Bay of Plenty shooting clubs fear many will be forced to close if proposed new police regulations governing their operations are adopted.
Clubs across the region have united in their objections to the proposed new rules which they say threaten their financial viability by creating extra certification costs and ongoing compliance requirements.
In a joint statement supported by eight clubs, they say, if adopted, the changes could force smaller clubs and those unable to pass on the extra costs to its members to permanently close their ranges and disband.
In April, delegates from more than 10 Bay of Plenty shooting clubs met in Tauranga to discuss the police regulations that govern their clubs and shooting ranges, and the proposed changes. The clubs cover rifle shooting, service rifles, pistol, black powder, and clay target disciplines.
Proposed changes include increased certification and costs for clubs and ranges, “onerous” ongoing compliance requirements and a ban on firearms safety training for under 16-year-olds and those new to shooting.
In 2020, changes were made to the Arms Act 1983 to further control and regulate firearms. New regulations to increase oversight of shooting clubs and ranges have now been proposed by New Zealand Police, with submissions closing on May 4.
The Bay of Plenty Branch of the New Zealand Deerstalkers Association (NZDA) is the largest shooting club in the region with more than 600 members.
Branch president Reuben Hayward says shooting clubs already provide a safe, controlled environment for users of all sporting and recreational shooting disciplines. Ranges also offer hunters a safe environment to sight-in rifles before heading into the bush.
He says there is a real risk that smaller clubs and ranges will close, leaving users with fewer facilities to use their firearms and educate shooters on best practice.
“The clubs believe that the new regulations are trying to fix a problem that doesn't exist and are not aligned with the stated purpose of enhancing public safety.
“There is no link between shooting clubs and criminal firearm use. The regulations go well beyond the requirements of the Act and the Police have clearly overstepped the mark.”
NZ Police deputy commissioner Jevon McSkimming says the proposals recognise the important role shooting clubs and ranges play in promoting the responsible and safe use of firearms, by providing a safe, controlled space to use firearms for recreation.
“The vast majority of clubs and ranges operate responsibly and do so on a voluntary basis. The Act now requires this approach is ensured into the future through a regulatory framework.”
Established shooting clubs and ranges can continue their activities so long as they apply for approval or certification by 24 June 2023.
He says Police firearms staff are working with shooting club committees and range operators to help them prepare so they are ready to apply as soon as the regulations are in force.
“This is likely to be at the end of 2022.”
The changes are the latest in ongoing changes to the firearms regulatory regime, in response to the March 15, 2019 terrorist attack on the Christchurch masjidain.
The Council of Licensed Firearm Owners COLFO has also taken aim at the proposed rules, calling them “illegitimate, unnecessary, and error-ridden”.
COLFO spokesperson Hugh Devereux-Mack explains that the planned regulations reach beyond the ‘safety’ objective of the Arms Act, propose rules that contradict existing law, and pile on fees and form filling duties that will decimate a small volunteer community.
“Members are telling us the consultation document proposes rules that are excessive beyond stupid, especially as it cannot cite a single specific justification for any of the rules.”
Specific issues COLFO has taken issue with include the need to supply information already given to the government via rules under the Incorporated Societies Act 1908 and charging fees to process this repeated information.
People under 16 will be prevented from using a firearm on a range, although they can legally use one outside the range.
Every member must hold a firearm licence, even a volunteer who just helps with paperwork or tea making.