GUEST BLOG: Graeme Easte – Can new Government reign in ACT/NZ First gun fetishists?

Second Amendment


Gun control was a quiet “sleeper” issue during the recent election – only Act actively campaigned for weakened controls over private ownership and use of firearms.  But New Zealand First had similar policies and now both parties will be part of the new Government so there are concerns about what changes they will seek to our gun laws and in particular the Firearms Register which was only launched in June this year.  So far roughly 15,000 or about 7% of active licence holders and their approximately 70,000 firearms have been registered out of an estimated 1.2 to 1.7 million guns thought to be in circulation.  This is early days as the extensive process of vetting and recording of gun owners and their weapons is planned to take five years to complete.

Before the Christchurch Mosque massacre in 2019, the deadliest shooting incident in New Zealand was at the village of Aramoana in 1990, when David Gray killed 12 neighbours, including four children, and a policeman, using his personal armoury of eight firearms including several semi-automatic rifles.  A lengthy debate on gun control followed, including the appropriateness of allowing military-style semi-automatic rifles (MSSAs) in civilian hands and the ability of individuals to accumulate a cache of firearms without Police being aware of the danger.  Mass-importation of so-called AK47 look-alikes (MSSAs) had begun in the mid-80s, shortly after the registration of firearms was abandoned in 1983.

Aramoana led directly to the Arms Amendment Act 1992, which tightened gun control and created the MSSA class of firearms – although still permitted they came under explicit controls such as the E (for Endorsed) category restrictions.  In 1996, following later incidents here and overseas, the Government commissioned former judge Sir Thomas Thorp to thoroughly review our legislation.  His extensive report to parliament was the most comprehensive review of 150 years of firearms control and made 28 detailed recommendations.  Unfortunately only one of Thorp’s proposed improvements was implemented – and even that was not passed into law until the terrible events four years ago.

The most extreme pro-gun advocacy at the time went well beyond representation of shooters’ legitimate interests and began attempting to introduce an American-style approach to civilian use of firearms.  In particular the newly formed Sporting Shooters Association (NZSSA), which was actively supported by the National Rifle Association of America (NRA), pushed for the unfettered “right to bear arms” as in the widely misrepresented 2nd Amendment to the US Constitution.  As a Gunsafe board member I recall our alarm at their attempt to introduce the NRA’s “Eddie the Eagle” program into New Zealand primary schools in 1994.  If successful, this would have led to all school-age children (about 83% from households that do not own firearms and who would otherwise have little or no direct experience of guns), being indoctrinated and trained in their use.  Carefully avoiding publicity, Gunsafe quietly wrote to all schools in the country, explaining that what they were being sold as useful instruction in gun safety was actually cunningly designed to normalise firearms as part of everyday kiwi living.  Heeding our warning, nearly all schools ignored the offer and only two actually enrolled in the scheme.  Despite this success, Gunsafe eventually gave up our attempts at sensible gun reform because the government was showing no real interest in controlling MSSAs or a comprehensive register of guns and their owners.

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Only after the tragedy in 2019 was there at last widespread public support for both measures.  So the MSSAs were very quickly banned altogether, except for a tiny handful of exemptions, mainly for pest control.  And 40 years after New Zealand gave up on a proper firearms register we have at last begun the job of compiling a complete register of all owners cross-linked with a full record of all legitimate firearms.

So, what will the new Government do?  I certainly hope that National as the lead party will not agree to reverse the widely supported restrictions on automatic and semi-automatic weapons.  But I am concerned about progress slowing on the firearms register.  Even if it survives, there is a risk that the Government will simply under-resource the Firearms Safety Authority so that they are unable to complete their work busily recording arms and updating licence holder details.  One argument I expect them to use is that the exercise is pointless if gangs don’t register their weapons.  This ignores the fact that any unregistered gun found by the Police is now liable to automatic seizure and destruction.  Even though the register will never be complete due to non-compliance issues it will make the Police’s work so much easier as they will not have to prove that a given gun was used in a particular offence – if not registered it is forfeit and whoever was in possession is criminally liable.

Note, I fully expect to be challenged at to the accuracy of the numbers of registrations in my opening paragraph. The Firearms Safety Authority only update their official numbers monthly so the most recently published data is from weeks ago when the official number of items registered was 68,268 – so I am quite confident that the number has now grown to over 70,000, and probably well on the way to 80,000. Given the uncertainty I telephoned the Authority today and had it confirmed that numbers have been tracking upwards over time.

 

TDB Recommends NewzEngine.com

Graeme Easte is a Long-time gun safety advocate and former Board Member of Gunsafe New Zealand



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