Police survey highlighted major flaws in firearms licencing process

After the Christchurch terror attacks of 2019, New Zealand Police were told to get a baseline survey of their firearms licencing scheme.

The results showed they were well wide of the mark.

Angela Brazier took over as the authority's chief executive in 2021, and admits the survey showed an ineffective process.

"It's recognised we weren't performing as effectively and efficiently as we should for the work we're doing."

She added that it gave them a lot of opportunity to make improvements.

The survey involved frontline arms staff, and was conducted in February and March 2022, with the findings only released in December before the Christmas break.

Of the staff surveyed, 36% said they felt they hadn't received sufficient training for their role in providing licence control for the community, 38% felt unsupported, while a third felt they lacked the tools and equipment for the role.

Close to half (49%) felt that information held on licence holders was out of date, while 38% thought it was incomplete.

ACT Party's justice spokesperson and former spokesperson for the Council of Licenced Firearms Owners, Nicole McKee, says the results were shocking, but unsurprising.

"It was really interesting to see that the staff within the Firearms Safety Authority (Te Tari Pūreke) are feeling the same way that the firearm owners are feeling as well. New Zealand Police are trying very hard to do the best that they can, but they're struggling against a system and processes that don't work, are ineffective, and cost way too much money."

One of the main themes that came out of the survey was a ballooning workload that saw thousands of applications backlogged.

In part, Police say this was due to a one-size-fits-all approach put in place after the Christchurch attacks.

"Post-15 March, we treated everybody, all licence holders the same," said Brazier.

"Whether they had a licence renewed three times before, were a farmer, and nothing in their life had changed and they needed their firearm for the farm. We treated them the same as we would with an 18 year old who's come from overseas and is applying for a licence for the first time."

Prior to the survey, Brazier says she toured the districts to get some initial feedback.

"I asked staff to tell me what it was that was holding them back from doing the best job they could, and they didn't hold back. I heard repeatedly what those issues were, and they came through in the survey. I was appreciative of people sharing their thoughts and views."

Police say they've taken the results on board, and put measures in place to address the issues, including a significant boost to the workforce, from 268 staff in February 2022, to 470 today.

They've also increased training and support for staff, improved access to necessary technology and equipment, and have implemented 15 leadership positions around the country to improve consistency and quality around the country.

"It's important that we are as effective as we can be, so that we can reduce the harm from firearms," said Brazier.

Particularly in 2023, when New Zealand's first ever gun registry is set to go live in June.

McKee and the ACT party oppose the register, saying the current level of registration is sufficient.

"Full gun registration across the board does not keep communities safe. It uses taxpayer money, money that's needed so desperately in our communities."

She believes the administration of firearms should be taken away from police, and given to an independent authority, to "allow (police) to focus on the main issue of crime in our communities, because that's what our communities want to see, policing in it. Not them administrating an act that they're being incompetent with."


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