Right now, in New Zealand, a quiet revolution is taking place. It isn’t technological, or a change to the education system, or a new and widespread understanding of an holistic approach to health and wellbeing.
Rather, it involves the steady, systematic, and stealthy overturning of more than eight centuries of established rights and freedoms that New Zealanders have inherited from their forebears, by way of the Mana Carta and the English Bill of Rights. It revolves around firearms ownership and use, and it is unfolding under our very noses.
Changes to firearms laws were initiated following the Christchurch Mosque massacres. But the changes thus far, supported by every Party in Parliament save one, have done nothing to address the causes of those horrific incidents.
And the changes themselves are being authored by the very same organization at whom responsibility for that episode of insane mass murder can very justifiably be ultimately levelled – the New Zealand Police system.
It was the Police who issued Brenton Tarrant with his firearms licence; who never enquired as to his criminal history in Australia; who only interviewed him online and not in person; and who allowed his two character referees to be a father and son, whom Tarrant himself only knew from an Internet chat room.
As usual, it isn’t the average cop in the street who’s responsible for this level of incompetence, but rather Police senior management and their seemingly politicised agenda.
And it was Police who allegedly failed to act on information from one of Tarrant’s former fellow Dunedin Gun Club members, himself ex-New Zealand Army, that Tarrant was a head case and a ticking time bomb.
That bomb then very predictably went off. And immediately afterwards, Police and the Government pushed the ‘Go’ button on a set of law changes that Police have been pushing for several years prior to the horror that was Christchurch – virtually the same, to the letter, as their expressed desires as put to the Law & Order Select Committee back when I was in Parliament.
These changes do nothing whatsoever to address criminal access to firearms. The sole justification in that regard is the claim that criminals’ source most of their guns by way of theft from legitimate owners, and that therefore removing access to said firearms from law-abiding people, will by extension prevent them from falling into criminal hands. But Police do not keep records of where firearms recovered from criminals are originally obtained, making that claim demonstrably false, irrespective of who is making it.
Two other facts stand out with regards to this claim. One, the predominant types of firearms preferred by crims in NZ are sawn-off double barrel shotguns, and cut-down .22 bolt action rifles. However, the law changes written by Police and signed off by Parliament focus instead on centrefire semi-automatic rifles and shotguns as used by literally hundreds of thousands of fully-vetted licence holders for hunting, pest control, and recreation, and which statistically never appear in the crime figures.
Two, every firearm imported legally into New Zealand requires an import licence issued by Police themselves. If the guns they were finding genuinely had been stolen from legitimate owners, Police would have access to that information from their own records – but again, these are records that they don’t appear to keep.
Some licence holders do report burglaries – at most, around 3% have been affected, according to one poll on a hunting website. The current figures show that Police only respond to around 20% of such reports, usually by way of a phone call at best, physically investigate about 7%, and manage to solve about half of those.
No, crims don’t get their guns from legitimate owners. They never did. They bring them in in crates of motorcycle parts, or in the personal effect’s lockers of foreign fishing boat crews. This is how Police are able to encounter firearms of types that have never been available to any lawful owner in New Zealand. No more than one shipping container in four entering NZ is ever inspected, and on busy days at big ports that figure can be as low as 1%. Yes, one percent, which is also how drugs get into the country.
The latest tranche of proposed firearms law changes are the most draconian to date. They see Police seeking the power to search and seize without warrant, and to declare a person to be an extremist by decree.
If this were based on some actual real threat to public safety, it might have some justification. But we don’t have gangland wars with civilians being mown down in the crossfire. Gangs as we know them, do keep their firearms-related violence very much in-house. We did have one deranged lunatic running amok, committing mass murder, who bought guns - using a licence that Police gave him.
And now those same Police want – and, it seems, will be given – the power to stop and search anyone, anytime; to enter any property, any time; to declare individuals as persona non grata where firearms are concerned, without investigation or trial; and to prohibit said individuals from associating with others by extension of that same decree. And when they have this power, rest assured they will use it. Law changes so far have only affected law-abiding people, and not targeted criminals at all; it is not credible to suggest that these latest ones will be used any differently.
Richard Prosser is a former NZ First politician, who served as a Member of Parliament from 2011 to 2017.