Tasman firepower 'no surprise'

About one in 10 people in Marlborough have a firearms licence, police data reveals.

The Tasman police district, an area that runs from Kaikoura, around the top of the South Island, and down the West Coast to Haast, has the highest number of firearm licences per capita out of the 12 police districts in New Zealand.

Out of 177,800 people, 18,792 have a firearms licence.

Sergeant Mike Porter, of Blenheim, said that figure was no surprise. "We live in a rural community.

"We have a lot of sporting and recreational hunting in the region, a lot of farms, a lot of birdscaring on vineyards. It's not uncommon to have a firearms licence."

A standard licence allowed people to own a sporting or hunting rifle or shotgun.

It wasn't difficult to get a licence if you were a "fit and proper person", Porter said.

Applicants had to attend a course run by New Zealand Mountain Safety Council at the Blenheim police station, as well as provide references and pass a background check. The application was then sent to police headquarters in Wellington.

While owning a firearm was a part of rural life, people needed to know it was a privilege and not a right, Porter said.

"People have to act responsibly," he said. "We're very strong on reacting to misuse of firearms. We won't hesitate to take action, whether that's prosecution or licence revocation, when you lose the right to have a firearm."

Grovetown man Doug Hislop, 53, has had a firearms licence since he was about 15.

Hislop, who spends at least six months a year on hills shooting for DOC, said Marlborough had everything a hunter could want.

"We have a lot of Crown land, high pig numbers which is good for the pig hunters, chamois shooting, deer shooting. We're in a good spot for hunting here."

About 8 per cent of South Islanders were standard firearm licence holders, compared to just 4 per cent in the North Island.

Canterbury has more licence holders than any other New Zealand police district, with about 34,000 licensed people, or 6 per cent of the population.

About 36 per cent of firearm licence holders live in the South Island, even though it is home to just a quarter of the New Zealand population. Nationally, there are 237,684 licence holders.

Populations are taken from the latest Statistics NZ estimates. Police figures are as of May 2013.

The Marlborough Express