Guns in New Zealand

After the looseness of gun ownership in the USA and the craziness that is happening world-wide in trying to take away the ownership of guns from citizens who have done no wrong, I found that the laws in NZ concerning the ownership of small arms were quite sane. Whether it stays that way or not remains to be seen. We are, sorry to say, greatly influenced by Australia, and that country has recently enacted extremely draconian gun laws.

The starting point of gun ownership in New Zealand is to apply to the New Zealand Police for a firearms license. You are given a book to read about firearm safety, and required to attend a four hour orientation session at the local police station. A variety of long arms are shown and explained ("this is what a rifle looks like when it has been fired with dirt in the barrel") and a 30 question test is administered, based upon the information just presented. The passing score is 28 and if you miss any of the seven questions about basic principles of safety, you are not passed. These principles are:

1. Treat every weapons as if it is loaded
2. Always point the firearm in a safe direction
3. Load the firearm only when ready to fire
4. Identify the target
5. Check the firing zone
6. Store the firearms and ammunition separately and safely
7. Do not mix alcohol or drugs with shooting

A friend who was applying for a license noticed one .22 rifle being shown at an orientation had a threaded muzzle. He asked about it.

"Oh. That's for a silencer."

"You can have silencers here?"

"Of course! How else can you shoot the rabbits without scaring the sheep?"

When I heard that story I realized that NZ was very different than the United States!

Before you are granted the arms license (which looks like a driver's license including your picture) the arms officer visits your home and makes sure you have a secure place to house the guns. In the case of regular long-arms (rifles/shotguns) you would need a lockable cabinet or closet-- somewhere that the guns are out of sight and are not easily accessible. The ammunition must be stored in another lockable location.

Aside from requiring references, those living in the house are interviewed to make sure that they are OK about having weapons in the house.

If you pass all these requirements, you are then issued an "A" endorsed license (for a fee of $123.75 good for ten years). This license allows you to purchase both long arms and the ammunition for them.

To purchase pistols, you must meet a second set of criteria.
First, you must join a pistol club that is a member of the New Zealand Pistol Association (Pistol New Zealand) <>. You must shoot with that club at least 12 times in six months and take part in general club activity. Usually, you will be shooting with a pistol that is owned by the club and held by the club's armorer.

After this six month period, the club can recommend to the police that you be allowed a "B" endorsement on your license. At which point, more references are required, your family is interviewed again, and background checks are made.

You are required to store pistols in a "secure" strongroom or safe. A safe should be should be installed in a non-conspicuous place (like a closet), and must be made from a minimum of 6mm steel. The door must fit flush, and not be able to be pried off. It is lockable by a 5-lever deadbolt, or a hardened lock and hasp. The safe door must not be able to opened if the hinges were to be removed. The safe is to be bolted to both the floor and wall, and the bolt-heads must be inside the safe. If the floor is on wooden joists, then the safe must span two joists and be bolted through a steel plate which exceeds the floor area of the safe.

The safe is then inspected by the arms officer. All windows in the house are to be lockable. The main doors must have deadbolts. An alarm system is recommended.

When all these requirements are met, the "B" endorsement is issued. Each additional endorsement requires a fee of $200 be paid. The endorsement remains in effect as along as you have a firearms license.

To then purchase a pistol, you make the purchase at the gun store (showing your "B" license), and you get a receipt for the gun. You then take the receipt to your gun club and have the "pink slip" made out that documents that you are purchasing a gun to be used at the club. You then take the pink slip to the local police arms officer who issues a permit to purchase. You take this to the store, pick up the gun, and bring it back to the police who verify that all the serial numbers match. Then you take it home and put it in your safe. You can transport it (in a locked box) only to and from the range or to and from a gun dealer or gunsmith. You are allowed to have 12 working pistols on your "B" license.

To maintain your "B" license you must shoot with the club a minimum of 12 times a year. There are 83 pistol clubs in NZ with a total of 2,350 members.

There are other endorsements. Under a "C" (collector) endorsement one can buy weapons for a "collection" but none of these may ever be fired. The only pistols that may be fired are those on the "B" license. The "C" license would encompass pistols with barrels shorter than 4" and a variety of other arms. It is not unusual to see full Vickers or Browning machine guns or mortar tubes offered at one of the many auctions held by the NZ Antique Arms Association . Such weapons can be purchased on a collector's endorsement. Their storage, of course, must be in a secure place, and the bolts or firing pins must be removed.

The "C" endorsement is for bona fide collectors; a person to whom the weapon has a special significance (as an heirloom or memento); the curator of a museum; theatrical groups or film making organizations.

The "E" endorsement is for those who wish to own "military style" semi-automatic weapons (MSSA) -- identified by one or more of the following characteristics:

  1. Folding or telescopic butt stock
  2. Magazine of more than 15 .22 cartridges or 7 centerfire cartridges.
  3. Bayonet lug
  4. Free standing military style pistol grip
  5. Flash suppressor

All weapons of this type must be kept in an appropriate rifle safe. To get an "E" endorsement you must demonstrate good reasons for having such a weapon. ("Why do you need an MSSA? Why not a sporting rifle? What make or model? Why?)

Because only an "E" endorsed license holder can have or use such a weapon, it is an offense for anyone without the appropriate endorsement to handle one or fire one, even under supervision.

Under the above law, putting a 20 round clip into a .22 semi-automatic rifle changes the definition of that rifle to a MSSA.

A fourth endorsement "D" is for dealers, which allows them to possess weapons in their capacity of a dealer.

Some collectors I have met in NZ have made a room of their house into a "safe." All floors, walls, and ceiling have been covered by 16mm construction ply screwed to the framing, and a steel door with special frame is installed. If there are any windows, they must be barred to a specified standard. Since this room is considered a "safe" all the guns may be openly exhibited.

The firearms license may be revoked and arms confiscated if the holder is convicted of an offense that results in a prison sentence, is convicted of domestic violence, or convicted of drunk driving.