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Stephen Franks - Fighting back is all that's left

Fighting back is all that's left

Stephen Franks Wednesday, 15 June 2005 Speeches - Crime & Justice

Speech to crime petition handover; Parliament House; Wednesday, 15 June 2005; 12pm.

When Kenneth Wang brought Mr Manchao Li’s letter to me I was working on my law amendments to restore New Zealanders’ rights of self defense. These rights were removed by National government law changes starting just over 20 years ago.

So I was delighted to help draft their petition. They told me it must protect, not threaten honest citizens. It must speak for those who try to deter crime and defend their families and their property.

They simply could not believe that the New Zealanders could allow themselves to be governed by rulers who not only can’t defend innocent citizens, but instead criminalise those who try to defend themselves and their property. “Where has the instinctive sense of right and wrong gone” they asked. “How can this happen in a democracy”.

I tried to explain the cowardice of the ruling clique, how Labour and the other parties despise the common sense of ordinary people. I said this cowardice was quite recent, but it was strong. I’d had members telling me they supported my amendments but could not risk pushing something like that themselves.

In better days our 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.

You will have seen yesterday's newspaper headline “woman with a pipe knocks would-be robber senseless”. You will have also seen the sorry police criticism "in a situation like this anyone confronted by offenders should do what they say”. Nonsense! They should have said “good job” to the robber, and handed out medals, urging everyone to join in the fight next time.

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 that smug 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 scumbag. It came from decent and self-reliant families who knew they shared responsibility for upholding behaviour standards and the law in their communities.

Sir Robert Peel, who founded modern policing, was insistent that the police had no special privileges. They merely did full time what all citizens could and should do when necessary. Over the past two decades citizens’ arrest has been strongly discouraged. Our police have become instead a class privileged with special rights. Neither we nor they are better off for being expected to enforce the law alone.

Our law encouraged vigorous self defence throughout the period when safety from crime was our expectation.

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. Was New Zealand Dodge City in those day? No, bank robberies were almost unheard of.

So why are politicians who pretend to represent ordinary working people so hostile to self-defence? Why not trust the people with their ancient rights? Our crime figures were miles lower before they were removed?

Some argue that self help is more risky for the victims. No research bears that out. The real reason is a loopy theory that crime will get worse if we aggravate criminals.

Are our police less courageous? I don't believe that. But their timid leaders have knuckled under to stupid politicians.

That is why people in rural areas are getting fatuous police 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 to stop criminals bent on mayhem.

So I am delighted to help receive this petition. I hope it will influence the MPs considering my amendments to the Arms Act tomorrow.

I call on Manchao Li to hand the petition to Kenneth Wang for delivery now.


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