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Franks Speech: "Make My Day", Or Self-Defence?

Stephen Franks Speech: "Make My Day", Or Self-Defence?

ACT Auckland South Conference; The Novotel Ellerslie, Green Lane East Road, Ellerslie, Auckland; Saturday November 6, 2004

Remember your heart pounding the last time you found yourself wide awake and straining to hear that noise again? The bedroom clock says 3:53AM. Were those footsteps on the drive? Should you get out of bed? What will you do if someone is there?

Surely that's your garage door catch noise - your heart is thumping so hard you can't listen properly. If you can't phone in time, will your yelling wake the neighbours?

Now imagine you're in one of the 100,000 or more rural families whose neighbours could never hear the loudest call from your house.

You have no streetlights. Two years ago someone up the next road was raped while her partner was beaten - but no one was sure it wasn't some drug-related thing. Someone cleaned out your workshop six months ago. The police had their suspicions, but said it was hopeless unless they caught them red-handed. The trash up at the junction don't have to work - they all seem to be on ACC, or Sickness, or some other benefit. They've been sullen since the burglary, when you banned them from coming through your place to go eeling.

You're not supposed to grab your shotgun - even if you were allowed to keep it handy. You listen to your husband or wife breathing. You wish you still had the dogs. Just as you decide to relax, you hear someone trying to start your truck.

What can you do?

What the law says you should do, and what any decent self-respecting competent adult would do are entirely different things.

Police advice of the past few years boils down to "do nothing". Take no risks. Try to get a look at the thieves - if you can without offending them. Call the police and, in the morning, your insurance company. Theoretically, you can defend your property with force, but you cannot strike or harm anyone.

It's unclear what kind of force is in the minds of the well-meaning fools responsible for this state of the law.

Attorney-General Margaret Wilson's Crown Law Office officials don't know - so if you risk taking a weapon to protect yourself, they'll tell the police to charge you, whatever your local cop thinks. They believe it's only fair to the criminals to let the courts decide in cool hindsight what you should have done.

Odds are a jury will refuse to convict, but you could spend between $20,000-$300,000 to save yourself. You'll lose your firearms license, and the trash will target your family.

Fifty years ago, you might have gone out to make sure there was enough fuel in the truck, assuming a neighbour needed it urgently. No one needed to lock anything in the country.

Twenty-five years ago, a normal man would have yelled to his wife to call the cops, grabbed the shotgun, and confronted the thieves in the drive. If they abandoned the truck to scarper on foot, he might have used threats to hold at least one for the cops.

So what has changed - the law, or just the charging culture?

It is both.

The law would have supported our man until 1980. That year, the right to make a credible threat of harm went with the removal of the defence of provocation. Then changes in 1982 and 1986 made it an offence to carry a weapon in these circumstances.

On Monday, I launched a campaign to restore commonsense to the Crimes Act. As it did 25 years ago, the Act must once again support law-abiding defenders instead of criminal invaders.

You can see the change in culture from the Government's hysterical response.

In rejecting any change, Justice Minister Phil Goff raised the spectre of "Americanisation", and the shooting of door-to-door salesmen. Instead of getting behind rural people, the Agriculture Minister damned it as "a licence to shoot trespassers".

They're wrong. I was sorely tempted to draft a "make my day law". If Peter Bentley had managed, with his only shot, to rid this Earth of one of his attackers, how many New Zealanders would be mourning - beside the offender's family and Labour Cabinet? Perhaps some in the security-alarmed, manicured suburbs where the anointed of the Justice establishment sleep. Every other decent New Zealander would have said "good job".

But my Bill does not legitimise vigilante punishment for trespassers. It goes nowhere near it. The Bill could not be deeper in New Zealand's law respecting traditions. Essentially, it reinstates self-defence rights lost in 1980, when the defence of provocation was restricted to murder.

I am proud of this Bill, for a special reason. While everyone expresses outrage, ACT comes up with practical solutions. This solution helped comfort someone who badly needed it. Among the hundreds of supporting messages I received this week, one said

"I read your Bill this morning - while Peter was having surgery. You are so right. Imagine if Peter's shot had actually hit that creep - Peter would now be facing charges, as well as suffering from extensive bruising, a damned sore nose after today's surgery and the ongoing mental stuff that we are both going through. Go for it.

That message came from Maggie Bentley - Peter Bentley's wife.

I am enormously proud of this Bill for another reason. I am proud that ACT Members of Parliament are not daunted by the inevitable slanders when we challenge, what starts out as, a Labour/National consensus. I am sure I will get National support now. After we pioneer, a change that looked radical before we started becomes just honest commonsense.

This Bill is a direct reflection of our stand for freedom and personal responsibility. Until this generation, the State did not dream of claiming a monopoly on the right to enforce the law. The right of Citizen's Arrest is written into the Crimes Act, to the embarrassment of the police who keep urging people never to use it.

Enforcing the law is a right and was, only a short time ago, a responsibility of every able-bodied person. It is time we challenged the smugness of that common judicial pronouncement: "I can't allow you to take the law into your own hands".

It has always been in those hands. There has never been a time when there could be enough police to protect every New Zealander in this stretched-out land. The mutual trust and security that was part of our heritage did not come from having police to watch every prospective scumbag. It came from decent and self-reliant families who knew they shared responsibility for upholding behaviour standards and the law in their communities.

Our safety from crime became an expectation when the law assumed vigorous self-defence.

It was not until 1974, for example, that bank staff ceased their annual revolver practices. Every teller was expected to know how to stop robberies with the revolver under the counter. To listen to Mr Goff, you would think New Zealand must have been Dodge City in those days. Instead, bank robberies were almost unheard of.

Why are the politicians who claim to represent ordinary working people so hostile to self-defence? I'll venture an explanation: we are heretics. We don't believe in the new Labour religion. Labour knows the ordinary people scoff at its feminist gods, and it hates that. So the Government doesn't trust the people with any of their longstanding rights and responsibilities. In particular, they will not trust the people with their ancient rights to defend themselves

My project is a challenge to the Labour safety god.

`Spectator' magazine editor Boris Johnson put it in these terms:

"It is a sign of the decline of any great civilisation that its people begin to worship strange gods. Now we have a new divinity that commands the adoration of the governing classes, as nannying and multiple breasted as Diana of Ephesus. Her name is Phobia and sacrifices are being made at her altar."

Those sacrifices are human sacrifices.

Mr Johnson was driven into print by recent fatal shootings near Henley, where police officers were not allowed to go to the scene for 64 minutes. Two women bled to death. No paramedics were allowed in until 87 minutes after the first call to the police. Meanwhile, frightened members of the public went to the aid of the injured. They used their mobiles to report to the police that the killer had decamped. Two brave neighbours cradled the dying women in their arms. Emergency services continually assured them over the telephone that help was on the way when it was not. The lie was to cover the shame of not admitting that help was frozen by police rules determined to stamp out risk by leaving no room for individual initiative or even for commonsense.

New Zealand has had two similar experiences during my time as an MP but, unlike Britain, there was no public outcry or enquiry. A woman died slowly of gunshot wounds in a Fielding house, begging for help on the phone, after the killer had left. Police refused to let anyone near the house. Not long after that, a constable died on the front lawn of another Manawatu house, while police stood clear in case the killer was still there waiting to shoot more officers.

I made myself unpopular by asking the Police Minister questions. The officer responsible treated them as insults to police courage. I received messages through friendly officers to back off, or the ACT Party would suffer. I also asked why our police were not equipped with transparent Kevlar ballistic shields, to enable them to rescue their colleagues under fire - while few shields will stand up to high velocity rounds, the answers to all the questions were grudging, and incomplete. They were evasive bumf.

Police are now also humiliated victims of the idea that nothing is worth risking life and limb for, and that every injury must be avoidable. Senior police appear to have swallowed the view that injury must be evidence of the fault of someone, preferably a superior, who must be pilloried to ensure that it never happens again. Valour, it appears, is for mugs.

What has gone wrong? Are our police less courageous? I don't believe that. But they repeatedly emphasize that valour is for mugs. Whenever some brave citizen stands up to a robbery, or attempted rape, any media praise is followed by a police warning that it was, nevertheless, foolish.

People in rural areas get the same fatuous advice: "don't aggravate them, don't try to defend yourself, just call us or try to get away, don't take the law into your own hands etc" - notwithstanding the practical impossibility of police help arriving in time, if the criminals are bent on mayhem.

And now the police don't merely stand back themselves. Mrs Bentley had her line locked so she could not call any one else for help. She tells me they appeased her by saying they would call the neighbours - apparently without any intention to get them to help - and they told her police had arrived when they were nowhere near.

Where is the apology from the Commissioner and the Minister? Instead, the Minister says it was a textbook exercise. Has the Commissioner injected Labour Cabinet strategy into his textbook? Apparently, lying is okay if it is only to the plebs.

My project is part of a mission to reinstate respect for the people in our law. Our distinctive culture of confidence in ordinary people:

• made us trusting and confident, curious about the world, Number-8 wire inventive.

• made us irreverent, yet courteous and kind.

• made our soldiers proud of being self reliant, able to exercise individual initiative - yet responsive to good leadership and stoic when they compared themselves with others.

The principles are not mysterious. They require that we:

• take responsibility for the consequences of our own actions,

• don't try to shift blame for the maturing of risks we have clearly accepted.

• honour those who put themselves at risk for the sake of others.

• recognise that people will not volunteer to help themselves, or others, if there is court judgement for anything less than hindsight's best practice.

These principles were deeply embedded in our Crimes Act as recently as 25 years ago. I'm on a mission to reinstate them.

All who trust the people, instead of patronising and despising them, should welcome this ACT leadership.

Who else has the ability? Who else dares?

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