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University of Otago academics are calling for a moratorium on all semi-automatic gun sales and imports - as the Government considers urgent law changes - to deter people from rushing out to buy firearms under the existing law.
In the wake of the Christchurch mosque killings on Friday, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has vowed to make swift changes to gun laws.
Dr Marie Russell and Dr Hera Cook, of the department of public health at the University of Otago in Wellington, yesterday called for "an urgent and immediate moratorium on sales and imports while changes are in process, to prevent a run on gun purchases by people'', predicting that this would happen otherwise.
"Many New Zealanders are, like us, worried about the number of firearms in New Zealand,'' Dr Russell said.
"Firearms imports number many thousands each year. But we don't actually know how many guns there are in New Zealand,'' she said.
Estimates ranged from 1.2 million to two or three million firearms, she said.
Along with North America, New Zealand was one of the few places where firearms owners did not have to register each weapon they owned, except for some limited categories of firearms such as semi-automatic rifles and pistols.
"It's likely that some firearms enthusiasts are expecting a ban or restrictions to be imposed and will be racing to purchase these items,'' Dr Russell said.
The pair want an immediate moratorium on sales, imports and advertising of semi-automatics and for dealers to place stocks of semi-automatic weapons in police custody.
They are also recommending checks by the police on the owners and storage of all semi-automatics and pistols.
"Police know who most of these people are because these types of firearms currently must be registered,'' Dr Russell said.
In the longer term they believed amended or new legislation should include a ban on all private ownership of semi-automatic firearms in New Zealand and an amnesty or buy-back of subsequently banned firearms.
There should also be a register of all firearms and either three- or five-year licensing of firearms owners, instead of the current 10 years.
Dr Russell noted each licensed firearms owner must pay $126.50 every 10 years for a standard licence to own rifles or shotguns, but the actual cost to police of administering the entire licensing system was more than $11million a year.
"Because taxpayers are subsidising firearms owners, it's time for taxpayers to have more of a say in firearms policy and law,'' Dr Russell said.