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How large is the pro-gun lobby?

University of Otago Wellington firearms researchers Marie Russell and Hera Cook are querying the Council of Licensed Firearms Owners’ claims about its membership. They are asking COLFO firstly, to substantiate its claim to represent 40,000 members, and secondly, to explain how the Council found out what its members think about firearms buy-back prices.

Nicole McKee, spokeswoman for the Council of Licenced Firearms Owners (COLFO), recently claimed in relation to the firearms buy-back that ‘about 90 per cent of the Colfo's 40,000 members were ‘absolutely furious’ at the price list’ for the firearms (NZ Herald 10 July, 2019). The Chair of COLFO, Michael Dowling, confirmed to the researchers that two years ago, COLFO claimed 40,000 members, and now has more.

“At a time in the debate on firearms law reform when a fresh balance is being sought between competing rights, it’s important to have transparent information about the size of the active constituency that the pro-gun lobby claims to represent” said researcher Marie Russell.

“We were surprised by the claims, so we checked COLFO’s website and the websites of its organisational members”, said Marie Russell. “The revenue from members received by each organisation is available from the Incorporated Societies Register. Dividing this by the organisations’ membership fees was complicated because several have a range of membership types with different fees. To be as fair as possible, we calculated the biggest memberships we could from the information sources,” explained Hera Cook.

The researchers cite as an example the Sporting Shooters Association of New Zealand, one of COLFO’s member organisations. “The Sporting Shooters Association has somewhere between 252 and 857 members, according to the public information they’ve supplied,” said Russell. “The ‘Net subscriptions’ for 2018 were $4,930 and it costs $20 to join; we divided the first figure by 20 and got 252 individual members. But people can also join their family members up for an additional dollar each, so we calculated the number of members if all memberships were for families of four at a cost of $23 for each family. That is $20 for the first member plus $1 each for three family members. This would be 214 families with four people in each, making up about 857 members,” said Russell.

“In three cases we found the membership numbers from other sources; for example, we were told in 2017 that the New Zealand Deerstalkers’ Association’ membership was 8,000 to 9,000,” she said.

Adding up the figures reveals that the COLFO leadership appears to be exaggerating its membership numbers. “COLFO’s numbers just don’t stack up,” said Russell. “Our calculations erred on the side of the organisations but at most we only get to 20,251 members of COLFO – only about half what it claims”.

“We used information published by the organisations themselves, some of which may be a bit out of date. It is probable that there are some members we do not know about, including honorary members or life members who don’t pay fees, plus new members may have joined”, said Russell. The researchers think it unlikely that this would double the COLFO membership total.

The researchers contacted COLFO’s Chair Michael Dowling, and Spokesperson Nicole McKee. Neither was able to supply written information, but both reaffirmed the 40,000 membership claim.

COLFO said 90% of its members were furious about the buy-back price list. The researchers are asking if COLFO actually surveyed members for their opinions and, if so, when and how? “We appeal to COLFO to find out and substantiate its actual membership numbers, and explain how the leadership canvassed the members’ opinions,” says Russell.

The researchers are publishing a Fact Sheet that covers the information they found, and their calculations.

Dr Marie Russell is a Senior Research Fellow and Dr Hera Cook is a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Public Health, University of Otago, Wellington. Dr Cook is also a volunteer with Gun Control New Zealand.

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