Police Minister Chris Hipkins defends new firearms legislation

Source: Radio New Zealand

A law that could ban violent criminals from even being on the same property as a firearm for up to a decade will come into force by the end of next week - along with tougher penalties for those who breach the orders.

Firearms seized by police earlier this year.

But critics say it does not go far enough because it does not give police warrantless search powers if someone has a firearms prohibition order against them, unless there is reasonable cause to suspect a crime.

Courts will have the discretion to impose Firearms Prohibition Orders (FPO) on serious violent criminals meaning they are banned from gun shops and ranges, can't be in a car where there's a gun or attend any activities involving a firearm, and are disqualified from holding a gun licence.

Police Minister Chris Hipkins told Checkpoint the legislation was supplementary to other measures the government was providing police with.

"I wouldn't say any one thing is going to solve the issues that we've got around violent crime and around gang offending, but the more that we can do to support the police in their work by giving them practical tools, then the more impact that we can have."

Police will be able to stop and search someone if they have reasonable grounds to suspect a person with a FPO is violating the law.

"The key thing is that there's greater penalties now around people illegally having firearms," Hipkins said.

"At the moment, some of these people will be legally able to hold firearms and there won't be anything that police can do about it. This will be making sure that they can't continue to hold firearms."

He argued there was well established case law and precedent for what constituted "reasonable grounds" and he would not be proposing changes to that.

"Some of the advice we've received is that in other countries where warrantless search powers have been provided in situations like this, they've just proportionately been used on people who were never intended to be covered by the law.

"So we have the real prospect that licensed law abiding firearms owners could find their rights being infringed if we introduced a warrantless search power without the protection that there had to be reasonable grounds to suspect."

He said the same position on warrantless searches was taken in the John Key government when the current search and surveillance legislation was put in place.