A new survey shows a large majority of New Zealanders support a gun registry - including 53 per cent of Act voters - and consider it part of a political party’s strong law and order policy.
The survey - by Horizon Research and commissioned by Gun Control NZ - found 71 per cent of New Zealanders support the registry, while only 14 per cent opposed it.
Two out of three people also felt that political party support for the registry was a sign of a strong law and order stance.
Act supporters - or those intending to vote for Act in 2023 - were also the least supportive of the registry, with a third opposed or strongly opposed, a much higher proportion than among New Zealand First supporters (23 per cent) or National Party supporters (18 per cent).
Green Party voters were the most strongly in favour of the registry, with 92 per cent of support versus 83 per cent among Labour supporters and 76 per cent among Te Pāti Māori voters.
Support for the registry was higher among those aged 55 and above, and slightly higher among women compared with men, and among those who earned less than $50,000 a year as opposed to more.
Most New Zealanders - 87 per cent - don’t have any guns at home, the survey said, while 10 per cent said they had at least one firearm in their household. This equates to about 1.2 million guns in New Zealand, with 389,000 adults living in a household with one or more guns. This compares to the estimated 240,000 holders of a firearms licence.
Gun owners also supported a registry by a slim majority - 53 per cent - and while the same proportion of New Zealanders said people felt safer now that the registry was active and some guns had been banned, only a third of gun owners agreed that people now felt safer.
“New Zealanders clearly understand that a gun registry is a critical crime-fighting tool”, said Gun Control NZ co-founder Nik Green.
“Gun registries discourage disreputable firearms owners from selling guns to organised crime groups, as they know the guns can be traced back to them.”
Green said the results showed a public appetite to speed up the implementation of the registry, which will only be fully implemented in 2028.
“That is not good enough. Gun Control NZ is calling on all political parties to commit to fully implementing the registry over the next two years,” he said.
“The Act Party in particular needs to seriously reconsider their so-called ‘bottom line’ of repealing the gun registry, if they have the opportunity to negotiate the formation of a government.”
Act party firearms spokeswoman Nicole McKee, formerly a spokeswoman for the Council of Licenced Firearms Owners, questioned the robustness of the survey and pointed to Canada’s failed attempt at a registry, which was cancelled following a costs blowout.
“The firearms registry can only work if everyone complies, including gang members and criminals. There is no chance of this happening,” she said.
She pointed to the 1997 Thorpe report, which recommended a registry, but with this qualification: “Unless a compliance rate of not less than 90 per cent can be achieved, the benefits derived from registration would be significantly reduced.”
There is also the issue of guns with no serial number; in the year to June, only 394 out of 1213 firearms seized by police from non-licensed people had serial numbers. Of the 18 pistols with serial numbers, one was reported stolen and 13 were not registered.
“The firearms registry would not have stopped any of the latest firearm incidents,” McKee said.
“If we had confidence that it would have, we would support it, but the evidence shows us it won’t work.”
The National Party supports the registry but only if it is “worth the required investment, sufficiently protected owners’ private information and was effective in limiting illegal guns in the community”.
Gun Control NZ has noted that gun-related crime dropped in Canada by 33 per cent when the register there was in place, and rose again by 42 per cent after it was cancelled.
Green also pointed to successful registries in Europe and Australia, where they’ve been credited with making it harder for criminals to access guns, and for incentivising firearms to be stored securely and thefts to be reported.
The registry was launched in June, nearly four years after it was proposed following the March 15, 2019 terrorist attack in Christchurch. Act was the only party that opposed the reforms to firearms laws that the Government pushed through.
Firearms licence holders have five years to record all their relevant guns with details such as the make, model, type, calibre and serial number, as well as a photo.
The registry, for which $208 million has been allocated, has not been without teething issues, with many struggling to navigate the online process.
One avid hunter and registry supporter told the Herald his firearm - a common make and model for a hunter (a Sako 85 Finnlight) - was not on the drop-down menu so it had to be manually entered by an official after he called the 0800 helpline. Another firearm had been handed down over generations and had no identifying make or model, with led to questions in three separate phone calls by three different people from the same agency.
Firearms Safety Authority Te Tari Pūreke has said 95 per cent of licence holders who started the online process finished it without needing to call its 0800 number for help.
It comes after the authority faced criticism about the security of registry information - a key concern of licence holders when it was being set up - after staff emailed 147 Auckland gun owners last month with recipient details including email addresses and many names visible in the CC field on Wednesday.
The authority apologised and said the privacy breach was due to human error, and it would strengthen its systems to prevent a repeat.
The Horizon Research results are from an online survey of 1081 adults in New Zealand, conducted from July 19 to 24.
Derek Cheng is a senior journalist who started at the Herald in 2004. He has worked several stints in the press gallery and is a former deputy political editor.