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Firearm seizures increasing

Wairarapa police seized 55 firearms and arrested 27 people during Operation Tauwhiro. PHOTO/STOCK.ADOBE.COM

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With calls for warrantless firearms searches in recent weeks, a police operation that sprang from the Christchurch terror attacks led to multiple firearms seizures and arrests in Wairarapa.

A Times-Age Official Information Act request found police seized 55 firearms and arrested 27 people in the Wairarapa region from February 2021 to May 2022.

The arrests and seizures were all related to the nationwide Operation Tauwhiro.

A police spokesperson said the Wairarapa seizures included unlawful ammunition rounds, gun parts, and AK47 magazines.

Operation Tauwhiro was launched in 2021 and extended until the end of this month.

By March 2022, the operation had seized 1531 firearms and arrested 1255 people across New Zealand.

Police Commissioner Andrew Coster said the operation was designed to disrupt and prevent firearm-related violence by gangs and organised crime groups.

Armed Offenders Squad responded to a firearm offence on Western Lake Rd where three people were taken into custody. PHOTO/FILE

Wairarapa Area Commander Inspector Scott Miller said the operation was on the heels of the gun buy-back scheme and the terrorist attacks in 2019.

“It originated after the mass shooting in Christchurch. Police carried out intelligence work on people of interest and those that would cause concern relating to firearms.”

He said intelligence had concentrated specifically on firearms and illegal firearms during Tauwhiro.

“Intelligence gathering is normal business. The difference is we are looking for more information.”

Miller said while the number of Wairarapa seizures, was not “overly remarkable”, illegal firearms were on the rise in the region, and the figure was likely higher because of the operation’s efforts.

He said police searching cars, and executing warrants were predominantly seizing rifles rather than semi-automatic weapons.

“The trend is we’re finding them in vehicles, and they’re either loaded or with ammunition. Warrants are also finding more and more firearms.

“It’s been an increasing trend in the past few years.”

Miller said the operation had not picked up people with lapsed gun licences but had focused on gangs and organised crime.

“Firearm licence holders are regularly checked by district arms officers. It’s a whole different ball game.

“We’re looking at gang members, gang associates, and drug dealers.

“People who feel, for some reason, they need to be armed. Not necessarily against the police, but others engaging in criminal activity.”

Miller said the recently announced Operation Cobalt was an extension of Tauwhiro and had arisen from the spike in gang violence in Auckland and Northland.

He said the escalating gang violence in parts of New Zealand was yet to happen in Wairarapa, but it was something police were keeping an eye on.

“But we’re definitely well aware of its potential and have a new gang-targeted squad coming in the next few weeks.”

Miller would not comment on calls by Opposition leader Christopher Luxon for warrantless search powers for police in the pursuit of illegal guns.

“That’s politics. We operate within the rules of the government of the day.”

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