The government's announcement of tougher penalties for knife crimes is a preamble to the bigger, harder issue – gun control. Will it have the courage to tackle our gun culture in this political climate? And what about online sales?

Isn't it curious how quickly we forget? Fourteen months ago today, police were exchanging shots with Jan Molenaar in Napier and sending LAVs up to his front door. The next day the 51 year-old was found dead and eventually police discovered 18 guns in his house. A nervous public started debating gun control.

Yet the discussion fizzled as the government ordered reports and refused to engage while the matter was before the courts – the usual political stalling tactics.

Time has been bought and – perhaps this is a good thing – the steam released from the debate. Best of all, while the politicians have delayed and the police have reviewed, we haven't seen any more Molenaar-like gun violence. But the latent debate is about to re-commence. The police report on gun control that was ordered by Police Minister Judith Collins after Molenaar's siege is due on her desk soon.

The minister's office tells me the police are looking at "a range of options" in considering improved gun control, so really, everything's on the table.

No matter what the police recommend, the core question will be this: while the government has hinted at its willingness to take on the drinking culture in this country, will it also dare to tackle our gun culture? Or will potential accusations of "nanny state" convince it to lower its sights?

This week Justice Minister Simon Power took on knives, saying that he was determined to stop knife-crime escalating. Tougher laws, he says, will mean more public safety. And presumably what's good for the knife-goose is also good for the gun-gander, right?

What the government will come up against, of course, is just how much we love our guns in this country. A little more than four million of us own an estimated 1.2 millions guns. Well, to be precise, those guns are owned by 225,000 licenced gun owners. Police have no idea how many unlicensed guns there are out there, but 50,000 people who owned guns in 2002 have failed to renew their licence and haven't handed over their guns. Former Police Minister Richard Prebble has told me he suspects the number could be as high as a few hundred thousand.

When Molenaar embarked on his 50-hour siege people started remembering the landmark Thorp report from 1997, completed after the Aramoana tragedy. It recommended three main changes:

  • an independent registry for guns, not just licences for gun owners. It's the system they have in Australia, Canada and Britain. We licence drivers and register their drivers, why not do the same for weapons?
  • a buy-back of military-style automatic weapons. Really, there's no need for them. They're not hunting weapons and are way more powerful than anything needed for self-defence.
  • and third, gun owners should have to re-apply for their licences every three years rather than every ten.

Justice Thorp used both barrels in his report, saying "police have not been able to adequately enforce compliance" and "there is a need for radical reform of the firearm laws". But the pro-gun lobby is strong in this country and the good judge's intentions were thwarted..

The Thorp recommendations still sit on the shelf as we wait for the Arms Amendment Bill to finally get dealt with by our politicians. Will the police report have the wisdom to recommend implementation? Can Commissioner Howard Broad offer improved gun control as a parting shot? Will Police Minister Judith 'Crusher' Collins risk her popularity with the 'lock 'em up, but love your gun' crowd?

It's probably one of those political issues that only the party least inclined to act can dare tackle. Y'know, how left-wing governments can get away with more free-market reform and right-wing governments can be kinder to minorities without suffering the damage of political stereotyping. Labour is assumed to be a party of do-gooding liberals, therefore takes care to look tough on guns and crime. On the other hand National, assumed to be farmer-loving tough nuts, may just have the political cover to make some changes.

Its problem, if it is so inclined, is that the ETS has already created tensions between this government and its farmer base, and its need to stay on side with rural New Zealand may undermine any gumption it has to act.

One area where it could take aim, however, is the sales of guns online. Collins has already said that the law on gun sales needs updating. Stings by media from the Sunday Stary Times to 60 Minutes have shown journalists buying guns off TradeMe without a licence. Piece of cake.

New Zealand is out of step internationally in the way it allows people to buy and sell deadly weapons online. As far back as 1999 E-Bay decided to pull guns from its site, yet TradeMe continues to deal in all manner of guns as if they are no different from porcelain miniatures or second-hand furniture.

It would be an easy start for the government, and may just make us a little safer. If it can promise to limit the sales of knives, why not guns? Or are we just going to forget the lessons of Aramoana and Napier, until it happens again?

 

Comments (24)

by Mr Magoo on July 08, 2010
Mr Magoo

"They're not hunting weapons and are way more powerful than anything needed for self-defence."

Hang on a second...was that a direct quote?

Do we actually ALLOW gun ownership for self defence??

Is this he US-style premise that many people obtain their gun licenses with? Call me naive but I was totally ignorant of this if it was the case. But not as ignorant as those who allow it.

by stuart munro on July 08, 2010
stuart munro

National will likely be endorsing police demands for hand guns. It seems unduly optimistic to expect any restraint from them.

by Tim Watkin on July 08, 2010
Tim Watkin

Magoo, I was covering off every argument in advance! Maybe I spent too long in the States, but I'm assuming that some New Zealanders buy guns for self defence. Someone can tell me if I'm wrong.

To be clear, while I'm refering to the recommendations of the Thorp report, the words and commentary is mine. No quotes, except for those words in quotation marks.

by B M Rogers on July 08, 2010
B M Rogers

Tim

If you state that you intend to use a gun for self-defence or that the Arms Officer suspects that is a reason for gaining a Licence then that is enough of a reason to decline your application.

Pg 40 of the Arms Code

Self-defence is not a valid reason to possess firearms. The law does not permit the possession of firearms ‘in anticipation’ that a firearm may need to be used in self-defence.

Reasons for non-suitability.

People who have

• a history of violence or
• repeated involvement with drugs or
• been irresponsible with alcohol or
• a personal or social relationship with people who may be deemed to be unsuitable to obtain access to firearms
• indicates an intent to use firearms for self defence

Personally happy with Licence conditions, do think that a register of all guns should be keep nationally. Police do now record what guns, type, caliber and serial numbers you own when you re-licence.

The Police were very sloppy in the 1990's over following up on lapsing licence owners - hence the Molenaar situation. They now pay more attention to that part now.

Whilst Trademe is a great way to put buyers and sellers together - is it any different from a classified in the paper or gun magazine? Should that be banned as well?

It is the seller of the firearm that has is responsible for sighting a valid firearm. It's an offence to sell a firearm and/or ammunition to a person without a valid firearm's licence.

One of the 225,000 licenced gun owners

by Andrew Geddis on July 08, 2010
Andrew Geddis

Tim,

We have no idea why people buy guns. You don't have to give a reason for doing so. What you need is a firearms licence, which you can get without saying why you want it. A standard licence lets you have and use "sporting type shotguns and rifles". The "military style automatic weapons" you mention actually are illegal in NZ - only semi-automatic guns are allowed, and to possess these you need a special endorsement on your licence.

by B M Rogers on July 08, 2010
B M Rogers

in addition for Mail Order of Internet Sales from pg 46 of the Arms Code.

Mail order and internet sales

If you are purchasing firearms or ammunition in any non face to face transaction you must provide an order form, certified by the Police, verifying your firearms licence details. (Police have a standard form for this.) This includes internet and mail order sales.

And of course it was calibre not caliber previously.

Would be good to see some figures on firearm violations or of firearms used in a crime what the breakdown is of whether they were committed by licenced holders or not-licenced holders.

Anyone know of those figures? Police Dept? Courts?

by B M Rogers on July 08, 2010
B M Rogers

Andrew

I buy guns to shoot animals that I then dress and butcher and then eat.

Normally during the course of the re-licence process the Arms Officer will ask you why you want the licence Hunting?, Target?, Pest Control?

Regards

 

 

by Andrew Geddis on July 08, 2010
Andrew Geddis

Blair,

Yes - I was going on the papers, without knowing what oral questions the Arms Officer might ask. But unless someone is pretty dumb and unable to say "I want to shoot deer/ducks" rather than "I want to shoot anyone I don't like who comes through my door at night", I suspect we don't know the real reasons that at least some people have guns!

by B M Rogers on July 08, 2010
B M Rogers

Andrew,

My impression of Arms Officers - normally canny old school coppers that can sense bullsh#t a mile away.

At my last re-licence the Arms Officer and I had a decent old chat, covered a lot of ground and was quite comprehensive. Asking more than purely what's in the book/paper/arms code.

He said that they have actually had people state that they wanted a firearms licence for self defence. So it was an instant fail.

Essentially they are a making a judgement on character and what is told to them and what the two character references state - and at the end of the day that is the best that they can go on.

 

 

by B M Rogers on July 08, 2010
B M Rogers

Andrew,

You being the legal beagle type - might be interested in the following link, would be interested in any thoughts that you have on that.

http://www.nsanz.org.nz/pages/operations/self_defence.html

by Mr Magoo on July 08, 2010
Mr Magoo

Well that is all well and good. I am sure there are many people who pretend to be hunters and primarily want them for self defense.

I know that you cannot get even semi-automatic military rilfes etc without a extended license which requires MUCH greater scrutiny. (it is called a dealers/collectors endorsement) Apparently not many are given out.

http://www.police.govt.nz/service/firearms/index.html

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gun_politics_in_New_Zealand#Categories_of_f...

But you cannot blame me for being confused! :)  You bullet list begins with:

"It recommended three main changes:"

And then mixes the paraphrased recommendations with what I assume is commentary.

by Andrew Geddis on July 08, 2010
Andrew Geddis

Blair,

It's a bit confused. In particular, when it says "The legislation says that a firearm cannot be possessed for other than a lawful, proper and sufficient reason. Nowhere in New Zealand law is self-defence legislated, regulated or ruled improper, unlawful and insufficient."

Self-defence actually IS heavily regulated as a concept - hence the court cases that the web-page refers to later on. Shooting someone is a crime, unless you can plead self-defence (or defence of another). And you only are entitled to use reasonable force (determined objectively) to defend yourself in the circumstances as you see them (determined subjectively). Simply put - you can shoot someone who is going to shoot you (or hit you with a machete), but you can't shoot someone who is going to punch you.

So, the position in NZ (as I understand it) is that if you turn up and say "I want a gun for self defence", you are indicating you are the kind of person who is likely to need one for self defence (as the law allows this - remember, you can't shoot someone who is going to punch you). As gun crime/machete attacks/etc still affect only a tiny number of people in NZ, most of whom are involved in the criminal underworld, this indicates you are the sort of person who shouldn't have a gun.

Alternatively, if you are so paranoid as to think you might be a random victim of gun crime/machete attacks, then you probably will overreact to perceived threats and end up shooting someone when you shouldn't (i.e. fire first and ask questions later). Again, not the sort of person who should have a gun.

Note - none of this applies to someone who has a gun for a "proper purpose" (i.e. hunting/target shooting) and then gets caught up in a situation where they may need to use it for (legitimate) self-defence. That seems to be the case for the Auckland gunstore owner - he never claimed to need his weapons for self-defence, it's just that because he was running a gun shop he happened to have one at hand (which he wouldn't have needed ... except that he was running a gun store).

by Cam Slater on July 08, 2010
Cam Slater

Tim, you forgot to mention that Jan Molenaar didn't have a licence, didn't obtain the guns legally, so any changes like those you moot above wouldnt have stopped him, he was a criminal, he didn't follow the law and gun control simply disarms legal firearms owners.

The old adage that Gun's don't kill people,People kill people still holds true.

If you say otherwise then you are contending that keyboards make spelling mistakes.

Gun Control in my world is hitting what you aim at despite recoil.

by william blake on July 08, 2010
william blake

...time to invoke Izzard.

"And the National Rifle Association says, 'Guns don't kill people, people do,' but I think the gun helps, you know? I think it helps. I just think standing there going 'Bang!' -- that's not going to kill too many people, is it?"


“Guns don't kill people, people kill people, and monkeys do too (if they have a gun).”


by stuart munro on July 09, 2010
stuart munro

A lot of issues here, but

Trying to regulate knives is likely to be pretty difficult. Any local pathologist will tell you it's not balisongs or Kbars or Gerber artisan objet, but the Wiltshire staysharp that you should be afraid of, if you're lucky enough to be facing your assailant.  I doubt that anything will approach the effectiveness of the old British 'knives are for the effeminate' taboo, which probably can't be quickly rebuilt.

Hunting guns are mostly pretty responsibly used here, & to date NZ's gun culture can't be compared to what Michael Moore showed in Bowling for Columbine.

But I wouldn't want to see an increase in handguns, which are a distinctly inferior policing instrument even in skilled hands.

You'd think that Trademe would be especially easily policed in the matter of gun sales though. Wonder why it hasn't been. Maybe John Key's car should look into it.

by Lew on July 09, 2010
Lew

Tim, you're off-base on this one. Seems to me like you're approaching gun control in NZ like you would in the US context, when it's a very different kettle of fish indeed.

In a nutshell: there's no real problem to solve, and solving what minor problems there are with gun crime would require a massive investment of both money and political capital, when both could better be expended on more pressing concerns.

A much longer response <a href="http://www.kiwipolitico.com/2010/07/sleeping-dogs/">here</a>.


Cheers,

L

by Lew on July 09, 2010
Lew

Sigh. Seems I don't get to use HTML tags here. Sorry about that :)

L

by Tim Watkin on July 09, 2010
Tim Watkin

Lew, you can add a link to your words by using the link icon in the comment box, or just cut and paste a URL as others have.

William, you're bang on, if you'll excuse the pun! Of course guns kill people (as do people). To extend Cam's metaphor, you can't spell correctly or incorrectly without a keyboard... and you can't shoot, to kill or otherwise, without a gun. Both go hand in hand.

As police say, most unlicenced guns were once licenced, so over time a registry would be of assistance in tracking guns even after they become illegal. If police seize a gun from a crimescene/criminal and can trace it back to its previous legal owner and the legal owner could be held accountable for what happened to that gun (if, of course, it wasn't just stolen etc), then sloppy legal owners might be a little more careful in future. Hence, a register may stop illegal guns falling into the hands of some future Molenaar. And if the MSSAs he owned had been bought back, well, he wouldn't have had them, would he?

Andrew, working from a news report I was reading, I omitted the crucial word 'semi'. Thorp recommended a buyback of "military style semi-automatics" or MSSAs.

Blair, good to know the rules and the care taken. Ta. But I don't believe for a second that all sellers obey those rules - indeed those media reports show they don't. There's no enforcement, and no possible way to police every online sale (and I'm sure there are heaps more of those than via newspaper classifieds).

by B M Rogers on July 09, 2010
B M Rogers

Tim,

Whilst I stated the rules - and how they have worked for me - I agree with your point that not all private sellers of firearms might have taken due care.

A person was charged and convicted with providing a firearm to an unlicenced Molaneer you might recall. There seems to be more enforcement now - the 1990's whilst they had the laws the actual enforcement of the Act was very piecemeal - almost dependent on Police District priorities.

Since the Police stopped maintaining a very incomplete register of firearms to owners in 1983 - I would contend that most firearms in NZ have never been licenced. Around 28 years worth of guns brought and sold.

And unfortunately - any number of automatics, pistols and other non compliment firearms have been smuggled into the country as well. Not expecting that to ever change.

Personally I'm not against a register of guns to licence holders - but as per normal for NZ - it's the law abiding members of society that will comply, foot the bill - whilst those that thumb it - will carry on irrespective and not give two hoots.

by DeepRed on July 09, 2010
DeepRed

Two words: arms race. If the crims know that every law-abiding citizen sleeps with a pistol under their pillow, then the crims will probably start packing SMGs. And so forth.

Molenaar was indeed licensed - only for his licence to eventually expire. And given his background in the Territorials...

And remember Prince Philip's response to the Dunblane massacre? He basically said that you could kill someone with a cricket bat if you swung hard enough, so will they ban cricket bats too? The answer - yes it can, but the keywords are 'used as directed'. Guns kill when used as directed. Cricket bats don't.

by Tim Watkin on July 09, 2010
Tim Watkin

Blair, re the law abiding folk carrying the can – that's the way it always works in such things. C'est la vie. But with guns a register could make a real difference in time. Most illegal guns start off as legal guns, so if we register them, compel the law abiders to take great care of them, the situation's likely to improve.

And  a buyback and amnesty wouldn't go amiss. As it's been described to me, after the Port Arthur shootings in Australia, John Howard initiated the world's biggest buyback, with an amnesty and a financial incentive to take guns out of circulation. Huge numbers were handed in and the rate of gun deaths has dropped since.

I know, I know, you can't claim simple cause and effect on such things. But it's reasonable to assume that it contributed to the drop in gun violence, and surely even a few lives saved is worthwhile.

 

by IanL on July 26, 2010
IanL

A LITTLE GUN HISTORY
.In 1929, the Soviet Union established gun control. From 1929 to 1953, about 20 million dissidents, unable to defend themselves, were rounded up and exterminated.
------------------------------
In 1911, Turkey established gun control. From 1915 to 1917, 1.5 million
Armenians, unable to defend themselves, were rounded
up and exterminated.
------------------------------
Germany established gun control in 1938 and from 1939 to 1945, a total of
13 million Jews and others who were unable to defend themselves were
rounded up and exterminated.
------------------------------
China established gun control in 1935. From 1948 to 1952, 20 million
political dissidents, unable to defend themselves, were rounded up and
exterminated.
------------------------------
Guatemala established gun control in 1964. From 1964 to 1981, 100,000
Mayan Indians, unable to defend themselves, were rounded up and exterminated.
------------------------------
Uganda established gun control in 1970. From 1971 to 1979, 300,000 +
, unable to defend themselves, were rounded up and exterminated.

------------------------------
Cambodia established gun control in 1956. From 1975 to 1977, one million
"educated" people, unable to defend themselves, were rounded up and
exterminated.
------------------ -----------
Defenseless people rounded up and exterminated in the 20th Century because of gun control = 56 million+.
------------------------------
In the first 12 months after gun owners in Australia were forced, by new law, to surrender 640,381 personal firearms to be destroyed by their own
government, a program costing Australia taxpayers more than $500 million dollars. The first year results were:
Australia-wide, homicides were up 3.2 percent
Australia-wide, assaults were up 8.6 percentAustralia-wide, armed
robberies were up 44 percent (yes, 44 percent)!

In the state of Victoria alone, homicides with firearms are were up 300
percent. Note, that while the law-abiding citizens turned them in, the
criminals did not, and now only the criminals still have their guns!

While figures over the previous 25 years showed a steady decrease in armed robbery with firearms, this was changed drastically upward in the  12 months following gun control, since criminals now are guaranteed that their prey is unarmed.

There has also been a dramatic increase in break-ins, home invasion robberies (with the people still at home) and assaults of the ELDERLY. Australian politicians are at a loss to explain how public safety has so drastically decreased, after such monumental effort, and expense was expended in successfully ridding Australian society of guns.

Canada is in the process of introducing Bill c-391 to repeal Bill c-68 which in 1995 removed all handguns from all licence holders held under the 1934 act and also licenced long guns and shotguns .The cost to maintain that registry has been estimated at C $ 1 Billion since introduction and at best of dubious value in preventing crime or saving lives with the homocide rate from 2002 to 2008 increasing by 24%.They have seen that method of gun management does not work.

Guns in the hands of honest citizens save lives and property and, yes,
gun-control laws adversely affect only the law-abiding citizens.

Take note my fellow citizens, before it is too late

With guns, people are 'citizens'.

Without them, they are 'subjects'.

The present New Zealand gun laws work  so why fix something that is not broken.

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