Gun owners decrying law reforms are selfish by putting personal inconveniences above public safety, a gun safety expert says.

And Philip Alpers, who used to host TV show Fair Go and is now a public health expert, supports a national gun register because he believes it would make the biggest improvement to community safety.

A bill that would set up a register, among other things, is currently passing through Parliament and its passage might depend on NZ First, which is being lobbied by both firearms owners and gun control advocates.

Alpers, an Associate Professor at the Sydney University's School of Public Health, is in Wellington today for a public lecture as a guest of Gun Control NZ.


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He launched Gun Safe in New Zealand in 1993 and started to lend some balance to what he said was "the ferocity of forces aligned against gun control".

That ferocity was based on defending a gun owner's right not to be inconvenienced, he said.

"Every argument I've ever seen from the gun lobby in New Zealand and in Australia boils down to personal inconvenience. 'It'll make it harder or more expensive for us to get a gun,'" Alpers told the Herald.

"That is an extraordinarily selfish attitude. And it ignores public safety of the wider community simply for the convenience of shooters. How about you think about the inconvenience of having an adolescent son shoot himself? That alone should make you feel okay about spending $200 or $300 on a gun safe."

He said the rationale for controls on guns is the same as for cars.

"If we're stupid with a car, we lose our licence. If we injure somebody else with a car, we don't have any argument about taking responsibility for that.

"We have all of these things that work really well in other spheres of public safety, but there is a group of people who don't see the parallels between being a responsible car owner and driver and being a responsible gun owner."


He said chief among gun safety measures was a national gun register, which New Zealand axed in 1983 and which successive governments have failed to bring back.

Following the Port Arthur massacre in Australia in 1996, Australia changed its gun laws in a similar way to what is now happening in New Zealand: a ban on military-style semi-automatics (MSSAs), setting up a national firearms registry, and buying back and destroying outlawed firearms.

"In Australia, people think of the gun buyback as being the big thing, but registration is going to have a longer-term effect. Guns are harder to get a hold off and that is largely due to the sense of responsibility imposed on gun owners through registration," Alpers said.

"It's hugely reduced the number of guns that get stolen each year. There used to be 10,000 or so guns a year stolen from private premises in Australia and now it's down to about 1500. That's where a lot of the criminal gun market is fuelled from."

The Government's second tranche of gun law reforms is passing through Parliament at the moment, and its passage may hinge on NZ First's support. Photo / Amber Allott
The Government's second tranche of gun law reforms is passing through Parliament at the moment, and its passage may hinge on NZ First's support. Photo / Amber Allott

A register would also help keep police safer, he said.

"There is more chance of a volatile firearm incident in a domestic callout than almost anything else. On the way to the scene, Australian police can call up the registry and find out how many guns may be in the house.


"There are also some studies that suggest that gun-suicide was reduced after the new laws in Australia."

Critics say that a register will be costly and ineffective, pointing to the Canadian experience where the project ran billions over budget.

Alpers agreed that Canada was a "catastrophe and a bureaucratic mess", but that did not mean registration wouldn't have a meaningful impact in New Zealand.

He said most gun owners were responsible but were being represented by a "tiny minority who have tremendous energy".

"I wouldn't have spent all of this time over these years talking about the gun lobby if it weren't for the fact that they have power, so far beyond the actual number of people who support them."

Despite opposition from the gun lobby, there was broad support - including among farming, hunting and recreational shooting groups - for the Government's ban on most MSSAs in the wake of March 15 last year.


But those groups are more opposed to the Government's second tranche of reforms, which would establish a gun register, tighten the character test on who can get a firearms licence, and change the licensing regime.

Alpers puts this change down to the time that has passed since March 15, but added that those groups have opposed gun controls despite "inquiry after inquiry after coroner's report after coroner's report".

"It was those moderate groups that gave the clout to politicians to resist any form of gun control."