Clubs & Ranges Regulations Q&A | Things are Changing on 24 June 2023
15 February 2023
Hunting and Wildlife Magazine - Issue 218 Spring
Words By: Craig Benbow, Gwyn Thurlow, Bill O’leary, and Mike Spray
This year will see more significant changes to arms laws. Shooters and hunters need to be aware of these changes, including regulations that will impact all clubs and especially those clubs that are range operators.
Following changes made under the Arms Legislation Act 2020, which introduced a new set of controls and obligations under the Arms Act 1983, Police have done a significant amount of work to prepare for the changes but it has all been behind the scenes.
This work includes:
- the requirement for shooting clubs to be approved and for shooting ranges to be certified,
- Police moving from being an administrative enforcer of the Arms Act to a regulator of clubs and ranges,
- implementing a firearms registry,
- hiring additional staff to deliver on the above and their arms control strategies.
Of particular importance in an NZDA context are changes to legislation affecting shooting clubs and shooting range operators. As of 24 June 2022, shooting clubs and shooting ranges must be registered by 24 June 2023, and shooting ranges must be certified by Police to be allowed to operate. The changes affect shooting club members, shooting range operators and range users.
During the past two years, NZDA representatives have sat on working groups and forums with Police on all of the above work streams. This was done by a number of members including Gwyn Thurlow on FCAF, Bill O’Leary and Peter Miles on ranges, and a cohort of NZDA volunteers undertaking the shooting range inspector (SRI) courses across New Zealand, including hosting such courses at various NZDA clubrooms.
Until this point, much of the work was consulting and helping draft documents to be used by clubs, but we are soon heading into the delivery phase which will require us to take certain steps and file for certification and approval. This means it’s time to communicate what’s changing, when, and what needs to happen.
Below is a series of relevant questions and answers to fill the void left by Police’s lack of public communication. We hope this information can bridge the gap between the law and pending regulations because presently Police cannot tell the firearms community at large what is happening because the regulations have not been drafted and released.
What does the change in legislation mean for our clubs and NZDA’s nationwide branch network of 49 local hunting clubs and their members?
In short, we are now all regulated. A shooting club is a voluntary association of people who act in accordance with a set of written rules and intend to participate in shooting activities on a regular basis. This covers NZDA branches.
Shooting clubs existing before 24 June 2022, which is all 49 NZDA branches and the NZDA Inc itself as the umbrella organisation, can continue to operate if each club applies to be approved (i.e. shooting clubs). Clubs started after 24 June 2022 cannot start operating until they’ve been approved by Police.
Following public consultation, regulations to support the new legislation are currently being drafted. Once made, the new regulations will be notified in the New Zealand Gazette prior to coming into force in early 2023.
Police cannot accept formal application for approval until the regulations come into force. If an existing club does not apply for approval before 24 June 2023, it must cease operating.
NZDA National Office will work with all clubs in early 2023 to help get the paperwork completed and lodged with Police. In the meantime, we encourage shooting club committees and members to become familiar with the new ‘Part 6 Shooting clubs and shooting ranges’ of the Arms Act 1983 (see section 38A to section 38X) to prepare for the changes.
NZDA is also working on what types of guidance clubs and range operators may need to help them, for areas like security requirements for clubs or ranges selling ammunition. We are forming a national Shooting Committee and will implement a support structure for our clubs.
How can a Club get a Range Assessed and Certified?
As mentioned above, NZDA has a team of Police trained and approved SRIs already in place. A list is available on the Police website and most branches have access to a local SRI. NZDA will soon publish a list and actively work to pair a branch with SRIs. Keep an eye out for future notifications.
Furthermore, the NZDA Board are soon establishing a Shooting Committee and Range Sub-committee, in addition to setting up a formal process to oversee our ranges and shooting activities, as well as updating our Range Officer training course and materials. Finalising this is contingent upon Police issuing the regulations and publishing guidance, so it’s chicken and egg in a sense. As soon as possible, the NZDA Board will be formalising lines of communication to enable branch collaboration and sharing of information, knowledge and experiences.
Many of our branches operate and run shooting ranges for members and may allow public access. How will the new legislation affect them?
The Act defines a shooting range as an indoor or outdoor ‘facility’ or ‘designated area of land’ used by a shooting club or members of the public for the primary purpose of carrying out shooting activities, and this includes defence ranges. Shooting activities means using a firearm or an airgun for the purpose of shooting at inanimate targets whether it is moving or not, but it excludes paintball shooting and airsoft shooting.
From 24 June 2023 a person, i.e. a branch, cannot operate a shooting range unless it is a Police certified shooting range.
A Shooting Range Operator is the person or body that applies for the certification of a range. They are responsible for the Range Standing Orders (RSOs), and the operation of their shooting range(s) including compliance with:
- the Arms Act 1983 and associated regulations
- range certification conditions including maintenance of the range to the minimum acceptable requirement
- remedial or preventative action required by an improvement notice
- renewal of range certification, and
- understanding what is required to meet the New Zealand Police Shooting Range Manual requirements.
NZDA’s proprietary Range Manual has been pre-approved by Police and is expressly referred to in the Police’s new Shooting Range Manual. The Shooting Range Manual itself is based on international best practice to maintain consistency with professional subject matter experts and the best available research. It includes shooting practices from all the shooting disciplines. It was developed with the assistance of the shooting community of NZ including NZDA, Pistol NZ, NZ Clay Target Association, field shooters, NZ Professional Hunting Guides Association, the Game and Animal Council, Target Shooting NZ (Smallbore), COLFO, and the National Rifle Association of NZ. Copies of the range manual are available at request from the NZDA National Office and can be found on Police’s website.
Exposure drafts of the application forms for certification and inspection, as well as the shooting range standing orders template are available at www.police.govt.nz (search Clubs & Ranges), which also outline the process for getting a shooting range certified. You may like to read them but use them with caution because the final regulations are not known and so aspects might change, like evidence of landlord written consent, for example, which NZDA opposed in our submission as a likely sticking point that will close ranges, as many ranges are available under historical verbal agreement with the landowner.
Following public consultation, regulations affecting ranges are currently being drafted and will likely be available in early 2023. NZDA remains hopeful that common sense prevails and clubs can operate similarly to how they have in the past, given the safe nature NZDA has delivered range access to its members and the public for decades.
Police have published draft forms on their website for shooting range certification, but when will final versions be available that detail costs and reflect regulations? Should we submit them in draft?
Police have prepared and provided exposure draft shooting range forms, and the information is principally based on ballistic information, information generic to range standing orders and information Police think that, as the Regulator, we would need to identify the range and the shooting range operator, etc. Although unlikely, this may change once the final regulations are available.
NZDA recommends looking at the forms and being prepared to complete them based on the final regulations. Branches may like to run draft forms by internal NZDA experts who have worked with Police – this includes our SRIs, Bill O’Leary our Range Coordinator and Peter Miles, a subject matter expert on ranges. By reviewing the draft forms and the Police Shooting Range Manual, shooting range operators can see what they will need, get prepared and ensure that their ranges meet the expected requirements when the applications can be made.
Police will have a big job educating hunters and the general shooting public, like unaffiliated hunters, hunting guides, and landowners of a range or future range, about the new process to use a range. These people are not engaged with the process, unlike NZDA. If they’re operating as the shooting range operator, they should go online to the Clubs and Ranges webpage at www.police.govt.nz, look at the Shooting Range Manual and engage with a shooting range inspector to help them prepare a draft application for our review.
What’s a range certificate?
A range certificate is a statement, signed by a delegate of the Commissioner of Police, stating that the range can operate on that ground, subject to certain conditions. It describes the type of firearm and calibre to be used on the range. Each individual range will get a shooting range certificate, as they are specific to that range.
As stated in the Arms Act 1983, section 38L ‘a person may not operate a shooting range unless the shooting range is a certified shooting range’. The certificate is valid for 5 years, after which the operator will need to apply for renewal of certification.
Clubs will need to make annual filings with Police, which adds to the burden of reporting on volunteer committees under the Incorporated Societies Act.
Many of our branches and volunteers maintain a network of huts, lodges and facilities across New Zealand for hunters. Prior to going out on the hunt at a facility that doesn’t include a shooting range, hunters will want to put a few rounds through their f
This is what Police are describing as an ad hoc sighting-in “off a range”. Sighting-in that is conducted on private or public land as an ad hoc or occasional shooting activity doesn’t require the use of a certified range according to Police’s views and advice, if it can be carried out safely, because it is being carried out lawfully by an individual and isn’t a club organised activity on a club range. For example, if it’s used by an individual or a small group of individuals, but not a shooting club, and they are sighting-in as an ad hoc or occasional activity, like prior to a hunting trip.
However, if such ad hoc sighting in was intended to happen “on a range”, it would need to occur within the framework under which that range was certified for and on the terms of operation set down by the club and approved by Police. This must not be an area used by the public or a club for sighting-in. For example, there are no established targets or other indications that the area is used for shooting activities.
This means the ability to show up at an NZDA club range and fire a few rounds in an ad hoc manner is no longer permissible – those days are in the past. It will take some adjustment because many NZDA ranges have historically been open to ad hoc sighting in by any member or the general public.
Note: At this stage, NZDA clubs will not be able to allow public access to ranges for sighting in unless there is what’s to be known as an ‘Officer on Duty/Range Officer’ that is appropriately trained in shooting range safety management present. So, this means that NZDA only have ranges open to club members who are trained or provide times that the range can be used by the public with a range officer on duty who is qualified overseeing the shooting.
What is an Officer of Duty or Range Office (as NZDA knows it)?
An Officer on Duty (OD) is what we know as a Range Officer. One of the legislative conditions for approval is that when a shooting range is in use, an officer is to be on duty who has been trained in shooting range management.
Minimum training must include:
- Duties and responsibilities of the OD;
- Contents the Range Standing Orders (RSO);
- Correct preparation and set up of the range prior to commencement of firing, including clearance of the danger area;
- Firearms laws including types of approved firearms, calibres and ammunition that may be used on the range;
- Standards of supervision of shooters and of inspection of firearms and ammunition required in accordance with the shooting disciplines undertaken on the range;
- Types of approved targets that may be used, and how they must be placed;
- Firearms security and safe-handling guidelines;
- Range management methods including assigning shooters to specific targets;
- Appropriate range commands;
- Management of non-firing observers; and
- Emergency management procedures.
An OD is responsible for the running of the range when there are one or more shooters on the range, one of these must be designated the OD.
NZDA has been working to train ROs, to be known as ODs, across the country. If your branch needs help, contact the National Office to book a training. We have a budget and the National Office can contribute 50% towards the costs of getting a volunteer at your branch.
If a branch has safe areas on the land where their huts and/or lodges are located, and they think these would be appropriate to set up some long-range gongs to assist hunters to dial in and check their ballistics, would this be permissible?
If you’re sighting-in and it’s ad hoc, then that would be okay. But what is described sounds more like a standing range, and this would require certification, particularly because a NZDA branch is involved and it’s on land managed or used by a branch.
There are distinctions between ad hoc, non-permanent ranges and a standing range. Some NZDA facilities have this mix, where it is feasible there may be a place to sight-in for centre fire. But most clay fields are permanent set ups, not temporary, and will require range certification.
It’s important to note that NZDA and Police will be working together to get all existing NZDA ranges assessed and certified to ensure ranges remain open for safe shooting.
Who can we see to check that we have all the right forms and measurements for our shooting ranges?
NZDA have a number of Police approved SRIs or ‘shooting range inspectors’. These people are members of our community who have been trained to assist Branches. They’ve attended a training course run by Police to ensure this process is as beneficial to the range operator as possible while still meeting the legislative requirements. The forms can be accessed and downloaded from the Clubs and Ranges webpage on the Police Website and dimensions and measurements for shooting ranges are contained in the Police Shooting Range Manual.
If a Branch who is range operator wants to make minor changes to their range that might affect the range's certification, should they approach Police for guidance before making the changes?
Yes, because any changes made to a range that affect the current certification must be notified to Police for review and approval. However, we recommend contacting NZDA internal experts first and seek early advice, and then engage with Police, because they can work with the club or operator to action approved changes. This is because changes may trigger amendment to the range standing orders and the Police issued range certificate.