Police do not know source of 82% of illegal firearms - COLFO
Research has revealed that although Police claim that the source of illegal firearms is licensed firearm owners, it cannot find the source of 82% of the firearms it seizes - opening the possibility that they enter the country with drugs and other contraband.
The Council of Licenced Firearms Owners (COLFO) has written to Police Minister Poto Williams to advise that after two years' work it has discovered that the Police have insufficient evidence for claims that legal firearm owners are a major source of firearms to gangs and organised crime groups.
The revelation has undermined Police Commissioner Andrew Coster’s recent claim that Operation Tauwhiro exists because "our biggest concern is firearms stolen out of the lawful fleet".(1)
COLFO’s enquiry started in 2019 when the Police Association and then Commissioner Bush made the claim, based on documents originally presented to the 2017 Law and Order select committee.
The guidance given to the Select Committee stated "Sources of Illegally obtained firearms -Burglaries or theft from individuals or dealers’ premises is the primary source of illegally obtained firearms, followed by those sold to non-licensed people by legal owners or dealers."
COLFO requested information that supported the statement and were supplied with intelligence summary reports 2015 (Firearms and Organised Crime: Illicit Supply, Possession and Use) and 2016 (Firearms Availability in New Zealand). This report was based on a study of firearms from a 6-month period in 2015, which found only 10% came from licensed owners either through burglary(4%) or sourced from individuals illegally (6%).
In the decade of 2010-2020 the number of seized firearms was approximately 13,000. Based on the numbers from the 2015 study, about 780 would have been provided by licenced owners. OIA responses from Police show that about 300 (2%) of illegally owned firearms that police seized were found to be stolen, and were returned to their owners. Over the same 2010-2020 period there were 6,000 firearms stolen from approximately 2000 licenced owners - not even half of those were seized.
COLFO Spokesperson Hugh Devereux-Mack said the country’s biggest concern should be the hard to find, and possibly international sources of the 82% of all seized firearms.
"Our analysis of research conducted by Police, has found that the Police do not have evidence that the majority of criminal firearms come from licensed firearm owners (LFOs).
"They’re choosing to target licensed firearm owners because our community of law abiding, vetted citizens is the easiest place to look.
"There’s anecdotal evidence of smuggled firearms, and if other illegal substances can be imported, so can firearms," he said.
The 2016 report said "Burglary from licensed firearms owners is likely to be the primary source of firearms for criminals, although this has never been established definitively. " [our emphasis]. (2)
It is clear from the number of firearms being stolen, and those recovered and identified as coming from LFOs, that there are tens of thousands of firearms illegally possessed, and most must not originate from LFOs. These firearms exist outside the legal system and therefore police insistence that a register of legally held firearms would protect New Zealanders does not stand up to scrutiny.
"Police have made this claim repeatedly to the Prime Minister and other Ministers for policy development, to Select Committee reviews of legislation, and to the media and public to justify enforcement tactics.
The word ‘LIKELY’ makes a claim of probability. In intelligence circles familiar to Police, the probability assigned to ‘LIKELY’ is 50 - 70%, and means there is tangible direct evidence.
"Making claims without evidence is not what the public and Government expect of the Police. It is not acceptable in their daily enforcement work, and it is not acceptable in their input to Government policy. Given the findings contained within Police’s own reports, Police’s claim that licensed firearm owners are the likely source of criminal arms must end from this moment until they present real evidence," Devereux-Mack said.
Redacted papers were released to COLFO almost six months after asking in 2020.(3) These included the following reports.
New Zealand Police Intelligence Report - Firearms and Organised Crime: Illicit supply, possession and use 
Firearms Availability in New Zealand [written by National Intelligence Centre in 2016]
Firearms Seizures in Canterbury District (2017)
Tamaki Makaurau Unlawful Possession of Firearms and Ammunition (2017)
The Prevalence of Unlawful Firearms in New Zealand (2018)
Non-Factory Firearms Exhibit Assessments by Police Armoury June - December 2018 (2019)
Implications of the Arms Act Amendments on the Gang Environment (2019) - Summary extract.
COLFO said it hoped Operation Tauwhiro would reveal new information that could lead to a reevaluation of the effective value of a firearms registry, but the result would not justify years of misleading Parliament, the Police Minister, Media and the public without evidence.