10 Jan 2017

Police commissioner wants amnesty on illegal guns

6:07 am on 10 January 2017

The police commissioner is calling for an amnesty on illegal guns as a way of reducing the number of unlawful firearms in New Zealand.

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Police commissioner Mike Bush said he is concerned people with firearms were confronting frontline officers and choosing to shoot at them. Photo: 123 RF

The call comes after an 18 month period where police were involved in seven shootings - four of them fatal.

The Police Association said the number of shootings was reflective of a large number of illegal guns in New Zealand.

Police commissioner Mike Bush said it was always alarming when criminals got their hands on guns.

He was concerned people with firearms were confronting frontline officers and choosing to shoot at them.

Mr Bush said it was clear a government buy-back of illegal guns would not work as a solution to the number of illegal weapons.

But he said police would support a grace period allowing people to hand in unwanted firearms for a time.

"In terms of a buy-back, no, I don't believe that's the appropriate way forward, but it's a matter for the select committee.

"The police advice would be an amnesty, yes, but not a buy-back. I understand our Australian colleagues didn't have a lot of success with that, it was hugely expensive," he said.

Police officers tried their best to confiscate illegal arms where they could, he said.

"Our investigators and our frontline staff are very vigilant to firearms being in the hands of criminals.

"We have a number of powers that we apply or use to search for illegal weapons and we do that when the need arises."

Labour's police spokesperson, Stuart Nash, agreed the amount of illegal guns needed to be reduced.

He said there was already something of an amnesty in place, but it could do with some publicity.

"What the commissioner's probably [saying] is 'let's publicise something,' let's go out there and run a campaign and say, okay, over the next three months you drop your gun in, no questions asked.

"Let's get a lot of these illegal guns off the streets and potentially out of the hands of criminals."

Mr Nash has been part of the select committee looking into issues relating to the illegal possession of firearms.

He said the committee had heard submissions that closed last year and hoped to have a report out before Christmas.

It was still not available, but Mr Nash said it would likely be ready by the end of February. He said one aspect he was interested in was whether police were able to properly check stocks of legal arms.

"We're having a good hard look at this to see if the regime is strict enough.

"By that I mean have the police actually got the resources necessary to make sure that every licence owner is meeting his or her requirements around gun storage, around separation of ammunition from the gun and et cetera."

Police Association president Chris Cahill also agreed a widespread amnesty would be a good idea.

"I don't think anyone knows exactly how many illegal firearms are out there in the hands of criminals.

"But it would be good to be able to draw the line somewhere, if we could work towards an amnesty of some sort that would seem to have a lot of merit."

But he said it would need to be done right.

He said in the past people had handed in illegal guns as part of plea bargaining sentences.

"The police have rejected this idea because it just leads to burglaries to get these firearms to hand in.

"So the police have stopped doing that sort of deal," he said.

"An amnesty would need to be on a one way street only, you simply hand in the firearms, you shouldn't be getting any benefit for that."

Mr Cahill said it was estimated nearly 50,000 guns come into New Zealand to be sold each year.