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Government must follow Australia's lead on gun legislation

Newstalk ZB, NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Tuesday, 19 March 2019, 11:06p.m.

The Government is being urged to go as far as Australia in limiting gun ownership. 

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is adamant that the gun lobby in New Zealand will not dilute the planned crackdown on firearms following the Christchurch mosque massacre.

"There is resolve and Cabinet has already made its decisions," she said at Parliament today.

The exact measures in that crackdown have not yet been revealed but are thought to include a ban on semi-automatic weapons and stricter licensing rules.

Ardern hinted that the reforms would be passed quickly, even if it goes through a select committee.

She said she did not expect any lobbying from the United States' National Rifle Association.

"We have our own culture in New Zealand. We see our own needs and I think the response we have will be a New Zealand one.

"We do have legitimate and responsible gun use particularly in our rural community - animal welfare and pest control. My view is that those gun owners will be with us."

University of Sydney researcher on gun policy Philip Alpers says that Ardern's steely resolve is welcoming, and he is pleased other parties have come on board.

However, Alpers warns that their good intentions could easily fail. 

"That could be very simply done by not doing it completely enough."

He says that New Zealand has to follow the example Australia set following the Port Arthur massacre. 

The April 1996 Port Arthur massacre, in which 35 people were killed, is the deadliest mass shooting in Australia's history. It prompted a massive overhaul of the country's gun control laws, after killer Martin Bryant used two military style semi-automatic rifles to carry out his deadly spree.

Then Prime Minister John Howard led the development of strict gun control laws, restricting the private ownership of semi-automatic rifles, semi-automatic shotguns and pump-action shotguns, as well as introducing uniform firearms licensing.

Alpers says that they destroyed about one million guns in Australia, estimated to be about a third of the gun stock. 

"It was a huge thing to do in Australia. As a result of that, the risk of dying by gunshot reduced by 50 per cent and it has stayed that way ever since." 

He says if that if New Zealand only ban military style weapons, that will do little to rectify the problem. 

"More than 100,000, maybe 200,000, out there, which can so easily be instantly converted into a MMSA."

He says New Zealand will need to ban the magazines as well as the weapons to prevent the conversion. 

Alpers also wants there to be a national gun registry, which is the most important thing in the long term. 

"It registers every firearm. It makes everyone personally accountable for every gun in their possession, just like a car. You're held responsible for the use of your vehicle and of your car."

He says that the number of guns being stolen in Australia have fallen since their registry was reduced. 

Australian Police are able to check their database before going to any incident to prepare themselves in case the person is armed. 

"When they go to the house, their is mandatory seizure of all firearms, and the only way they know how many guns to confiscate is if there is a register," Alpers says. 

Police Minister Stuart Nash, who has been conservative on gun reform in the past, has been assigned to consult with National to try and get cross-party support with the Opposition.

New Zealand First, which is seen as the strongest advocate of the gun lobby in Parliament, is now also behind the reform.

Leader Winston Peters said yesterday that a select committee report into firearms in 2017 had been primarily concerned about the access of illegal arms to gangs.

"The reality is though is that after 1 pm on the 15th of March, our world changed forever and so will some of our laws."

Paula Bennett, National's former Police Minister, rejected many recommendations to tighten gun laws after a year-long inquiry by the law and order select committee.

She accepted only seven out of 20.

The majority on the committee was held by National Party backbenchers.

Nash, who was Labour's police spokesman at the time, said Bennett had "got it 100 per cent right."

Among the committee's recommendations rejected by the Government were measures requiring the police to record serial numbers of all firearms upon renewal of licence or inspection, introducing a new licence to possess ammunition, and making dealers keep records of ammunition sales.

The Government also refused to accept the recommendation to investigate the creation of a category of restricted semi-automatic rifle and shotgun. The committee did not recommend banning semi-automatics.

The Police Association, the police officers' union, have been strong advocates for gun reform and slammed Bennett's decision at the time as the result of bowing to the gun lobby.

Federated Farmers expressed relief that the Government had accepted so few of the recommendations.

Bennett said at the time that while the inquiry had been well-intentioned, many of the recommendations would not have decreased the flow of firearms to criminals and gangs but would have unduly impacted on legally licensed firearms users.

Asked today if she regretted rejecting the recommendations from the firearms inquiry in 2017, Bennett said: "That's the time that it was in. There is no point in having hindsight. It's a great thing, but that was that time, we're in unprecedented times right now."

Her decisions had been supported by Labour at the time, as well.

She said looking ahead to the decisions made about firearms was more important at this time.

"I think that what we have to do is acknowledge the time we are in, the changes that we need to make, look at those proposals from the Government and go from there".

All parties in Parliament backed the establishment of the select committee inquiry in 2016 after the shooting of four police officers in Kawerau, and the discovery of a cache of weapons in the ceiling of a Takanini home including 14 military-style weapons, among them AK47s and M16s.


Report published in April 2017 after receiving 102 submissions from organisations and individuals. The Government published its response in June 2017

  • 1. A firearms licence required to possess ammunition. Reject.
  • 2. A dealer's licence required to sell ammunition. Reject.
  • 3. Dealers required to keep records of ammunition sales. Reject.
  • 4. Registration process for websites facilitating trading in firearms, parts, or ammunition. Partial rejection - not registration but clarify "mail order" process applies to online sales.
  • 5. Permit to procure extended to cover all sales or transfers of firearms (i.e. include A-category firearms). Reject.
  • 6. Investigate the creation of a category of restricted semi-automatic rifle and shotgun. Reject.
  • 7. Implement firearm prohibition orders. Accept.
  • 8. Codify the "fit and proper" criteria in the Arms Act. Reject.
  • 9. Implement a stand-down period after licence revocation. Accept.
  • 10. Clarify that gang members or prospects must not be considered "fit and proper" to possess firearms. Accept.
  • 11. Require Police to record serial numbers of all firearms upon renewal of licence or inspection of premises. Reject.
  • 12. Review the penalties in the Arms Act. Accept.
  • 13. Treat dealer offending as aggravated at sentencing. Reject.
  • 14. Determine appropriate security standards for A-category licences. Accept.
  • 15. Secure storage confirmed before licence or endorsement received. Reject.
  • 16. Allow Police to enter premises to inspect security of A-category firearms. Reject.
  • 17. Failure to comply with storage regulations to result in mandatory revocation. Reject.
  • 18. Clarify and publicise the extent of amnesty provisions in the Arms Act 1983. Accept.
  • 19. Police publicise amnesty provisions. Reject.
  • 20. Check that firearms brought in on visitors permit are exported or transferred legally. Accept.

Additional Government recommendations:

  • 1. Provide the power to suspend licences.
  • 2. Police to improve its consultative processes with the firearms community.

- Additional reporting by Nicholas Jones


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