The general public and firearms awareness.

Well, that's a clunky title. The general public know a lot less about firearms in NZ than you might think. This is both a good and bad thing.


Anyhow, I recently had the pleasure of spending Friday and Saturday with the folks from Stager Sports at Big Boys Toys.

Stager is the importer distributor for Meindl Boots, Blaser and Mauser firearms and the LabRadar Chrono – which is kinda how I got involved as I have been using mine for a couple of years now and sold quite a few through the Gearlocker.

For those that don’t know – Big Boys Toys is a consumer products show, aimed at, you guessed it – boys and men products.

This year seemed a little confused as to what age the ‘boys’ were meant to be – not quite aimed at teenagers, not quite middle-aged men – you had plastic toys around the corner from supercars

Something new.

What interested me though, was the fact, I think for the first time, someone was going to be showcasing some firearms, sure, they have always had airsoft, paintball and toy guns there – but this time – real, functional firearms (and nice ones at that).

What really interested me, was what the reaction was going to be from the ‘general’ public. This event isn’t a firearms event like The Sika Show or the Shot Expo, where you go expecting to see guns from multiple companies. How would people react? How much did they know about guns?

As it turns out, not much.

Are these real?

By the second day, we were contemplating putting up a blackboard just so we could chalk up and compare how many times each of us got asked if the guns were real.

Many people were walking up to the racks of guns, putting their fingers up over on the bore, to see what size the hole in the end was. Considering how small the difference is likely to actually be, I wasn’t sure how much info they were really getting from that, but the next question would normally be ‘are these real?’.

Many of the people passing by the booth had only ever been exposed to firearms through movies and games. As such, most had never seen, nor handled a real firearm. And it showed!

It was of interest how many people were fine with just walking up and grabbing one, pulling it out of the rack and swinging it around indiscriminately. Plenty of people wanted to have a photo taken with them, and several, shockingly, pulling a firearm down, pointed it their mate and basically said ‘bang!’.

More than once, I found myself telling people that we don’t point real guns at people, and generally, being meet with the comment ‘but it’s not loaded!’1. I would then correct them, pointing out that isn’t relevant, really.

It’s also against the law.

Arms Act 1983

Presenting firearm, airgun, pistol, or restricted weapon at other person

(1) Every person commits an offence and is liable on conviction to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 3 months or to a fine not exceeding $1,000 or to both who, except for some lawful and sufficient purpose, presents a firearm, airgun, pistol, or restricted weapon (whether or not the firearm, airgun, pistol, or restricted weapon is loaded or capable at the time of the offence of discharging any shot, bullet, missile, or other projectile) at any other person.  

(2) Every person commits an offence and is liable on conviction to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 3 months or to a fine not exceeding $1,000 or to both who, except for some lawful or sufficient purpose, presents at any person anything which, in the circumstances, is likely to lead that person to believe that it is a firearm, airgun, pistol, or restricted weapon.

What that would then, often lead to, was a conversation about firearms ownership in NZ. Responsible handling and safety, and more than once, about the process of getting a license in NZ.

Uneducated, and unaware.

Being this was central Auckland, a very metro area, it shouldn’t have surprised me. I sometimes forget, just how removed our city centres can be from our rural (and hunting) culture in New Zealand. While I grew up in Auckland, my extended family are primarily dairy farmers, and I spent a couple of years on a lifestyle block in Pukekohe.

We had a slug gun as kids, and we had a shotgun at the farm for possums.

However, just how many people were unaware you could own and use firearms was a bit of a surprise. This was just in regards to bolt actions and break-open shotguns. Imagine the response if we had turned up with some Pistols and MSSAs!

Positive, inquisitive.

You know what though, I didn’t have one negative comment on the guns all weekend. There were questions, sure, and a few people had a completely wrong (and understandably scary) picture of firearms here in NZ, but on the whole, what I did get, was a lot of people who had always been interested in shooting firearms, but never knew you could, or how.

We really should have had a pile of License Application forms and even an Arms Officer there with us to answer questions!

And this, I think, gets to the crux of my thoughts on the weekend. Joel, and the folks at Stager, shouldn’t have been the first people to do this.

Advocacy, representation, national bodies.

What I didn’t see, where any of the groups claiming to represent us ‘250,000 licensed firearms owners in NZ’. Rather than an individual importer/retailer, what should be at these shows, is a general firearms information booth, representing hunting, sporting and collecting interests in NZ.

We (as in, the ‘interest groups’) seem to spend most of the time preaching to the converted – a shows that already are going to have a large contingent of firearms owners present. While this is good, if we actually want to ensure the future of fire ownership in NZ, we need to stop focusing on the the edges of the population (the pro and the anti end) and start focusing and educating more of the people who just simply do not know enough about responsible firearms ownership to make an educated observation either way.

Now, while we would certainly pick up some more shooters, I have come to the realisation, that we also need to be doing a lot more to educate the non, but not anti shooters out there. Before the ‘antis’ do it for us.

Gun Culture in NZ is good. We have an excellent track record, and while the laws could be refined – on the whole, we have a fairly liberal, but controlled set of rules surrounding firearms. When you start explaining this to people, in a neutral manner, it quickly becomes apparent to most, that this is no need to panic.

Voting Public

Gun owner or not, the general public get to vote on matters pertaining to ownership. Really, firearms owners in NZ are able to do so due to a ‘social contract’ with the general public of NZ. If we don’t do our part to ensure they are aware we are living up to our side of the contract, it can’t be too surprised if they don’t care if the contract gets changed on us.

I hope, through some of the work I am trying to do, and through a gentle (or not so gentle) nudge – that we see more representation as events like this – it also makes sense to get involved in fishing, car, golf, and plenty of other events where there is a crossover, in sales terms, of our target demographic.

  1. how they would actually know that remains a mystery to me, being they didn’t cycle or know how to cycle the firearm before pointing it at someone