Police officers are coming across more and more firearms in their daily work, sparking concerns for their safety. We look at exactly how many guns are being seized in the Bay of Plenty and Rotorua, why those on the front line believe there could still be many more no one knows about and why society should be worried.
A total of 683 guns have been seized by police in the Bay of Plenty over the past five years, sparking safety concerns from the police association.
New Zealand Police figures obtained under the official information act reveal a total of 190 guns were seized by officers in the Rotorua area from 2014 to 2018. These include 94 rifles, 60 shotguns, 10 handguns and 25 air guns and imitation weapons.
They also seized one military-style semi-automatic weapon.
The guns were taken either through search warrants in police raids or because a person was believed to be in breach of the Arms Act; at risk of harm to themselves or others; or a crime has been or is about to be committed.
Police only introduced a mandatory monitoring system for seized guns in December 2018. The true number of guns in the community remains unknown.
New Zealand Police Association Bay of Plenty and Waikato director Scott Thompson said "the fact no one knows how many are out there" was a big concern.
"That's the scary thing; you don't know when you're going to a house or stopping a car whether they have a gun.
"We are coming across them so often ... you find them in cars whereas before you would find a knife or a pair of knuckle dusters."
The number of guns being seized by police had become "prolific", he said.
Burst tyre on truck blocking lanes near Tauranga Harbour Bridge
In March this year, the Bay of Plenty had 47 firearms events, the highest nationwide that month.
"It's not rocket science that we've had a number of incidents where police have been shot at in the Bay of Plenty and Waikato area," Thompson said.
Thompson believed a lack of checks and balances around gun ownership was largely responsible for their prevalence in society.
He was glad more regulation had been put in place following the Christchurch mosque shootings in March this year but was saddened it took a tragedy to prompt the action.
After the attack, the Government banned military-style semi-automatics and introduced a buy-back scheme for people to hand their guns back.
"For a country of our size, there appears to be a hell of a lot of firearms coming into the country. I doubt there's a shift that goes by where a police officer isn't dealing with a firearm."
In a breakdown of the Bay of Plenty policing districts, 117 guns were taken by police in the Eastern Bay of Plenty; 251 in Western Bay of Plenty; and another 125 in Taūpo.
Rotorua area prevention manager Inspector Brendon Keenan said both staff and public safety were a top priority for the police.
"In part, this includes routinely reviewing our policies on the police carriage of firearms and firearms training.
"We want to make sure that our officers have the tools and specialist support to perform their roles safely, to ensure the safety of the public."
Keenan said police officers completed a risk assessment for any incident they attended including calls involving the use or threat of firearms.
"The risk assessment forms the basis of our response, in terms of staff deployment, tools used by officers, and deployment of specialist squads if needed."
In March, 2016, four officers were shot with one seriously injured in a siege near Kawerau - the biggest police shootout in New Zealand's history.
In February this year, a gang member who robbed a Kawerau bank tried shooting an officer with a shotgun. He was shot dead by police.
In 2016, the New Zealand Police Association backed a Law and Order select committee inquiry into how criminals accessed firearms.
Seven of 20 recommendations designed to reduce criminal access to guns were accepted. The association also supports calls for a firearms registrar.
Rotorua lawyer Wiremu Te Are said he personally hadn't noticed a rise or fall in firearms charges but the usual charges centred around possession without a license or firearms picked up alongside drug charges.
He said police would look up if a firearms licence was held by anyone at addresses they intended to search and if firearms were found without a licence holder present, they would be seized.
Tauranga's Detective Sergeant Alan Kingsbury has previously expressed concern about the fact police were finding more and more firearms in their day-to-day work.
"There's some serious firepower out there and it's hugely concerning," he said in November last year.
He made the comments after Tauranga Head Hunter gang member Liam Kane was jailed for carrying "serious firepower".
Police found an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle, a suppressor, a telescopic scope, two high-capacity 30-round magazines, as well as 16 rounds hidden in the garage of Kane's Tauranga home.
As of May 20, 2019, there were 25,450 people in the Bay of Plenty who held an active firearms licence, dealer licence, or a visitor firearms licence.
Police Minister Stuart Nash said part of the role of a recently-graduated recruit wing would be to enforce new firearms laws.
In the first reading of the bill to ban assault rifles and military-style semi-automatics, Nash said the police did not have an accurate picture of how many of those weapons were out there.
"More than 1300 unlawful firearms have been seized by police during enforcement operations since March. Many of these weapons are from gangs and offenders without firearms licences."