The Police Association says Kiwis should be asking why 7000 New Zealanders need nearly 14,000 military style semi-automatic weapons between them.

The association's president, Chris Cahill, addressed a firearms and public health seminar today run by the University of Otago.

He advocated an up-to-date firearm registry to prioritise public safety.

Cahill said surely a small country that registered its cars, boats, dogs, births, deaths and marriages could co-operate on accounting for lethal weapons – who has them, who has on-sold them, and who has lost them or had them stolen.

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"These weapons would be far more traceable than is the case now, and we would gradually build a more definitive picture of New Zealand's hidden arsenal."

He said his point in pushing for a registry was to build it gradually and without onus on legitimate firearms owners by extending the "permits to procure" process, and during licence renewals and safety storage inspections recording serial numbers of all firearms present.

Cahill noted firearm violence was an everyday issue in policing.

In their 2017 members' survey, one in eight officers reported being threatened by a firearm once or more in the past year, a 38 per cent increase on the 2015 survey results.

On the front line the figure jumps to 21 per cent threatened at least once in the past year.

"Being threatened with a gun should not be just part of a police officer's job, but unfortunately it is increasingly so, on the front line in particular."

Cahill said the reality for communities and police officers defied those who wrote off gun violence as "'merely a phenomena restricted to gangs".

He referred to a Wellington taxi-driver shot in a late-night debacle over a fare, Department of Conservation workers who were shot at while working, and numerous dairy owners forced at gunpoint to empty their tills.

He clarified the association's beef was not with the majority of legitimate licensed firearms owners.

"It is with the firearms threats our members face during routine policing because criminals have easy access to firearms.

"We also question why so many firearms are imported every year."

Customs figures, revealed under the Official Information Act (OIA), show between 50,000 and 55,000 firearms are legally imported into New Zealand each year.

Cahill said that was more than half a million guns in the past 10 years, including high-powered hunting rifles, shotguns, pistols, semi-automatics and restricted air guns.

The potential risks associated with some firearms were, to a degree, improved through the endorsement system, but the numbers in these categories are still large, he added.

The latest figures released by police show they know of:

• 13, 331 military-style semi-automatics (MSSAs)
• 40,605 pistols
• 1419 other restricted firearms, and
• 4,676 restricted sub-machine guns (SMGs) and machine guns (MGs).

According to some licensed dealers, the private firearms-sales business was thriving and often landed a better price for the seller, Cahill said.

"Under the current legislation I can obtain a firearms licence and buy 100, 200 or whatever number of firearms I desire and there is no record of the size of my cache, just a record of my licence-to-own."

He used a member of the Head Hunters who legally amassed $30,000 of high-powered and semi-automatic rifles over three years as an example.

In a response to an OIA request on the accuracy of firearms recording in the National Intelligence Application computer system (NIA), police revealed:

• There is little knowledge of the requirement to record seized or surrendered firearms;
• Many firearms officers claimed they didn't know about the national recording standards;
• Multiple paper records and recording systems lead to inconsistencies, inaccuracies and make it difficult to collate accurate statistics.

Cahill said the "unacceptable level of inaccuracy" was concerning.

He felt New Zealand missed an opportunity to prioritise public safety when the last Government rejected the recommendations to mitigate illegal firearms, put forward by the law and order select committee last April.

"Illicit firearms possession and violence is an everyday issue in policing and simply sticking with the status quo is not working," Cahill said.

"The select committee could have begun the change in critical areas such as recording serial numbers."

He said it defied logic that it was too onerous for police to record serial numbers of firearms when they were already interacting with an owner through licences or inspection.

Christchurch's Gun City owner David Tipple said Cahill was targeting law-abiders.

"Who is going to register their gun, who is going to give police their firearm number - the good guy ... Do you think the guy who's going to supply his gun to a gang is going to have all his guns in his safe the day the police come to get the numbers? It's a joke."

Tipple added they recorded serial numbers of guns when they were sold.

"In all of the restricted weapons, they're all recorded. Everything, the addresses, licence number, names."

Police Minister Stuart Nash has been approached for comment.