Gun owners are accusing police of stonewalling their attempts to understand what is behind plans to make them pay a lot more for a firearms licence.
But the police say taxpayers are subsidising the current licensing system by hundreds of millions of dollars annually, and that has to change.
Firearms licensing fees have not risen in more than 20 years. In the recent public consultation, police estimated the costs behind a 10-year firearms licence were now more than seven-and-a-half times the current fee of $126.50.
Gwyn Thurlow of the Deerstalkers Association said it was a “troubling sign” police were refusing to disclose exactly what was behind those estimates.
“It raises serious concerns on what we’re paying for and how much it should be,” he told Checkpoint.
“We know that there had to be calculations provided to Cabinet and we are not getting anywhere when we ask for that information. We are being delayed and our requests are being declined.”
Hugh Deveraux-Mack of the Council of Licenced Firearms Owners said police were reaching into their members’ pockets to fund excessive paperwork processes that did little to improve public safety.
“That screams inefficiency across the board. If police are charging this much because they cannot figure out how to do it, then it needs to go to an independent agency that can clearly do the paperwork side much better than they can.”
More than 6000 submissions were received during public consultation on the fees, which came to a close this month.
Respondents were asked to express their preference for an underwrite from a quarter to three-quarters of costs, which would see the 10-year licence fee rise to up to $730.
New Zealand Police Association president Chris Cahill said police had not done a good job of gun licensing in the past. He said police had a duty to improve the delivery of firearms licensing and the new fees would make that possible.
Cahill said he felt even the highest tier of cost recovery was still a reasonable proposition.
“They’ve been paying about $12 per year, which is patently ridiculous. It costs about $180 to register your dog a year. I think those figures, police are talking about, are much more realistic.”
Alec Melville of the Sporting Shooters Association said the hikes were just another way licensed firearms owners had been hammered in the aftermath of the mosque shootings.
Gun owners were being targeted by police for their own mishandling of the licensing process, Melville said.
“We all feel just as bad as everybody else about what happened there, [but] the bottom line is that the police didn’t do the vetting correctly. We know for a fact that the funding given to police was sufficient, but they’d taken that funding and used it for general duties.”
Gun clubs fear extinction
Jon Phillipps represented New Zealand more than 15 times in 40 years of competitive shooting. He said new fees tacked on to the police proposal could see as much as $1500 added to the costs of anyone coming through the border to compete in events.
“[The National Rifle Association of New Zealand] has an invitation out to come and shoot at the Ballinger Belt [shooting competition]. The [Australian] national body has said that if those fees are imposed they will not be sending any shooters to New Zealand.”
Phillipps said the inclusion of new fees for gun ranges and clubs were contrary to the intentions of the reforms.
“The safest place for people to learn how to use a firearm responsibly is the clubs and, if these clubs are no longer there, then where will they go? That’s not making it safer for people.”
John Gill has been hunting and shooting for sport for over 60 years. He said he was worried bureaucracy and changing attitudes were killing the future of a much-loved part of the country’s rural heritage.
“I’m just a regular Kiwi guy who was brought up in a culture where the land provided opportunities for achieving food and having sport. I’d like to think that my grandchildren can continue that if they choose to.”
Submissions on the proposed fees would be analysed and put to Cabinet for discussion in the oncoming months. Police have been approached for comment.
Story Credit: rnz.co.nz