A scene review is carried out at two properties following a drive-by shooting in Māngere. Picture/file
Nearly 100 Kiwis have been slaughtered in just four years amid an explosion of gang warfare and gun violence in our communities.
Figures released to the Herald under the Official Information Act reveal the devastating impact of the country’s worsening gun crisis.
“It’s not just statistics, it’s lives,” Police Association President Chris Cahill told the Herald.
“These are the real, raw facts. These are actually the people who are dying because of the risk of gun crime in New Zealand.”
Newly released police data shows 92 people have died in “gun-related homicides” since January 2018. Dozens more have been fighting for their lives.
More than half of the dead were victims of the Christchurch mosque attacks in 2019 which claimed the lives of 51 Muslim worshippers.
Of the remaining 41 deaths, 17 were from the Auckland region, including 10 from Manukau counties – the most of any police district outside Canterbury.
Meanwhile, the number of Auckland offenders prosecuted by police for murder, attempted murder, aggravated robbery or assault in crimes involving a firearm nearly doubled last year to 120.
There have been 366 such crimes prosecuted across the city in the past four years.
By comparison, between 2008 and 2017, 69 murders in Aotearoa involved a firearm – and only 13 in Auckland.
Cahill said the shocking statistics underscore the damage done to communities by gun violence linked to simmering gang tensions and turf wars over illicit drug trafficking.
“These are real people, these are real devastated families.”
Cahill said frontline officers were “quite nervous” about the growing number of guns and the propensity for criminals to “pull the trigger”.
Many officers now regularly wore bulletproof vests for protection, and a growing number argued that the police were regularly armed.
Cahill pointed to an incident in west Auckland last weekend in which an occupied house in Te Atatu was sprayed with bullets.
And two people were seriously injured last weekend in a gang shootout in central Wellington.
“There doesn’t seem to be a lot of days that we don’t hear of gunshots,” Cahill said.
“It stems from the fact that there is a will to pull the trigger. It shows why we have to do everything we can to put this genie back in the bottle.”
A Herald survey found in January that police encounter around 10 guns every day across the country – and 2.5 a day in Auckland – in the line of duty.
The investigation also revealed that Auckland’s three District Health Boards had treated more than 350 gunshot wounds over the past six years.
While the mosque attacks were the work of a lone terrorist motivated by hateful white supremacist beliefs, experts attribute the increase in gun violence elsewhere to organized crime and violent drug syndicates, as well as the influx of Australian “501” deportees.
However, Cahill said police are making inroads.
Thousands of guns had been seized over the past three years, and an overhaul of gun laws, including a new gun registry, would help “stifle” the supply.
Auckland Mayor Phil Goff said the attacks on the mosque demonstrated the scale of the tragedy that could be caused by an individual with access to military-grade assault weapons.
The number of guns in circulation was alarming, and guns seized by police may be just the tip of the iceberg, Goff said.
“What worries me most is the growing propensity of gangs to use guns and the greater propensity of gangs imported from Australia under its ‘501’ deportation program to use guns. in gang rivalry.
“While not all gun crimes are associated with gangs, and homicides are even more likely to be associated with violence against family members and people who know their killer, if one let them escalate, increased violence resulting from organized crime is a major risk.”
Goff endorsed police efforts to crack down on organized crime through arrests, as well as asset and gun seizures, and supported tougher gun legislation announced by the government.
National Police spokesman Mark Mitchell said the death toll was “deeply concerning”.
The growth in gun violence has undermined public safety, Mitchell said.
“As soon as the public, who wants to feel safe, hears gunshots in their community and there are people shooting at each other, it creates a lot of trauma and discomfort.”
He said innocent people had become “collateral damage”, such as the South Auckland family whose home was mistakenly targeted in a drive-by shooting last year.
Mitchell said the government has failed to give police the powers to target gangs and get guns off the streets.
National would set up an anti-gang task force and introduce a gun ban order giving police the power to search gang members and confiscate guns.
Police Minister Poto Williams said the figures for gun deaths were “distressing”.
“That’s the thing that worries me the most.”
She said communities were concerned about the level of gun violence and police were targeting gang activity and seizing weapons.
The gun registry, to be introduced next year, would help police track guns and provide evidence on how many guns are in circulation.
She credited Operation Tauwhiro with disrupting gang activity, resulting in large-scale seizures of weapons and cash, and providing invaluable police intelligence on the gang scene.
But communities were also part of the solution and had to speak up if they had information about illegal activities.