Farmers support practical rules around safe storage of firearms but some of the proposals in the Arms Regulations Consultation Document go too far, Federated Farmers President and firearms spokesperson Andrew Hoggard says.
If the proposed rules go through unchanged, Feds believes they will lead to widespread non-compliance – both accidental and intentional.
“We need to get this right because use of firearms is essential in our rural communities, both as a tool on farms and for hunting,” Andrew said.
In a survey of Feds members in 2019, 92% reported having firearms in their household or business.
“Farmers are the largest commercial users of firearms in New Zealand by far, as they are integral for both pest management and animal welfare.”
In its submission on the Arms Regulations, Feds suggested the following should apply to transportation of firearms in vehicles and ammunition storage:
- Firearms owners must be able to demonstrate security considerations for when firearms are to be transported, through all steps of the journey. When firearms are transported in a vehicle on a public road/access way they must be unloaded, inoperable if readily possible, out of sight from the exterior and never left unattended in a vehicle.
- Vehicles must always be locked if the firearm owner is not physically in the vehicle but remains in the immediate area. If travelling for an extended journey where stops are likely, the firearm must be secured to the vehicle or made inoperable with a trigger lock or similar device. Any ammunition carried in the vehicle must be separate to the firearm and out of sight.
- The vehicle storage requirements do not apply to a firearms licence holder who is using a vehicle when employed on a farm and undertaking farm-related duties, or when hunting, or when undertaking wild animal or pest control and the vehicle and firearm remain in the user’s possession or in the immediate proximity to the firearms licence holder.
While acknowledging the drop in casual thefts and avoidable accidents since the compulsory requirements to securely store firearms were introduced, new measures must be practical and achievable, Andrew said.
“Criminals who are actively targeting firearms and come equipped with tools to break into secure storage will gain access in most scenarios, regardless of security measures put in place.”
So what were the aspects of the proposed rules in the consultation document that Federated Farmers found troubling?
First up, Feds opposes the idea that a firearms licence holder’s security measures must be approved in writing by the Police following an inspection. That’s an unnecessary additional step in what is already proving to be a lengthy firearms licensing process. The current inspection process during the licence interview by the vetting officer is sufficient.
Feds supports requirements that ammunition be securely stored and separate from firearms, but the new proposals stipulate ammunition be kept in its own storage metal/steel container (such as a cash box, ammunition box) with a locking mechanism, or a lock box in a gun safe cabinet with a different key stored in a different place to the key for the safe/cabinet.
Feds has pointed out this wipes out the ability to store ammunition in locked stout wooden boxes, strong boxes made from hard plastics such as polyethelene or concrete or brick receptacles.
“These types of container would still achieve the primary aim of preventing accidents through children accessing ammunition to use with firearms, or being an item for opportunist theft and would be better suited in some instances than those prescribed in the proposals,” the Feds submission said.
“Going wider than the prescriptive requirements [proposed] would also allow for use of existing storage locations such as lockable built-in wooden cabinetry or concrete or brick storage locations which can be used to store larger quantities of ammunition alongside other hazardous items on farms, such as animal veterinary medicines or agrichemicals. Unlike a small metal container, which although locked can be easily carried away, these are immoveable and more secure.”
While it’s understandable that authorities and society wants to deal with the risk of firearms being stolen from vehicles, Federated Farmers argues some of the proposals in the consultation document are onerous, impractical and unnecessary, to a point where there would be widespread non-compliance. The proposals may even present a greater risk of drawing attention to the fact there’s a gun in the vehicle.
One change Feds suggested (in italics): “..a person should not drive a vehicle on a public road/accessway with a firearm in it unless the firearm is made inoperable where readily possible and is not visible from the outside….”. Feds points out that some firearms can be made inoperable relatively easily (e.g. removing the bolt) but for single shot, lever or semi-automatic actions this is not possible in a simple fashion.
Feds also submitted addition of the words “on a public road/accessway” be added to a proposed rule that firearms being transported must not be loaded with ammunition in the magazine or breech. Firearms are commonly transported in and on vehicles on farms. In a hunting or pest control situation it is important to have ammunition in the magazine to allow the firearm user to quickly load the firearm when animals are encountered.
Other proposals include that when being transported firearms are in a carrying case secured to an anchor point in the vehicle. Feds argues that’s unnecessary and impractical in many instances.
Many vehicles do not have an ‘anchor point’ in an appropriate position. To meet this requirement in some vehicles the firearm would have to be placed in a location in the vehicle where the firearm is visible from the outside, which is prohibited by the proposed regulations and presents the firearm at far greater risk of being stolen.
“A very common double or plus cab ute model has no secure points in the rear of the vehicle, meaning the firearm would have to be secured to the door handle, a far from ideal storage point and highly visible,” the Feds submission said.
As the regulations are currently prescribed all firearms owners operating outside of the limited exemptions must secure the firearm to the vehicle for each and every journey. While farmers may be exempt while working on the farm, undertaking pest control or actively hunting, there are many instances where they will be captured by the requirements. This includes travelling between two properties, such as a run-off block which is run as a part of the same business, or when travelling to another property to recreationally hunt or shoot or when transporting firearms into town to visit a gunsmith or similar. These means that although exempt in many situations, farmers are effectively captured by the same requirements.
Among a variety of other stipulations Federated Farmers raised concerns with in terms of practicality, or the likelihood they’ll be ignored, was the statement that firearms should never be left in a vehicle overnight.
In some instances, this may be the most secure location – for example when camping in a tent next to a vehicle, a firearm locked in the vehicle out of sight is the most secure location. At many huts or maimais in rural areas the vehicle is driven right up to the building and firearms left in the locked vehicle at night while the hunters sleep, a secure location away from children, opportunistic thieves or people that have been drinking alcohol.
“The firearms are far more secure in these locations than inside the building under the ‘direct control’ of the user. In the described scenario a hunter would be following the law by keeping the firearm under their bed when on a hunting trip but breaking the law by locking it in a vehicle outside the building,” the Feds submission said.
- Federated Farmers’ full submission can be found on its website www.fedfarm.org.nz (search ‘Arms Regulations’).