An independent gun registry was in the process of being set up a decade ago, but it was quietly shelved after intensive lobbying by pro-gun groups.
The registry was a key recommendation of the Thorp Report, which stemmed from a year-long review of gun laws by retired High Court justice Sir Thomas Thorp in 1996.
The report also recommended the government buy back military-style semi-automatics from owners followed by an outright ban of such weapons.
It was commissioned by the government in the wake of the Aramoana massacre and shootings in Australia and Scotland.
Now, its recommendations continue to gather dust in a watered-down Arms Amendment Bill, still before a parliamentary select committee.
Jack Elder, police minister when the report was released, said he backed some of Sir Thomas' recommendations, including calls for a gun registry.
However, he said those plans were shelved after the 1999 election when Labour took power, after intensive lobbying by pro-gun groups. They claimed a registry would be expensive and unwieldy, and would fail to target illegal gun owners.
"The government had made its mind up that we were going to go ahead with it," said Mr Elder, now teaching in Auckland. "And the Labour opposition said it was all in favour of a gun registry.
"But history caught up with us. There was a change of government and they quickly shelved the issue of registering guns."
The registry was part of the Arms Amendment Bill, which also proposed new licensing fees for owners, registration fees for guns and greater penalties.
However, it was strongly opposed at the select committee stage, particularly by the pro-gun lobby, which he said was well-funded, with support from overseas groups, and well organised.
By the time the bill came back to select committee in 2001, the committee had concerns about a registry and it was ditched a year later.
George Hawkins, police minister at the time, did not return calls and on Tuesday said he had no comment on the issue.
However, Labour deputy leader Annette King, a former police minister, said her party had supported the bill but could not get the votes it needed from National or NZ First.
"We were ready to move on it. It wasn't us that was holding it up."
She said Labour would be open to discussion if the Government wanted to move on the bill.
- The Dominion Post