New Zealand – a quarter of a million licensed gun owners are fighting back against the growing anti-gun sentiment spreading across the nation.
With an estimated 1.2 million legal guns in the country, New Zealanders have historically held a less restrictive attitude towards firearms than their Asia-Pacific neighbor nations. However, gun enthusiast Kevin Fewtrell told Stuff NZ that he believes “dark clouds on the horizon are rolling in” to New Zealand politics.
After first training with a rifle, hunting deer when he was 16 years old, now forty years later Mr. Fewtrell says shooting a gun is a right, not a privilege. Though he still insists that New Zealand and U.S. attitudes toward firearms are very different. By U.S. gun rights advocacy standards, New Zealand is already quite restrictive.
However, he believes there is a growing divide between the almost quarter of a million gun owners in New Zealand and the roughly 4 million people who do not own any firearms at all. “The firearms community is getting disgruntled, and now we’re pushing back. We’re getting organized now,” he said.
According to journalist Thomas Manch at Stuff NZ, due to a mixture of police interference, sensationalized news reports, and more and more pressure applied on gun owners by Police Association President Chris Cahill, gun owners and the New Zealand gun lobby are feeling increasingly targeted.
He estimates that there are approximately 238,700 people with firearm licenses, mostly men between 40 and 70 years old. New Zealand does not maintain a firearms registry, but government figures indicate there are around 1.5 million guns in the country at present.
Gun laws in New Zealand are generally more relaxed than other nations in the Asia-Pacific region and focus predominantly on vetting processes, as opposed to individual firearm registration or outright banning of weapons. The only firearms totally restricted to the general public are machine guns, assault rifles, grenades and rocket launchers.
Most other guns require a license which is issued by the police. Applicants must demonstrate that they have secure storage for their firearms during a scheduled police visit to their property. They must also attend a safety program administered by the Mountain Safety Council and pass a written safety test. All applicants are interviewed by the police in addition to a close family member and one other referee. Any kind of criminal record or history of domestic violence almost always leads to a firearms license application being rejected.
Currently, just under 7,000 licensed gun owners possess the “E Endorsement” certificate, which permits ownership of military-style semi-automatic firearms, typically used for sports shooting and pest control.
The National Rifle Association of New Zealand is based at the Trentham Rifle Range Reserve in Upper Hutt near the capital of Wellington, and represents gun owners across the country. This and other major organizations make up the Council of Licensed Firearms Owners (COLFO), effectively “spearheading New Zealand’s gun lobby”, according to Mr. Manch.
However, NRA member Mr. Fewtrell and others believe that these groups have failed to be loud or questioning enough recently, and that has resulted in the increased pressure that is now being placed on law-abiding gun owners.
Police appear keen to reform gun legislation. In a briefing on December 8, police commissioner Mike Bush described firearms as “a key legislation and policy matter that needed to be addressed”.