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‘One for every three people’: What are New Zealand’s gun laws?

There are believed to be 1.5 million guns in New Zealand, one for every three people. In Australia, there are 3.15 million guns – one for every eight people.

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Owning or using a firearm in New Zealand does require a licence. Applicants must be over 16 and pass a background check by New Zealand Police to check whether they are a “fit and proper person”.

A history of violence, relationships with criminals, a repeated involvement with drugs, or irresponsible consumption of alcohol are some of the reasons why someone might be denied a licence.

Carrying a gun is only permitted for those with a “lawful, proper, and sufficient purpose”, such as hunting, pest control or sports shooting. Self-defence is not considered a reason to have a gun.

Two referees, including one spouse or parent, must be able to attest to an applicant’s suitability to carry a gun in an interview with police. An arms officer from New Zealand Police will also pay a visit to their home to inspect security of the guns.

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Applicants must also attend a gun safety lecture and pass a test, where they have to get 28 out of 30 answers right.

A firearms licence is valid for 10 years unless it is revoked or surrendered sooner. Gun owners can have their licence taken away if they are thought to be perpetrators of family violence.

Once approved, the licence allows a person to have or use a rifle or shotgun. Special permits are required for pistols, military-style semi-automatic weapons and other restricted categories such as machine guns and rocket launchers.

Unlike rifles and shotguns, those guns must be registered with police. However there is some concern that unregistered guns can be easily modified to perform like military-style semi-automatic weapons.

There is also a provision that allows unlicensed shooters to use a gun, however they must be in the presence of an authorised firearm user.

Anyone buying a gun will need to show their licence to a dealer. Buying a gun online or through mail order requires a police approved form.

Tom Cowie is a journalist at The Age covering general news.

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