New Zealand inquiry misfires on firearms - shooters unite as report lines up the wrong target

There is no doubt that Australia and New Zealand are close allies. Our cultural similarities, friendly sporting rivalries and the shared history of the Anzacs unites our Commonwealth nations. This bond is also evident between the two peak shooting organisations, the SSAA and the Council of Licenced Firearms Owners (COLFO), united in protecting our chosen recreation.

In a sad reflection of the current political attitudes towards our sport, a recent New Zealand Government inquiry into the illicit firearms market has delivered a flawed final report that fails to address the growing criminal concern. Furthermore, the majority of recommendations from the Law and Order Committee’s Inquiry into issues relating to the illegal possession of firearms in New Zealand overwhelmingly targets the law-abiding firearm owner.

Australian shooters may recall a similar experience following the Greens-led Senate inquiry into firearm-related violence in 2015, which the SSAA described as a witch-hunt and thinly veiled attempt to attack legitimate firearms ownership. The majority of politicians involved in the inquiry rightly focused on the criminal possession of firearms, with the final testimony recommending evidence-based initiatives that would address the illicit market. In stark contrast, the minority report authored by one Greens Senator and backed by a lone Labor politician was quickly dismissed as ideological propaganda. Both politicians are no longer in the parliament.

Like the SSAA, our New Zealand counterparts have sent out a cry of outrage regarding recommendations that would severely impinge on the nation’s 240,000-plus gun owners. COLFO slammed the committee for not addressing the inquiry’s terms of reference, calling it “a waste of taxpayers’ money” and noting the absence of any cost-benefit analyses. “Instead, virtually without exception, it makes recommendations that target only legal possession of firearms and creates solutions that are unworkable, expensive, impracticable and will make no difference to criminal firearm misuse,” COLFO said in a statement shared with the SSAA.

Included among the many flawed recommendations was a proposed new firearms licence category for “restricted semi-automatic” rifles and shotguns; the gradual establishment of a firearms registry with police required to record serial numbers as firearms licenses are renewed; and a push to record all ammunition sales. The latter is similar to the ineffective and irresponsible ‘Ammo Bill’ in New South Wales, with a raft of changes currently being considered following the lack of evidence the law has stopped or solved gun crime.

The inquiry itself was established following a reported rise in illegal gun seizures by police and the capture of 14 illegally held firearms in Auckland. Just one was found to be legally imported. The New Zealand Police Minister requested the committee investigate the size of the illicit firearms market and use and access to firearms by criminal gangs and ascertain solutions to stop the flow of firearms to criminals. The SSAA put forward a submission to the inquiry, noting our wealth of experience and research into this matter. This was welcomed by our fellow New Zealand shooters.

Following the release of the final account in April, COLFO has rightly pointed out that the committee incorrectly and insultingly infers that criminals are sourcing their illicit wares via theft from licensed owners. “There is no information into how criminals come into possession of firearms,” COLFO said. “The assumption must be therefore that sale or theft from lawfully held firearms is the major source of criminal supply. This assumption is made because the overall response of the report is towards legally held firearms and existing ‘fit and proper’ people.”

COLFO went on to say that: “Nowhere in the report is there any indication of the answer to this question of how widespread criminal misuse is… This is a clear failure by the committee to do what it was asked to do. It may well be that this is simply ‘too hard’ as to gather this information would require criminal elements to volunteer their sources.”

In further proof that the approach by governments to firearms policy is indeed changing, all evidence given by the New Zealand Police and bizarrely the New Zealand Police Association, which represents police officers, was initially suppressed; both were deliberately withheld from the public and media. COLFO labelled such secrecy as “deeply troubling” and said it reflected an “overall loss of trust and confidence” in the police. “The New Zealand Police are now considered by many in the shooting community to have lost their trust,” COLFO said.

Following repeated requests for the evidence to be released, the documents were finally made public. Disappointingly, the submission by the New Zealand Police Association blamed theft from licensed owners as the “major source for organised crime group members” and suggested that the government look at adopting gun control measures “in place in Australia but not in New Zealand.” The submissions further confirmed that the police would prefer less guns in the community, adopting the simplistic view that this will somehow make frontline police officers safer.

SSAA National President Geoff Jones, who has been following the inquiry closely, said he sympathised with our New Zealand counterparts, labelling the outcomes listed in the report as “emotive and subjective, rather than evidence-based.” “As with our experience during the 2015 Senate inquiry, our New Zealand friends have been subjected to a costly and time-consuming exercise that has failed to address the real problem of criminals and access to illicit firearms,” he said.

Geoff rightly points out that New Zealand has a very low rate of firearm-related crime, historically similar to Australia, but with less stringent firearms laws. “One only has to tune into the news each night to realise that Australia’s onerous gun laws cannot be heralded as stopping gun crime. Criminals clearly continue to wield unregistered firearms, but governments continue to insist on focusing on the licensed firearm owners instead of addressing the real issues,” he said.

Geoff also added: “The fact that the Police and the Police Association’s submissions were kept secret begs the question: was this to conceal a hidden or disingenuous agenda? It also raises valid concerns about the role of the police as both enforcers of the law, and writers of the very law that they enforce. This scary trend can also be seen occurring in Australia.”

While the Australian Government did not respond to the findings from the 2015 Senate Inquiry as is the custom, citing a record number of inquiries during the last parliament, the New Zealand Government is due to deliver a response to its inquiry by July this year. The SSAA will continue to support our New Zealand counterparts as we both remind the lawmakers that further policing and restrictions on licensed firearms owners, as a solution to stopping gun crime, is a fallacy.

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