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Matt Robson's Firearms Authority Bill

Speech on the Firearms Authority Bill

Matt Robson MP, Alliance Justice Spokesperson.

30th June 1999

For the first time in eight years our MPs are about to face a collective test of our commitment to gun control.

If this bill goes to select committee it will be the first time in ten years that parliament has listened to public submissions on this urgent matter. Even the gun lobby shouldn’t be scared of that.

In 1997 Justice Thorp completed his landmark report on issues surrounding firearms. That report was a development of the work begun by John Banks as Minister of Police in 1992 after the Aramoana massacre, with the Arms Amendment Act.

He took extensive submissions and heard expert evidence both in New Zealand and abroad.

Justice Thorp subsequently came down with 7 recommendations:

All firearms to be individually registered to their owners, in addition to owner licensing

A buy- back of all military-style semi-automatic weapons (MSSAs, or assault rifles)

All restricted weapons (privately held machine guns etc) to be permanently disabled

the law to make clear that “self-defence” is not a legitimate purpose for acquiring a gun

Tightened provisions for vetting and licensing with more stringent rules for secure storage

A three-year licensing period to replace the current 10-year vetting cycle for gun owners

Firearm specific licences to prevent sales of ammunition for concealed , unregistered guns

An independent firearms authority to monitor enforcement and compliance with the gun laws.

The most important of these recommendations - the one which was needed to initiate the process of reform, was the establishment of the Firearms Authority.

This Bill, tonight, puts in place this fundamental recommendation from Justice Thorp's report.

Over a million dollars of public money was used to carry out Justice Thorp's review. This signified the public concern on firearms misuse and violence. It indicated that at long last the government was serious about firearms reform.

Since Thorp reported, there has been a further firearms tragedy - the massacre at Raurimu.

Throughout this time, we have continually been promised new legislation. We don't need to keep delaying. When we do, Raurimu can result. Aramoana can result.

If it happens here again tomorrow, which member of this House will look the bereaved family in the eye and explain why they couldn't vote for this simple step.

840 New Zealanders have died by gunshot since Aramoana.

Yet New Zealand still has the slackest gun laws among similar nations - barring the United States. Not many are mediagenic events. But they are all tragedies.

Let’s have public debate before the next massacre.

Of 70 countries surveyed by the United Nations, gun registration is the norm. NZ to date has failed to register 96% of this country’s guns - this puts NZ at the bottom of the list, almost alone with the US.

Each day an average of seven firearm offences involving danger to life are reported to the police.

In a typical year 100 New Zealanders are shot to death: more than one every four days. Of these, 75% are suicides, 12% accidents, 11% homicides, while in 2% of cases the cause is undetermined.

In an average year, 13 children and youths aged 19 or younger die by gunshot and another 89 people are admitted to hospital with non-fatal wounds.

The Government says it is going to consider a voluntary registration scheme in the year 2000. How can it ignore this issue of serious and growing public concern for a moment longer. To put it off for another year is disgraceful and to suggest a voluntary scheme is simply outrageous.

Recent police figures show that 70,000, or 30 percent of gun owners have failed to comply with 1992 owner-relicensing laws.

In a society where only 3% of car owners, 6% of television owners and 12% of dog owners flout the relevant licensing requirements, firearm owners have shown themselves to be considerably less law-abiding than others. And the government is seriously considering a voluntary scheme? This is ridiculous.

As the law stands, any person aged 16 or over with an entry-level firearm licence can keep any number of rifles and shotguns in any home without any official record being kept anywhere. Guns can be legally sold through newspaper ads or even in hotel carparks, again with no records kept.

The public are seriously concerned about this . A recent TV3/CM Research poll of 1,000 eligible New Zealand voters found that:
91% favour the universal registration of firearms.
77% want gun laws tightened
75% support a ban on semi-automatic weapons

Parliament can not ignore the concerns of the public which it represents.

Gun registration is currently actively supported by 117 national and regional organisations, with many many more giving vocal support and new groups joining the gun control coalition daily.

These groups include Churches, health groups, unions, Grey Power, city and local councils, Maori groups, Pacific Island groups, community leaders such as 21 Mayors, 4 Dames including Dame Georgina Kirby of the Maori Women’s Development league, members of the Maori Women’s Welfare league and Maori legal services, and one of the most experienced weapons managers in New Zealand, Major General Piers Reid.

Gun control generates far more heat than similar, long-accepted public safety measures. There is no lobby group maintaining that cars don’t kill, or that car registration has never been a success anywhere in the world or that “law-abiding drivers” should not be inconvenienced by car registration and driver licensing.

We need to be concerned about the safety of our police as well. Police say that virtually every firearm used in crime came from the collection of a licensed gun owner, either by sale, theft or neglect. Criminals use guns, while gun owners provide them.

Police currently have no authority to monitor the size and content of most private gun collections, and so cannot detect or prevent the build-up of private arsenals. Officers responding to callouts have no idea what guns they might encounter, nor how many they must find and remove to make families safe in cases of domestic violence.

Canada began full registration in 1998. In the first few weeks, hundreds of applicants were refused guns as past histories of crime and domestic violence came to light during vetting.

The Thorp report was carried out because of the urgency of reforming our ramshackle gun laws and policies. Consequently public safety and health is put at unnecessary risk. The government has not acted so it is up to us as parliamentarians to take action.

This bill is a first and modest step towards that goal. It takes up only one of the recommendations of Thorp but it is the most fundamental in the words of Justice Thorp himself:

“That there is need for radical reform of the firearms laws. This is most likely to be achieved by a staged programme of reform, managed by an Authority not affected by conflicting interests and loyalties, in the manner outlined in this report.

Let us as parliamentarians listen to the views of the public and experts which the select committee provides for.

Thousands of New Zealanders enjoy the legitimate and safe use of firearms. They are our sporting teams winning medals, pig and deer hunters and farmers carrying out pest control. The recommendation of Justice Thorp for an independent firearms authority protects their legitimate use while seeking to provide the greatest public safety possible.

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