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'It is time we take back control': Govt going after gangs’ guns with new bill

Author
Adam Pearse,
Publish Date
Fri, 1 Mar 2024, 9:38AM

'It is time we take back control': Govt going after gangs’ guns with new bill

Author
Adam Pearse,
Publish Date
Fri, 1 Mar 2024, 9:38AM

The Government is seeking to expand the application of Firearms Prohibition Orders through new legislation announced today.

Associate Justice Minister Nicole McKee announced the Firearms Prohibition Orders Legislation Amendment Bill this morning in Wellington.

“For too long, gangs have been an intimidating and unwelcome presence in our communities,” McKee said.

McKee called the previous government “soft on crime” and said their policies had led gang numbers to grow.

“It is time that we take back control.”

Associate Minister of Justice (Firearms) Nicole McKee announces new measures that will enable police to crack down on gangs through Firearms Prohibition Orders today. Photo / Mark MitchellAssociate Minister of Justice (Firearms) Nicole McKee announces new measures that will enable police to crack down on gangs through Firearms Prohibition Orders today. Photo / Mark Mitchell 

It adds to this Government’s focus on heavy enforcement of gangs alongside its proposed ban on gang patches worn in public and non-consorting orders.

It also contributes to changes in the approach to firearms with the Arms Act set to be assessed and then the potential for military-style weapons, like those used in the March 15 terror attacks, to be allowed for competition.

The bill changes legislation brought in under Labour. A Firearms Prohibition Order (FPO) prohibited anyone convicted of firearms-related crimes and other specific crimes, including murder and serious violence offences, from accessing or using guns.

McKee said the bill makes three key changes.

“The first change is to expand the qualifying criteria.”

McKee said many senior gang members have other people doing their “dirty work” for them.

The bill would be expanded to include more gang members regardless of their criminal record.

“This change supports our police, to keep our community safe from gang crime.”

Associate Minister of Justice (Firearms) Nicole McKee announces new measures that will enable police to crack down on gangs through Firearms Prohibition Orders today. Photo / Mark MitchellAssociate Minister of Justice (Firearms) Nicole McKee announces new measures that will enable police to crack down on gangs through Firearms Prohibition Orders today. Photo / Mark Mitchell

The third change is to establish a way for people who “no longer pose a risk” to have their FPO removed.

“It sends a clear message to criminals, that gun crime will not be tolerated.”

McKee said at the moment, 31 people have FPOs against them.

She expects this to increase to 80-100 after the passing of the amendment.

McKee said while we’ve given police the power to apply to the court to place a FPO on a person, current laws prevent police from checking up with them.

“We don’t know how many people will be added to the system but I expect it to be more.

“I’ve already sought advice from the Crown Law who have said that what we are doing is neither a new punishment nor a new penalty.

“We’ve got to make sure that we have a regime that’s fit to purpose.”

Associate Justice Minister Nicole McKee is leading the reform. Photo / Lewis GardnerAssociate Justice Minister Nicole McKee is leading the reform. Photo / Lewis Gardner 

McKee denied the amendment was an overreach on the bill of rights of the public.

On criticism of the police’s “gang list” and how it would be used under this amendment, McKee said it wasn’t just about gangs but also criminal associates.

“But at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter about the list it’s about people that commit the crimes, that’s primarily gang members and their associates.”

“The reality about this is those on the FPO list do come from gangs.”

McKee said she was expanding the regime, so more people can be held accountable for committing crimes with guns through the FPO.

Police would also have more search rights.

“We are lowering the threshold.”

McKee said there was a specific focus on gangs in the proposed legislation, which would allow courts to issue a FPO to any member or associate of a gang who has been convicted of any drug, firearms or violent offence.

It is understood defining who was a gang member or associate would be done using the National Gang List, which has been criticised for not being an accurate method of determining gang membership.

Police would also be granted new powers to search offenders with an FPO, their vehicles, and their premises for firearms at any time.

The existing FPO legislation gave judges the ability to impose an order for up to 10 years, with any breaches potentially leading to jail time.

“The new legislation gives a judge the power to impose an order lasting 10 years and makes it a criminal offence to breach the conditions of the order. A breach is an imprisonable offence,” the statement said.

McKee said her bill would include the possibility of the FPO being “varied, modified or revoked” after five years.

“If someone can demonstrate that they no longer pose a risk to public safety, then they should be treated as such, but if they continue with their antisocial behaviour and put others in harm then it is in the public’s interest to make sure they can’t get their hands on more illegal firearms.”

McKee is also in charge of the rewrite of the Arms Act, something agreed to in the coalition deal between National and Act.

RNZ reported McKee said everything was on the table with respect to the rewrite, including allowing the return of semi-automatics being used for competition - that were outlawed following the deadly terror attack in Christchurch in 2019.

McKee has also been a vocal supporter of the gang patch ban proposed by the Government. The Opposition claims it would be impossible to enforce and would put police officers in danger.

In select committee yesterday, Justice Minister Paul Goldsmith accepted the ban’s implementation would be a challenge but said that shouldn’t be a reason not to try to reduce the gangs’ public intimidation.

Adam Pearse is a political reporter in the NZ Herald Press Gallery team, based at Parliament. He has worked for NZME since 2018, covering sport and health for the Northern Advocate in Whangārei before moving to the NZ Herald in Auckland, covering Covid-19 and crime. 

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