On Wednesday, National Party leader Simon Bridges said the “gun buyback to date … has been a fiasco”. 

Gun Control NZ co-founder Nik Green disagrees, saying, “to be honest, it looks a little bit premature to be making judgments about fiascos”.

At its heart, the debate is rooted in a disagreement over how to gauge whether or not the buyback has been successful. The factors going into this are so complex that even the Police themselves aren’t sure.

It’s not that simple, Simon

The buyback, which began on July 13 and is slated to end on December 20, has seen 15,276 firearms handed in by 9,800 owners, according to Police. But Bridges claims the buyback is behind schedule.

“When we needed at the buyback meetings something like a thousand guns in to meet the targets, it’s been more like 100, 120,” Bridges said. “Whereas ten, fifteen thousand guns have come in, there are hundreds of thousands that should’ve been but aren’t.”

The majority of Bridges’ numbers can be traced to a ministerial briefing paper which found that between 5 and 20 percent of New Zealand’s guns would be banned. That is a range of 60,000 to 240,000 firearms and Bridges has taken the higher value.

As for his “thousand guns” figure, Bridges divided the 240,000 number by the 239 buyback events. According to this, around 1,000 guns would have needed to be turned in at each collection event.

Green said that this view was simplistic. “I don’t know why you would assume an even rate of handing in per event,” he said.

Brett Hudson, National’s spokesperson for police matters, defended Bridges’ 1,000 gun-per-collection-event goal. “It’s a mathematical average,” he said.

“Clearly, at some of the smaller events, there would be nothing like that. What the current average shows us is that in the larger events, they’re not making up for the shortfall. They’re miles away from where they need to be.”

Complications in estimating progress

Michael Dowling, the chair of the Council of Licensed Firearm Owners, said there were a number of complications in estimating the progress of the buyback. Simple calculations like those put forward by Bridges don’t account for this, he said.

“You’d need to know how many events they’ve got, where are they focused, where are the firearms focused, and what percentage have they got in, related to the amount of time they’ve got left,” Dowling said.

There are other factors too. Dowling said many COLFO members were uncomfortable attending Police-managed collection events. He expected the rate of firearm hand-in would increase next week, when dealers are able to accept weapons from firearm owners as part of the buyback.

David Tipple, the CEO of firearm retailer Gun City, said that he expected the hand-in rate to “quadruple” from next week.

There is also uncertainty over why the number of guns may be less than hoped. Hudson claims pricing is the issue. The Government was provided with three pricing schemes and chose a model which sees guns lose value depending on their condition.

The current model was predicted to have a lower rate of compliance than the other two options, which included the option of reimbursing owners reimbursed at the full retail rate..

But the Government says pricing isn’t a problem. Justice Minister Andrew Little, speaking on behalf of Police Minister Stuart Nash, said in Parliament on Thursday that only 40 of the 9,800 gun owners who have participated in the buyback have contested the prices they were offered.

How many guns are there?

The actual number of banned guns is hotly debated.  There are just over 14,000 registered military-style semiautomatic weapons which are now banned. But MSSAs aren’t the only prohibited guns.

Pump-action shotguns with detachable magazines, semi-automatic rifles that aren’t rimfire .22 calibre or less and semi-automatic shotguns with non-detachable, tubular magazines that hold five rounds or less are also banned.

KPMG, which helped the Government design the price list for the buyback, estimated there are 173,000 prohibited weapons.

Police estimated in the ministerial briefing paper that the banned guns made up between 60,000 to 240,000 of New Zealand’s 1.2 million guns. But Dowling says that there are 250,000 banned weapons and calls this a “conservative estimate”.

Hudson said he thought a range of 150,000 to 500,000 was more accurate. He said this figure was informed by discussions with firearm retailers.

This puts the range of figures at 60,000 on the low end and 500,000 at the high end, with varying levels of accuracy.

Moreover, some weapons can be modified to become legal, meaning the Government doesn’t need to collect the full number of banned guns – whatever that number may be.

Given the reams of uncertainty, it’s difficult to accurately say that the gun buyback has been a “fiasco”, as Bridges did on Wednesday. At the same time, it’s unclear whether or how the Government will be able to label it a success come December 20, if they can’t even say what percentage of banned guns they have collected.

Marc Daalder is a senior political reporter based in Wellington who covers climate change, health, energy and violent extremism. Twitter/Bluesky: @marcdaalder

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