Police’s refusal to collect this data means that there is no way to discern how prevalent the issue of 3D-printed or homemade firearms is. As an obvious alternative source of firearms for criminals that defeats the whole concept of the register, we question the motivations behind the omission of this very important data. The existence of these types of firearms in New Zealand directly undermines the argument that licensed firearms owners either having their firearms stolen or illegally diverted, are the primary methods of criminal firearms procurement. SSANZ ponders why a criminal would choose to go through the high-risk methods of stealing, buying firearms on the black market or through diversion, or smuggling them into the country, when they can make them at home without the need of a workshop. 3D-printed firearms are cheap, untraceable, can be independently mass-produced, and can be manufactured with custom specifications.

This could be a basic and highly concealable single-shot firearm that can be thrown away after it is used, automatic and semi-automatic pistols and rifles that can be used repeatedly, and these designs are constantly being developed and becoming more reliable and durable. These firearms are deemed to be functional enough to be used in combat by anti-Junta fighters in the ongoing Myanmar civil war. Much like firearms, the magazines for them can also be 3D printed.  The register does not capture or prevent the production of these types of firearms, like any homemade firearm, if anything it makes them more appealing and is driving criminals to this source of firearms as opposed to others. Increasing demand in this area will increase the supply in untraceable firearms in our communities.

SSANZ has received a tip-off that a large 3D-printed firearm production plant was discovered by Police in Christchurch recently, yet this information has not gone public. The Police have previously disclosed to the public for the first time, that a 3D-printed firearm was recovered in 2021, however, 3D-printed firearms are just an evolution in firearm production processes and materials technology that lowers the minimum required skill to build semi-automatic and automatic firearms from where it once was. Homemade firearms, in general, have existed in New Zealand well before 2021, yet there has been no effort to collect data on the prevalence of these firearms.

Whilst there may be many reasons, from resource constraints to poor record keeping, to explain a lack of records available for previous decades, SSANZ wonders why this is still the case post-2019. Considering the new register of firearms, and its future review, was announced in 2019, and Police uncovered their first 3D printed firearm in 2021, we cannot help but think there are political considerations behind this decision. Given that Police have a virtual monopoly on data collection relating to firearms, we see this omission as demonstrating a very real conflict of interest. What Police force would not want data that tells them how common untraceable home-made firearms are? The answer is New Zealand Police, the same agency that is a key supporter of the white elephant registry project.

This brings us to the second piece of OIA data we wish to highlight, the prevalence of firearms seized with and without serial numbers, as shown below. Police disclosed that they only started compiling serial number presence data from October 2018 for their Firearms Search and Seizure Database.

This requested data exclusively covers firearms seized when nobody was present at the location, or when firearms were seized from a location where nobody there held a firearms license. Firearms without serial numbers would include home-made firearms, including those manufactured by 3D printers, alongside firearms that have had their serial numbers removed. As stated earlier, we want to know these numbers, Police refuse to collect the data, so this is the closest we can currently get.

This data shows us is that criminals have been using non-serialized firearms well before the new firearms registry was even announced. There is no reason to say that this trend didn’t predate October 2018, in line with other countries experiences. SSANZ wonders how a registry is supposed to work without a serial number on a firearm.

Whilst one can reasonably deduce that recovered firearms with serial numbers on them came from proper firearms manufacturers, and therefore could only fall into criminal hands via illegal importation into New Zealand, as well as theft or diversion within New Zealand. This is not the case for non-serialised firearms, the amount of non-serialised firearms seized from unlicensed people or where nobody was present, increases by at least double, with 2019 being slightly under double. Home-made firearms are typically not serialized, especially those used and manufactured by criminals, as traceability does not lend itself well to criminality. Police would have you believe that the vast majority of these firearms are stolen or diverted firearms, despite their data collection choosing to ignore homemade firearms. This undermines the statistical basis behind Police assertions as to how criminals source their firearms.

SSANZ believes that the acknowledgment of homemade firearms is a direct challenge to the argument that criminals source firearms mainly from two sources, firearm theft, and firearm diversion from a small but overstated group of license holders. On diversion, only 35 license holders between January 2021, and August 2023, were charged (not convicted) with illegally selling their firearms to unlicensed people, just to demonstrate the scale of the issue police think justifies a register that is going to cost hundreds of millions of dollars.
SSANZ questions the statistical basis and political neutrality of advice Police have given to multiple Ministers in the aftermath of 2019. This is because they can’t provide effective firearms regulation advice to the Government with data they don’t have.

SSANZ encourages Police to commence the compilation of data on the prevalence of homemade firearms seized as soon as possible, as well as explain why this data doesn’t exist. SSANZ is particularly disappointed that in a time where Police Officers are struggling with the cost of living due to poor pay, damaging data that would directly undermine the claimed effectiveness of a white elephant project that costs hundreds of millions of dollars, is effectively buried by the decisions of senior Police staff in what appears to be an internal political effort to protect it in the leadup to being scrutinised and reviewed in a few months.

SSANZ believes that this data would help keep not only New Zealanders safe and informed, but also give front-line officers a better picture of the types of threats they are likely to encounter as they try to keep criminals in check, and the public safe. SSANZ also stands by the view that the money that is being used for the A-category register should be allocated to increasing front-line Officer pay which will help Police meet their recruitment goals, and free up space in the Police budget at a time where the public sector is being told to find cost savings.