I value the guns I own, but with ownership comes responsibility and it's reasonable to expect licences and those who enfore them to ensure the safety of all New Zealanders

Given the public mood following the Christchurch terror attacks, I have felt some discomfort in admitting I hold a firearms licence. Understandbly, in the wake of the mosque shootings, there is a very strong anti-firearms sentiment in the public mind.

Gun ownership is legitimate and legal, but the way firearms are presented in the media there is a shadow over guns and its hard not to feel a little under a cloud.

Perhaps some context will aid understanding of the reasons I have a license. My father was a farmer and a knowledgeable history buff. I share that same interest.

His history bent left him with a deep interest in the American Civil War and he collected a fair bit of civil war literature and paraphernalia, including weapons used in that period. When he died my sisters had no interest so I inherited these items. Amongst others, I have a black powder muzzle loading musket. For those who don’t know, to load a muzzle loader takes the best part of a minute. Some very skilled operators can do it in 30 seconds, but for most it takes much longer. It fires one shot and then needs to go through the reloading process again. Muzzle loaders were replaced by much easier to reload breach loaders in the mid-1800s.

My dad also passed on to me a excellent condition genuine World War I fully wooded Lee Enfield .303. It a very good example of the rifles used at Gallipoli and in the trenches of the Western Front. I don’t use it to shoot but value it for what it is and as a family heirloom. I also have a couple of air rifles – slug guns – given to me when I was a boy.

As a farmer, my father dealt with the quite serious rabbit and opossum problem on our farm with a .22 bolt action rifle – we called it the ‘pea rifle’. They fire a small bullet. I also own a .22 silenced Ruger .22 which is still used to hold rabbits at bay – and they are serious this year - on our lifestyle block in a way that does not alarm neighbours. My dad was also a keen hunter and duck shooter so he had a deer hunting rifle – a bolt action .223 and a couple of shotguns (a pump action and a side by side).

Personally I am not into hunting – I am happy to leave the ducks and deer at peace. But we are all different. In principle, as much as they can without hurting or affecting others, I think people should do and be what they want to do and be.

From as early as I can remember, my dad drilled the firearm safety message into our heads. All my firearms are kept in an approved safe. We do everything we can to be assured our firearms will never harm anyone.

In the wake of the Christchurch attack, there has been a huge focus on semi-automatics. A semi-automatic reloads after each bullet is fired using some of the power from the shot to drive the reloading mechanism. It is then ready to fire again. But you only get one shot per trigger pull. The alternative is a bolt action. Here the person firing opens and closes the bolt after each shot. It is not as fast as a semi-automatic but in the hands of an experienced operator is only a very little slower.

Military-style semi automatics and assault rifles have been banned already; all the guns used in the mosque attacks. An amnesty is in place. The government is still considering how much further to go with law reform.

Some commentators who obviously know little about guns leave the impression that the world will be safe if we just get rid of semi-automatics. That is not correct. Bolt action rifles used wrongly can be very dangerous too. Indeed that is the point. Firearms of any sort – semi-automatics, bolt actions, even muzzle loaders – should be kept out of the hands of the wrong people.

I was very surprised to read that the shooter had purchased these deadly weapons on an A licence, and what is more, online. Some media reports on the way the checking process was carried out by the Police with this Firearms Licence application in this case if true seem careless. From society’s point of view, the purpose of a licensing system is to say that being permitted to own a firearm is a privilege; to protect society from firearms getting into the hands of the wrong people. Licences should not be given to people unless the system carefully checks and assures that their owning firearms is not allowing weapons to fall into the hands of potentially dangerous people.

The A licence is meant to be the very basic licence. A weapon with the more dangerous elements like assault rifles and MSSAs (Military Style Semi Automatics) supposedly required an E licence and both the owner and the weapon were required to to be registered with the Police. This strict E licensing process was there to keep these formidable weapons out of the hands of potentially dangerous people. Clearly it was not being run in a way that achieved that objective in this case.

If the licensing system cannot achieve that goal a ban becomes inevitable – there is no choice, and had I still been an MP I would have voted for it.

But if we are going to have a licensing system it should be tested against the objective of being a system intended to assure potentially dangerous situations are managed to lower risk in society as much as possible.

Comments (9)

by Alex Rahr on April 22, 2019
Alex Rahr

It's been reported that the Christchurch shooter purchased at least one gun and a conversion kit to make it a MSSA separately. Neither of these required an E licence on their own, while using the one on the other created a breach of his licence there's no way to detect that he did so. Banning the gun suitable to be converted is the only effective way to deal with it I think. Conversion kits would too easily be changed to get around the rules even though the current ones have been banned too under the new law.

Do versions of bolt-action rifles which can hold large amounts of ammunition even exist? If the shooter has to stop to reload every 5-6 shots the rate of fire might be less of a concern.

by Charlie on April 22, 2019
Charlie

Thanks for a well reasoned article Wyatt

Whilst I don't have a firearms licence here in NZ, I spent many years overseas living with and carrying guns as a means of self defence, and I have competed in a shooting sport. So I know a fair bit about the topic.

Firstly it's important to understand how we got ourselves into this mess:

After Aramoana the government of the day threw together legislation in haste (sound familiar?) that made absolutely no sense. The shooting community and police have been labouring with that mess ever since. It focussed on the appearance of a weapon rather than its capability. If the rifle looked nasty and scary to the uninformed, it got an MSSA rating. However, the same weapon with a different shaped stock could be bought with an A licence. It worked the other way too: A 100 year old bolt action Mauser with its original bayonet lug was an MSSA whilst the same rife with the lug removed was in the 'A' category. An AR15 was quite rightly classed as an MSSA but when sold with a thumbhole stock was an only an 'A'. Sillier still, that 'A' category AR15 could theoretically only ever be legally use with a small magazine, but the sale of high capacity magazines was completely unrestricted.

It gets even dafter when considering that the AR platform is modular: The uppers, lowers, barrels etc are all interchangeable. And only one part has a serial number. It must have driven the police crazy.

The result was that importers used the numerous loopholes in the law to import tens of thousands of semi-auto AK lookalikes and AR15s that allowed them to be sold as 'A' category rifles.

But despite the availability of tens of thousands of scary looking assault-style rifles we still had very little gun crime: about the same rate as Aussie, which had imposed strict gun ownership laws after Port Arthur. What gun crime there was, mostly consisted of gang members shooting each other, and their weapons of choice were the sawn-off shotgun or the semi-auto .22LR. (Both of which remain lavailable in the latest revision of the law) Ironically the only licenced shooter to have committed murder in the last few years was a cop. Equally ironically two people have been shot dead with air rifles over a similar period.

So what kept us safe all those years?

It was fairly tedious to get a gun licence. It required the passing of an examination, an interview by the police, personal references and an approved gun safe. All of which ensured only enthusiasts bothered to get licences.

Folk with gun licences cherished that licence. They recognised it was not an entitlement and went out of their way to stay squeaky clean.

The requirement to keep weapons in a safe limited access by kids and burglars so although there was some targetted gun theft by gangs, there were no guns lying around in sock drawers and in the glove boxes of cars like in the USA where an angry, drunk conversation can quickly turn into a shooting.

Where did we slip up and let this crazy guy gain access to assault style weapons?

Hopefully this will all come out in the report of the Royal Commission, but I am reliably informed that the requirement to interview references and interview the applicant in his home were removed by a parliamentary committee at the request of the police. A committee that was chaired by Jacinda Ardern. Apparently all those interviews were taking up too much valuable police time.

Hamilton was well known in the shooting community as an easy place to get a licence, so despite living in the South Island, he applied for his licence in Hamilton, was never interviewed in his home and his references were 'Facebook friends'. He wasn't a citizen so the auhorities knew nothing of his personal history.

The likely outcomes:

1. Gun crime will be undiminshed. My references are Australia and the UK where massive gun confiscations have taken place yet gangs still have access to guns and gun crime continues unabated. Guns can be smuggled in or manufactured. With a basic home workshop a FULL auto submachine gun can be made from off the shelf parts. Drawings are available online. This is happening now in Australia.

2. It will not reduce the chance of further terrorist attacks. Again Aussie and Europe are testimoney to that. Bombs and trucks are just as effective as guns in this regard.

3. Since nobody knows who has what weapons, a lot will depend on how much the government is offering for the buyback. A figure of $300 million has been mentioned but I don't know what that's based on.  Don't be surprised if it's double that. If the offer is low, a lot of weapons will 'disappear' or even worse, be sold to criminal elements.

by Fentex on April 23, 2019
Fentex

I personally fell there are about three issues that we could have avoided to prevent what happened.

The first is we shjouldn't issue firearm licenses to non-citizens. NZ has a sane firearm culture, we ought avoid importing lunacy.

The second is - how did this guy get a license at all? He'd only been in NZ a year or so when he did, how could he provide any referees with any possibility of attesting to his character honestly? I suspect the enquiry is going to embarass our poilice in this regard.

The third is - while it drives sane and responsible people mad for rules about Military Style weapons to be wrttien it is a fact that certain childish and dangerous people have insane and unreasonable attitudes towards them; it is precisely because of the stupid, rediculous and fantasist attitude some have that otherwise daft rules appear neccessary - and banning box magazine fed centre fire semi-automatics removes a opportunity to realize certain dangerous fantasies that has been proven to be a threat.

 

by Fentex on April 23, 2019
Fentex

1. Gun crime will be undiminshed.

2. It will not reduce the chance of further terrorist attacks

This is not an effort to address gun crime - it is an effort to reduce the opportunity for mass murders. Those are two different and distinct things.

The Al Noor mosque shooting happened precisely because an Australian could not legally obtain weapons at home he could here. These laws stopped this crime in Australia - why wouldn't they in NZ?

3. Since nobody knows who has what weapons, a lot will depend on how much the government is offering for the buyback.

Is this an argument that people who own these wepaons won't obey the law? Gee, I guess we'd better do something about the armed criminals then, shouldn't we?

by Charlie on April 23, 2019
Charlie

Fentex

A few matters arising:

Regarding licences for non-citizens. I agree. See my post above, it appears he got a licence with only superficial scrutiny and whilst the cops have been grandstanding in Wellington pointing the finger at lawful licence holders, the Royal Commission may ultimately point fingers back at them. Time will tell.

I resent your comment about "the stupid, rediculous[sic] and fantasist attitude". I have several friends who are retired soldiers, active soldiers and TA who compete in Service Rifle competitions, some internationally in the NZ team. They are as normal as anyone else and I believe have a right to their chosen sport. It hurts fewer people than fishing or rugby.

The law change is maybe an effort to reduce the opportunity for mass murder. I call that terrorism. But there are plenty of other means. 180 dead in the Nice, France truck attack for example. As I pointed out above, evidence from Aussie and the UK shows that it won't make their slightest difference overall.

Regarding the buy back, the Aussies had three buybacks, upping the offer each time and estimates of what percentage of guns they recovered vary from 20% to 80%. Basically nobody knows. A lot of banned weapons are cherished family heirlooms, valuable antiques or collectibles. There is a lot of resentment over the ban and the way it was railroaded through without due consideration. As a result a some will not be handed in. With a magic wand the government has turned a law abiding person into a criminal. To quote Ayn Rand:

“There's no way to rule innocent men. The only power any government has is the power to crack down on criminals. Well, when there aren't enough criminals, one makes them. One declares so many things to be a crime that it becomes impossible for men to live without breaking laws.”


by Lee Churchman on April 24, 2019
Lee Churchman

Wyatt shares my experience of NZ firearms culture. I've always had a positive attitude towards NZ gun owners because of the good experiences I had as a child. I used to tell disbelieving Americans that our main worry about guns was people shooting their hunting partners by accident–hence the "better no meat than no mate" campaign.

Like many people, I thought that MSSA weapons had been restricted. I didn't know that manufacturers had found cosmetic ways to bypass the restrictions. I'm guessing it was let slide because there is so little trouble from licensed gun owners in NZ. I still think that properly enforcing the original restrictions would have been the best response. 

by Lynn Prentice on April 25, 2019
Lynn Prentice

The alternative is a bolt action. Here the person firing opens and closes the bolt after each shot. It is not as fast as a semi-automatic but in the hands of an experienced operator is only a very little slower.

The point about semi-automatics has not that much to do with the speed of operation. Sure someone who is quite experienced can reload pretty fast with a pump, bolt or level action. But even they will have problems being able to hold an aiming point.

Reloading with a bolt or lever action there is almost invariably, even for the most experienced shooter, there are too many actions to maintain a tight aim. This means that it takes a lot longer to accurately fire again.

That was the reason why the semi-automatic mechanism was invented - for the battlefield for relatively inexperienced soldiers in close quarter combat.

There, the difference in reload times was less important than holding an aiming point. In a situation of close battlefield or urban warfare it shaves time between aimed shots. In the case of unarmed civilians in a room, it is likely to be the difference between being able to successfully jump a gunman (as eventually happened).

The problem is that arguing from the viewpoint of hunter as Wyatt is doing has virtually nothing to do with the world of close quarters combat - which is what that idiot was doing in Christchurch.

Some commentators who obviously know little about guns leave the impression that the world will be safe if we just get rid of semi-automatics

And with that statement I'd have to class Wyatt as a staid commentator who know little about the machanics of guns.

Semi-automatic mechanism is inherently not particularly hard to make into a partial or fully automatic weapon if you know what you are doing. Ask any gunsmith. Or these days just look on the net for instructions. Or just go and buy one of those ingenious devices like the bumpstock. 

It'd be virtually impossible to make a pump, bolt or level action into a semi-automatic.  Although if you look in 19th century attempts there were quite a lot of attempts to do so, usually more dangerous to the shooter than anyone else.

However something with the semi-automatic mechanism using blowback to reload is inherently capable of being put into the full or partial automatic operation. With the net to advise how to do it, it just requires skills that are way less strenuous then getting the eye-hand coordination of a experienced shooter.

That is why the semi-automatic mechanisms need to be kept out of the hands of the bright nutbars.

by Wyatt Creech on May 02, 2019
Wyatt Creech

Thanks for the comments all.

Alex -  your specific question which others could answer as well as me. My understanding is that regardless of what is available over the counter in retail, with relatively minor gunsmithing skills modifications to a bolt action rifle to operate a larger magazine are not too complicated. Where someone is determined to make a modification it could happen.

Charlie and others - Many valid points that deserve to be heard in the debate that when heard would contribute to a better law.

by Fentex on June 24, 2019
Fentex

Charlie: I resent your comment about "the stupid, rediculous[sic] and fantasist attitude". I have several friends who are retired soldiers, active soldiers and TA who compete in Service Rifle competitions, some internationally in the NZ team

Me too, I have several such weapons but obviously, obviously, I'm not a deranged child and don't need to be regulated.

But some poeple are and I'm quite convinced there is a distinct threat from fools and idiots who want to feel large, in chage and empowered by holding a big dick substitute that looks like the cool shit soldiers use.

One of them killed 50 of my neighbours.

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