Please be aware that the Royal Commission of Inquiry into the terrorist attack on Christchurch mosques on 15 March 2019 has made orders under section 15 of the Inquiries Act 2013 prohibiting the publication of the names and identifying particulars of the persons referred to in this report. It is an offence for any person to publish the names or identifying particulars of these people.
Our Terms of Reference required us to examine how the individual obtained a firearms licence, weapons and ammunition and to make findings as to:
whether any relevant [Public] sector agency failed to meet required standards or was otherwise at fault, whether in whole or in part.
The Terms of Reference directed us not to inquire into “amendments to firearms legislation”. This direction restricted the scope of what was required of us, particularly as to recommendations that we might otherwise have made.
New Zealanders do not have a constitutional right to possess firearms1 and their entitlement to do so has long been constrained by law, as is well described in the 1997 report of Sir Thomas Thorp into firearms control (the Thorp Report).2
For many decades the regulation of firearms was mainly based on the registration of individual weapons. But with the enactment of the Arms Act 1983, New Zealand moved from a system focused primarily on the firearm itself to one focused on the suitability of people to possess firearms.3 Under this system, the risk of inappropriate people having firearms is primarily mitigated by a firearms licence being required to possess and acquire firearms and a New Zealand Police-administered process to determine whether a person seeking a firearms licence is “a fit and proper person to be in possession of a firearm”. This phrase is very much a focus of this Part. Restrictions were also imposed in relation to certain types of firearms.
Despite having only arrived very recently in New Zealand and having no family and few connections here, the individual was able to obtain a firearms licence. This firearms licence enabled him to obtain the firearms that he used in the terrorist attack, including the semi-automatic rifles.
In this Part, we examine closely the ways in which semi-automatic firearms, and in particular military style semi-automatic firearms, have been regulated, the firearms licensing process, the firearms licensing system and how the individual obtained a firearms licence. At the end of this Part we make findings and answer questions from the community.
Figure 13: A guide to New Zealand firearms legislation, regulation and operational documents
Arms Act 1983
- The primary statute controlling the possession and use of firearms and airguns.
- Introduced a system of firearms control based on the suitability of people to possess firearms.
- Does not define a “fit and proper person”.
- Provided for three categories of licences and four types of endorsements to possess pistols and restricted weapons.
- Imposed limitations on the importation and possession of pistols and restricted weapons.
The Arms (Restricted Weapons and Specially Dangerous Airguns) Order 1984
- Declared a number of weapons to be restricted but semi-automatic firearms were not included.
Arms Amendment Act 1992
- Introduced following the mass shooting in Aramoana, near Dunedin, in 1990.
- Imposed new restrictions on military style semi-automatic firearms.
- Required licence holders to have an E Endorsement to possess and procure military style semi-automatic firearms.
Arms Regulations 1992
- Set the conditions relating to the firearms licensing application process and safety precautions.
- Introduced the requirement for all firearms licence applicants to complete a Firearms Safety Course.
Arms (Military Style Semi-automatic Firearms and Import Controls) Amendment Act 2012
- Amended the definition of military style semi-automatic firearms and placed restrictions on the importation of airguns that look like pistols, restricted weapons or military style semi-automatic firearms.
Arms Manual (2002)
New Zealand Police’s primary policy document on the administration of the Arms Act
- Defines a fit and proper person as a person of good character, who can be trusted to use firearms responsibly and will abide by the laws of New Zealand.
Master Vetting Guide (2005)
New Zealand Police’s training notes for firearms licensing staff
- Sets out how applicants and near-relative and unrelated referees should be interviewed.
- Allows for a substitute referee if a near-relative referee is not available.
Firearms Licence Vetting Guide (2011)
New Zealand Police’s operational document for Vetting Officers
- Provides the forms for Vetting Officers to record answers given during interview and for the interviewee to sign.
- States referees should be interviewed separately and before the applicant.
- Does not deal with near-relative referee substitution.
1. The Kiwi Party Inc v Attorney-General  NZCA 80,  2 NZLR 224 at paragraph 27(d).
2. Sir Thomas Thorp Review of Firearms Control in New Zealand: Report of an Independent Inquiry Commissioned by the Minister of Police (Thorp Report) (Government Printer, June 1997) at pages 9–23.
3. See section 25 of the Arms Act 1983 as enacted. Records of individual firearms were able to be kept by New Zealand Police for pistols and restricted weapons, as acquisition permits were required in respect of such firearms. These firearms made up a very small proportion of total firearms. See Sir Thomas Thorp Report, footnote 2 above at page 17.