More police officers than ever are getting threatened with firearms and tighter regulations are needed, the Police Association says.
Association president Christ Cahill spoke to the Firearm and Public Health symposium at Otago University campus in Wellington yesterday and told the audience it was not known how many guns were in New Zealand.
"With no requirement for registering firearms and no obligation to provide police with firearm serial numbers, we can only estimate how many guns they are in New Zealand.
"Police is also unable to release how many firearms have been stolen, as individual firearms are not tracked," he said.
Under the current legislation, gun license holders could buy as many firearms as they wanted without a record of their cache, Mr Cahill said.
He gave the example of a patched Headhunter who had amassed $30,000 worth of high-powered and semi-automatic rifles over three years and by the time his license was revoked they had been sold on and their location was unknown.
A police survey last year found one in eight officers had been threatened with a gun, a 38 percent increase since 2015.
Those on the front line are even more at risk, with 21 percent saying they had been threatened with a gun in the past year.
Mr Cahill said there needed to be a register of all firearms, especially when up to 55,000 guns were legally imported every year.
However, Firearm Safety Specialist New Zealand founder Nicole McKee said the number of firearms license holders was not the issue.
"The number of firearms, whether it's one or hundreds, doesn't mean you can shoot them all at the same time, and those people who have those legally-owned firearms are being constantly vetted," she said.
The 'grey gun users' were a bigger concern, which were owners who were using the guns legitimately for food but did not hold licenses, she said.
The Whakatūpato programme she was offering educated these people to get their firearm license and should instead be prioritised.
The scale of the problem
Chris Cahill provided RNZ with just some of the firearm-related cases police have dealt with with in the past year:
- Te Atatu - Officers called to a fight and property search revealed four AR15 firearms, 374 rounds, two kilos of methamphetamine and $2.65 million in cash
- Papakura - A burglary of four 12-gauge shotguns, three semi-automatic shotguns, a rifle, 4000 rounds of 12 gauge ammunition
- Waitemata - A search of an A category license holder's property after several of the 42 firearms he'd purchased in the last year were seized from offenders, including gang associates
- Whanganui - A 2.2 semi-automatic sawn off was aimed at a police officer by an aggravated robbery suspect
- Palmerston North - Police confronted at an address with a loaded cut-down firearm
- Levin - A warrant search of a property located four rifles, four pistols, a shotgun and 540 rounds of ammunition
- Christchurch - A traffic stop netted a heavily modified semi-automatic pistol, two sawn-off shotguns, the pistol was placed behind the driver for easy access
- Milton - A near miss when the trigger pulled on a firearm pointed at an officer malfunctioned
- Dunedin - A licensed owner was burgled of several military-style semi-automatic, five rifles, 23 handguns and 25,000 rounds of ammunition
- Invercargill - A routine traffic stop revealed five illegal firearms, four of which were loaded rounds ready to fire.