Once again, I think I would be fairly unpopular if I took up all of my 8 remaining minutes on the Arms (Military Style Semi-automatic Firearms and Import Controls) Amendment Bill.
When we were last discussing this bill, last evening, we were identifying the reasons why it is necessary. Looking at the work that went on to establish the Government’s position, I can gather that there has been an increase in the power or the strength of airguns. As members will be aware, one or two quite serious crimes have been perpetrated with the use of these guns, and I think one resulted in the death of a police officer.
The Government has looked to see what needs to be changed since the original Arms Amendment Act 1992, and has concluded that some of these military-style semi-automatic firearms are poorly defined and are able to be used in the same way as an airgun. A typical slug gun that a farming family might buy for its children no longer fits the legislative framework designed to govern it. I remember that my own very first firearm was a slug gun. I am sure yours probably was too, Mr Assistant Speaker Roy, although in the deep south, to try to knock back some of those charging deer down there, your father probably got you something a little more powerful than a slug gun. In our case, it was a slug gun, and that was a fairly harmless instrument at that time, but no longer is that the case.
The Government has looked at what it can do, and it has decided that the definition of “military style semi-automatic firearm” has been found wanting. The police have submitted to the Government that there is a need for change, and this bill is designed to address that need. Thank you.
It is with pleasure that the Greens will be supporting the Arms (Military Style Semi-automatic Firearms and Import Controls) Amendment Bill. It is a very good bill to restrict access to dangerous firearms and to put the right regulations around them. The bill is appropriately called the Arms (Military Style Semi-automatic Firearms and Import Controls) Amendment Bill. As the material surrounding the bill explains, there has been a problem with the evolution of military-style semi-automatics, or MSSAs, in that they now have a variety of forms. They were defined previously by having the military pattern free-standing pistol grip, but there has been some variation on that, and this bill allows those firearms to be included under the regulations if they fulfil a number of requirements. Among the most important requirement is what every person would probably expect—that the gun can fire off a whole lot of bullets in quick succession. There are various figures depending on the size of the ammunition, from seven rounds to 10 rounds or 15 rounds, in the regulations.
There is some resistance in the community to the passage of this bill, and I have no doubt that other MPs have been getting emails from what we might sometimes loosely describe as the gun lobby, although I do not want to be too pejorative. It varies in its composition. At the extreme end it includes people whose views are closer to the American concepts of having weapons for self-defence and not needing any regulation, etc., and at the other end it includes the more responsible gun owners. It is interesting to look at some of the emails that come through and some of the arguments that are used. One of the arguments I got in an email on Monday was that this law will affect only law-abiding citizens and it will not affect the criminals. Well, that view is a bit strange. If we were to apply it to legislation we pass quite regularly in this House, we might say that we do not really need tax laws because honest people will pay taxes and dishonest people—tax criminals—will not pay taxes, so we do not need any laws because they will affect only honest people. Clearly, laws are intended to constrain behaviour in a proper manner.
In fact, regulations like these do limit the availability of such military-style semi-automatics, which can be quite dangerous in the hands of criminals, for example. This legislation will limit criminals’ ability to obtain such weapons both in terms of the way the regulations are formulated and because criminals in gangs will be more wary about keeping such guns in their gang headquarters, knowing that there will be penalties if, in raids, they are found to have them. So it will restrict the availability. There are already, according to the regulatory impact statement, 8,000 military-style semi-automatics in the country. I think it is important to make sure their possession is restricted to trusted and registered gun collectors and the like. There is the idea that somehow—and sometimes the gun lobby make this argument—it is just criminals who are creating the problem with military-style semi-automatics, but, in fact, we often find that it is mentally disordered people. If we look at some of the killings that have taken place so far, we see that they have involved people who are either mentally disordered or have gone a bit crazy for a period. Often they involve registered gun owners—for instance, David Gray, who killed 13 people at Aramoana down south in 1990, was a registered gun owner. Jan Molenaar, who killed a police officer, very sadly, in Napier a little while back, had not renewed his registration as a gun owner, but he was still on the books as someone who had registered as a gun owner. So it is important to see this problem not as one that affects just the criminal fraternity. Both David Gray and Jan Molenaar seem to have gone a bit crazy at a particular point.
There is also the question of accidents. Clearly, because military-style semi-automatics fire off a lot of bullets in quick succession, they are more likely to cause casualties in the population. We do get some absurd arguments from the gun lobby. An email I got on Monday said that it is absurd that anyone would think that a military-style semi-automatic is any more or less dangerous than any other firearm. Well, clearly, a weapon that shoots off multiple bullets is more dangerous.
There is sometimes—and this adds to the danger sometimes—a bit of a mystique around military-style semi-automatics, guns that fire off a lot of bullets, and military-style guns. We saw that in the case reported in the Sunday Star-Times and on Radio New Zealand about how the SAS was conducting little sessions with business people from a group called Direct Capital. During the exercise they had last October, the SAS let people from that group fire off automatic guns. Jerry Matepārae, when he did his review, said that they should hold on, that that was not very good, and that they should not be doing that. But I think it shows that military-style semi-automatics can be a bit dangerous and people can be attracted to their use for no good purpose.
Once people who have military-style semi-automatics go a bit crazy, they can cause a huge amount of damage. We had the case back in 1996 in Tasmania in what is known as the Port Arthur massacre where Martin Bryant killed 35 people. Because he had military-style semi-automatics, he was able to kill 20 people in the first 90 seconds. That is what happened, and it would not have happened with a single-shot rifle. So regulations and restrictions are very good.
It would have been good if there had been more of a registration system for firearms. The Green Party does advocate a more systematic registration system for firearms. It would be good to have known how many firearms David Gray or Jan Molenaar had in their possession. At the present time, once someone is a registered gun owner—which is a separate issue from that of the registration of military-style semi-automatics—that person can have as many guns as they like, and each gun is not registered. Someone is registered only as a gun owner. It would be good to register individual guns against the name of the owner. That process could begin in a cost-efficient way by doing something similar to what happens in Australia, where people have to trade guns through a registered gun trader, computer records are kept and stored, and then the trader forwards those records on to the Government database. That provides a lot more control, and means that when the police roll up to a property suspecting an offence has taken place, they are not met by a hail of bullets from guns they did not know were present.
The other part of the bill, which has been referred to already, is the provision to reduce, control, or stop the import of airguns that look like real pistols or military-style semi-automatics. I think that is a good provision, too, because people use those fake pistols in hold-ups at banks or for all kinds of things. It is very, very dangerous. Even if someone is not firing real bullets, it is dangerous in the sense of bank robberies and people living in fear, etc. So that is a very good provision.
All in all, the Green Party is very much in favour of this bill. We would like arms control to go somewhat further towards more systematic registration of firearms in the community.
I rise to take a very brief call on the Arms (Military Style Semi-automatic Firearms and Import Controls) Amendment Bill. Before I speak on this bill I register that I have absolutely no conflict of interest on this bill; I do not own a gun, which is just as well because I also do not own a firearms licence. Like many people in this House who, I am sure, grew up learning how to shoot, my first lessons were on a .303 rifle. I have also had lessons on a .22, and I have spent quite a bit of time firing air rifles. I have to report that in very few cases I actually hit the target.
Yes, I should be registered. But it is not a problem, because I do not shoot now. That is deliberate. We have had such a big problem here in New Zealand over the last few years with guns, with shootings both accidental and deliberate.
I think that in the case of military-style semi-automatic firearms this bill is perfect, because they are very dangerous. We heard a very good call from the Green member Keith Locke. I think we need to have this bill go through very quickly, because regardless of all the lobbying we have been getting from people, the entire population of New Zealand will win from this bill. We do not need these types of guns in New Zealand. The only people who should have access to these types of weapons are the military and perhaps in some cases the police—I would prefer that they did not. But the general population at large should not have any sort of access to these weapons.
I also support the part of the bill about air rifles that look like rifles. That makes them so dangerous for their owners and for those who come by them in other ways—for example, children who think they are toys, pick them up, and cause a problem to themselves, to their neighbours, and to the people who then call out the police. The armed offenders squad comes out to face they know not what.
The Māori Party supports this bill and we are very happy to continue to support it. Kia ora.
I rise to support the Arms (Military Style Semi-automatic Firearms and Import Controls) Amendment Bill. I note that this is another piece of legislation on firearms. It has some positives and it has some negatives.
The difficulty with firearms is that there are two distinct groups of people in New Zealand. The first group is those who are very, very supportive of firearms. They write emails to tell us that there is a right to bear arms. Well, that may be so in America because of an amendment to the constitution. Some people have doubts about the extent to which there is a right to bear arms, but the constitution is what people believe it to be, and people in the US believe they have a right to bear arms. In New Zealand we do not have a written constitution; nor do we have an amendment that says that members of the public have the right to bear arms. Carrying a weapon is a privilege and it is a licensed privileged.
I am a member of the public who has a licence to carry a firearm. I have owned a firearm for a long time. The first firearm I got was a Lee-Enfield Mk IV bolt-action rifle with a 10 shot magazine, which I got at the age of 18. I went to the local sports shop and said I wanted to buy a rifle to go deer shooting. I was told by the sports shop owner that I had to see the sergeant in charge of firearms at Greymouth Police Station, and present him with the firearm so that he could record the number of it and my name and address, which I did. When I came back and told the shopkeeper I had done that, he completed the sale and I had a firearm. I was registered, and the firearm was registered. That was the way it was when I was a young man.
Then the police decided that it was all too complicated. We changed the law to license firearm owners, not the weapons. So today we have a disjoint between the firearm owner—the person who is licensed to carry the firearm—and the number of firearms they have. But firearm owners have to have a different sort of registration. I am not licensed to have a pistol. I have no desire to have a pistol, but I am not licensed for it, and I am not a gun collector, so I am not licensed for that. The conditions vary.
There is still disquiet in the community about the number of firearms in the community that are unidentified—for good reason. But Parliament has failed to resolve that broader and bigger issue. Gun owners are very concerned that if there were registration of firearms and registration of owners, like there was in the old system, then that would be a short step away from the State deciding to take their firearms off them. This is a view that is widely held. It is one that I do not personally share, but I have to acknowledge that it is a view that people have. The gun-owning community is very suspicious of this place, Parliament, just as many of them are very suspicious of the intent of this bill.
It is fair to say that the nature of firearms in the community and the use of them have changed. As a young person, nearly every house I knew had a firearm. Their owners were either ex-servicemen or country people who shot pests, deer, goats, and did those things. It was an ordinary, everyday event. People had them for dealing with problems around the local area—possums, and so on. Slug guns in those days were .177 and pump action, and, if someone accidently shot a person with one, it did not break the skin. One was lucky if one got a bruise. But this is not the case today. Slug guns today are of larger calibre, such as .22, their pumping mechanisms are much more powerful, they are gas operated, and they have multiple-shot magazines. They are today a very lethal weapon, and they are completely different from the slug gun that was available when I was a young man. The law has to recognise these changes, and we would be kidding ourselves if we did not.
But the issues are quite often misunderstood. Part of the misunderstanding is the definition of a military-style semi-automatic firearm. This bill started its journey because of a court decision over the way in which the law described a military-style semi-automatic firearm. It was defined in a rather negative way, which led to the police being unable to successfully bring a prosecution about a particular military-style semi-automatic weapon. Therefore, Parliament is back to redraw the line.
I suggest to the Law and Order Committee that it will not be an easy matter for it to understand simply from looking at papers. It will not be easy for people to come and describe to us the various types of weapons there are, how they are configured, what their uses are, and what their capabilities are. I suggest to the committee that it adjourn for a day or two and go to a rifle range. There we should be shown by the police and others who are opponents of this bill exactly the nature of the weapons they are concerned about, and they should demonstrate their use. I also suggest to the select committee that submitters on the legislation also be invited to attend the day, or the days, in order to demonstrate on the rifle range the nature of the weapons they think should or should not be covered by the scope of the bill. I think we have to have a very clear and open demonstration of the nature of the weapons and the concerns people have about them.
You see, many people who in times gone by would have lived in households that would have regularly had a firearm in them do not today. Many households have no experiences of firearms. Many households, and many people, are very nervous and apprehensive about firearms—and for good reason. A firearm is designed with one purpose and one purpose only: to deliver lethal force at range and remotely. It is designed to kill. That is the sole purpose of firearms. Yes, they are used for sport, and, yes, they are used for entertainment, but let us not misunderstand the fundamental nature of a firearm. A firearm is designed to deliver lethal force. Therefore, the public have justified concern about firearms, about their use, their ownership, and the purposes they can be put to. To put aside those public concerns—those genuine concerns—would make Parliament remiss in its obligations.
But, on the other side, Parliament does have to recognise that legitimate owners are entitled to enjoy their firearms, and that legitimate owners are entitled to enjoy the sport and recreation of shooting. We have a wonderful outdoors here in New Zealand for deer stalking, goat hunting, tahr shooting, duck shooting—you name it. It is a fabulous feature of New Zealand that we have a great outdoors. It is made much more enjoyable for many people by the opportunity to use firearms and to hunt and to stalk. I for one would be completely opposed to any restrictions on that activity. But we have to find a balance, and this bill is about trying to find a balance. It does have to recognise that there are significant changes in the style of firearm. One style of weapon that concerns people particularly in this case is air-powered rifles.
I make the point again that when I was a young man the only slug gun or air rifle one could get was a pump action .177 slug gun. They were as slow as a wet week. In fact, one could see the slug come out of the end of the barrel—they were as slow as that. They dropped off, as one member has said, like a stone off a bridge. They had no trajectory at all. They were hopeless at knocking over a sparrow—let us face it. Anything bigger than that it was impossible to do any damage to. But the modern air rifle is completely different. The modern air rifle can have a much bigger calibre, can be gas-powered, and can deliver lethal force—of that there is no doubt. The modern air rifle is not a single-shot pump; it very often has magazines with 20 or 30 rounds in them—multiple rounds in them. These rifles are almost like machine guns.
Parliament has to take note and to change the law, but we need to do that in a considered way. Labour welcomes this bill as an opportunity to again debate the issue of firearms, the nature of firearms, and to come to a considered decision. In saying “considered” decision, I hope the select committee takes up my suggestion of having the police and other interested parties come with us to a rifle range and show us exactly the nature of the weapons they want to have restricted and the ones they want to have unrestricted, so that we can have a really informed view and a very good, practical discussion. At the end of that, we will all be informed, and if we are better informed we will make better law. Thank you.
I am also pleased to speak on the Arms (Military Style Semi-automatic Firearms and Import Controls) Amendment Bill. I enjoyed the comments of the previous speaker, Rick Barker, especially about the slug guns of old. I can just imagine the Hon Rick Barker going rabbit shooting, with the rabbits sitting in the paddock saying “Don’t worry, it’s only Rick.”, and being able to watch from a distance as that slug gun failed to make any dent. But my colleague from the Law and Order Committee was right: that was the situation. As he said, unfortunately it is not the situation today.
I quite like the notion of seeing these firearms in the real. As a young student I was in the Territorials. We went to Trentham and we learnt how to fire self-loading rifles, M16s, and the like. No doubt many New Zealanders are very familiar with firearms, and no doubt that will create lots of debate on this bill.
This Government is committed to making New Zealand a safer society, which is why this bill is before the House. I think everyone in our country, including members on this side of the House and the other side, would be in agreement with that. In recent years we have seen a proliferation of military-style semi-automatic firearms that, for the collector, enthusiast, or firearms sportsman may seem safe, desirable, and, perhaps, the pride of their collection, yet increasingly these weapons, in the wrong hands, stand as a threat to the aspiration of that safer community that we all want to live in. It is not just about weapons being in the wrong hands, it is also about how easily they can fall into those hands.
We have seen a big increase in the number of air guns that replicate real pistols and air rifles that one did not need a licence to purchase but which have been used to kill people. Regulations were changed to require the owners of pre-charged pneumatic, or PCP, air rifles to hold a firearms licence from October 2010. Pre-charged pneumatic air rifles have been used in two fatal shootings, including the murder of police Sergeant Don Wilkinson.
I take a moment to remember Sergeant Don Wilkinson, who was gunned down by a high-powered air rifle on 11 September 2008. He was a man who was more comfortable in active pursuits—playing squash, tramping, sailing, and cycling—and he was one of the people I played squash with in west Auckland. He was a good bloke, a man who served our community, and we remember him.
This Government has been looking at what steps can be taken to improve firearms safety not only for the sake of the public but also for the sake of our men and women in the police force who protect us. This bill is part of measures aimed at improving that safety. Thank you.
I am very happy to take a call on the Arms (Military Style Semi-automatic Firearms and Import Controls) Amendment Bill.
Thank you. I come to this debate not being particularly familiar with firearms myself. I am not a large fan of firearms. However, I do think there is a place in this country for responsible firearms ownership. I know that a number of people in my electorate own firearms. In fact, we have two rifle ranges in the electorate, not including the army’s firearms range. Just recently we have also had a deer-shooting park in my electorate. I have to say the deer-shooting park in my electorate has been quite controversial because it is relatively near a domestic area. It is in a semi-rural area and, of course, the people who live in houses nearby are not particularly keen on the idea of having a deer-shooting park anywhere near them, and I can kind of understand that, actually. There are health and safety issues for the farmer next door, there are all sorts of considerations, so it is always a topic of discussion amongst the people in my electorate.
On the surface of it this bill seems like a sensible thing to do. I believe from the information provided by the Minister of Police that the police estimate that there could be up to one incident a week where a member of the public presents an airgun that looks like a real pistol. That is a significant issue for the police, and therefore I can fully understand why tighter controls are required, particularly on the import of these weapons, and it is one of the reasons why Labour members will support this bill’s referral to a select committee. As my colleague Rick Barker said, it is important that when the bill gets to the select committee the committee takes some time to find out what it is all about, get into the specifics of it, work out the different types of firearms, and make itself a lot more familiar with the issue. I am not on that particular select committee, but I think it is definitely something the committee should take a look at.
I understand that this bill basically reverts us to the classification regime that existed between 1992 and 2008. A recent court case has cast some doubt on it, and therefore it needs to be reviewed. So I think it is very sensible that this legislation is introduced. However, it is rather unfortunate that, overall, the Government’s approach to justice issues has been very piecemeal, and this is another example of that. The public of New Zealand would like to know from this Government what its overall approach is, what its overall priorities are, to make New Zealand a safer place. We are not hearing much about that from the Government. Firearms are a really important part of the equation, but they need to fit within a much wider agenda and a much wider programme of making New Zealand a safer place.
New Zealand by and large with regard to firearms is a much, much safer place than many other places around the world. I like the fact that we can still walk down the street in New Zealand and see police wandering down the street who are not bulked up with firearms and all the protective clothing and so on that we see in other places around the world. Our police are very accessible, and one of the reasons for that is that the per capita rate of firearms in New Zealand is, I am willing to guess, fairly low by international standards. I would not like to see us changing the law in any way that made it more likely for people to own firearms.
I repeat that I do not have a problem with responsible firearms ownership in New Zealand, and I think the vast bulk of New Zealanders who own firearms are very, very responsible. My father is one of those. As kids when we were growing up we used to go up to the bach over the Christmas holidays and my father would go out rabbit shooting and bring rabbits back. This was before all the different things that afflict rabbits nowadays. We would then cook them all up and have them for dinner. We do not do that quite so much these days because we never quite know what is in the rabbit.
What diseases the rabbit might have. Occasionally my father would take my brother and me out shooting with him. He never managed to hit many when we were with him, because we would always scare them away before he had a chance to take aim. He would always come back with a much bigger haul when we were left back at the bach and he was allowed to do his hunting in peace and quiet.
It could be that we were trying to save the rabbits, because if he shot all the rabbits, where would Easter eggs come from? It is a very real issue. I always find it ironic that there is a massive rabbit shoot at Easter. It must destroy Easter for so many kids around New Zealand to see all those pictures on the news of rabbits stacked up on trailers—the Easter bunny being slaughtered at Easter time.
Anyway, I come back to the topic of this bill, which is the importation of air rifles and so on that look like real firearms. At the moment there are virtually no import controls on them. We are told that these air rifles are frequently being used in criminal offending, and therefore a change in the law is required. If that is the case, then that is something Parliament should look at. Tightening the controls will help to reduce the easy availability of these replica firearms, and that is a very good thing. The 2010 court case Lincoln v New Zealand Police was the case that created the uncertainty as to whether some semi-automatic firearms were MSSAs. MSSA stands for military-style semi-automatic firearms. It is important that there is clarity as to what is covered under that. There is not that clarity at the moment and this legislation will create that certainty.
I am looking forward to hearing more about this issue once the bill comes back from the select committee. I am sure the members of the committee will have looked diligently at this legislation. I am not sure which select committee the Government is referring it to.
Well, I would say that the odds of it getting a fair hearing at the all-powerful Law and Order Committee have increased dramatically in recent months with the change of personnel on the Law and Order Committee, particularly the chairmanship, which I understand has improved dramatically.
Sandra Goudie says they have not had any meetings. Unfortunately, the only downside is that we have to have her on the Government Administration Committee instead—the all-powerful Government Administration Committee, I will have members know. Jacqui Dean, the new chair of the Law and Order Committee, has been a member of the Government Administration Committee, and I think she will do a pretty good job of making sure this legislation is well scrutinised.
The bar has been raised significantly. It was not very high to begin with, but I think the committee will give this bill a fairly good going-over and good consideration.
Ultimately, firearms laws in New Zealand are important for all New Zealand citizens. They want to know they live in a safe environment where firearms are not abused and misused, and are kept safe. Responsible firearms owners want to know that they will still be able to do what they have always done. As a result, I imagine that the select committee will be very careful in its deliberations to make sure that Parliament does not end up curtailing the rights of responsible firearms owners but does make sure the public of New Zealand are kept safe. We need to ensure that the police do not have to spend a lot of time and put themselves at risk when dealing with replica firearms, as they may be doing at the moment. Overall, Labour will be supporting the bill’s referral to the Law and Order Committee. We look forward to hearing the submissions, and I look forward to seeing the bill reported back to the House in due course.
Until the previous speaker, Chris Hipkins, started talking about the previous chairperson of the Law and Order Committee—who I must say did an excellent job—I had an image of an innocent Bambi running around Rimutaka. His innocence was obviously shot down while he was talking about the Arms (Military Style Semi-automatic Firearms and Import Controls) Amendment Bill.
It is a great pleasure to rise and speak in support of this bill, and I am very pleased to have heard Mr Rick Barker’s contribution. He obviously has amazing knowledge about firearms and hunting. When he was saying that a long time ago slug guns had such and such a speed, I did consider how old he might be. I look forward to listening to his and to other members’ contributions.
The legislative changes regarding military-style semi-automatic firearms were made in 1992 as a result of the Aramoana incident, in which David Gray shot dead 13 people. New Zealand has always had licences for people and not for guns. This legislation will give us an opportunity to look at why we need to place restrictions on the importation of airguns that look like military-style semi-automatic weapons and why we need to amend the definition of “military style semi-automatic firearms” in the Arms Act. I look forward to the select committee process and the great debate we will have. Thank you.
I move, That the Law and Order Committeeconsider the Arms (Military Style Semi-automatic Firearms and Import Controls) Amendment Bill , that the committee report finally to the House on or before 4 August 2011, and that the committee have authority to meet at any time while the House is sitting (except during oral questions), and during any evening on a day on which there has been a sitting of the House, and on a Friday in a week in which there has been a sitting of the House, despite Standing Orders 187 and 190(1)(b) and (c).