Recent statements attributed to the Commissioner of Police, Andrew Coster, have repeated previous allegations from police that gangs acquire their firearms from licensed firearms owners. That is a significant distortion of the truth and by implication Coster maligns a quarter of a million carefully and properly vetted New Zealanders.
The Commissioner very conveniently fails to mention that 12 gang members who had “wrongly” been issued with firearms licenses were the conduit to gangs for a large number of firearms. Wrong, because no member of a gang would meet the “fit and proper” criteria required to hold a firearms license. If they had been issued with licenses, then those licenses should have been revoked. That would have been logical and easy. Police have a list of gang members and they have a list of licensed firearms owners so a simple comparison of the two lists for match ups would have not only been obvious but easy to do. Clearly, that has not been done.
It is known that some of that 12 bought up large in order to supply guns to their gang associates, so it is easy to see how police can say “hand on heart” that the gangs are getting their guns from licensed firearms owners. However, the reality is quite different and it is extremely disappointing that our New Zealand police lacked the integrity to acknowledge the truth.
This situation not only offends the properly vetted firearms owners, it begs the question of why those 12 firearms licenses were ever issued in the first instance and more importantly why they remained valid and were not revoked. One has to question police administration efficiency.
In this regard, we are reminded that the Royal Commission held that police failings in issuing the Mosque shooter Tarrant with a firearms license also emanated from sloppy police work. These twelve gang related license holders seem to be yet another example of poor police vetting?
To further illustrate the falsehood of the Commissioner’s claims we obtained the following data for the most recent 10 years through Official Information Act enquiries to police:
1. An annual average of only 9 holders of a firearm license have been prosecuted for supplying firearms to unlicensed people (not necessarily or exclusively gang members). Police and/or Police Association media statements suggest a much greater number.
2. Annually an average of 188 license holders report a burglary where firearms are taken. (The number shows a slight increase in the most recent 5 years). Police and/or Police Association statements do not usually state numbers but they imply a much larger number.
3. The total number of firearms reported stolen from license holders average 567 per year. Yet an earlier OIA response states police seize some 1300 unlawfully held guns each year. This clearly rebuts Commissioner Coster’s claim that gangs get their guns from licensed firearms owners. We have always been of the opinion that gangs import guns along with their narcotics imports.
4. An average figure for firearms reported stolen that are recovered is 32 per year. (one is tempted to ask how effective NZ Police are; of course, we do sympathise with police on this aspect as the first thing that a gang member will do is a make a 5 second pass across the stolen firearm with an angle grinder to remove serial numbers).
As an aside, we point out that simple act with a grinder makes a mockery of the police “justification” for the new Firearms Register to be implemented in two years time.
5. On average 3 firearms are reported lost each year, although it should be noted that this number is declining. Very few of these appear to be recovered (4 in 11 years).’ We would make two observations on this.
(a) In our view this small number is a recognition that firearms are treated by licensed firearms owners as valuable assets (or even treasured possessions)
(b) It is highly likely that losses could be by hunters in difficult and/or dangerous terrain
6. Police themselves lose on average 2 firearms of their own each year due to loss or theft (interestingly their OIA response on this point failed to include the 11 firearms stolen from Palmerston North police station last year nor those stolen from police cars). The comparison is stark. Licenced Firearms Owners loss as a percentage of the total owned is 0.00013% and the police loss is 0.033% i.e police are 300 times more likely to lose a firearm than a licensed firearms owner.
- Just 0.0035% of the total population of licensed firearm owners are prosecuted for supplying guns to unlicensed people.
- Less than half the guns seized by police are those stolen from licensed owners so where do the bulk come from?
- It is our contention that most guns circulating in the underworld (250,000 estimate) are those accumulated over many years, (“bring backs” from two world wars and other conflicts) along with more modern firearms smuggled into the country with $millions of drugs.
- Added to this police have provided 12 known gang associates with a firearm license so it is no wonder that criminals have ready access to firearms.