Arms Legislation Bill, first reading

Speechnotes for the First Reading of the Arms Legislation Bill, Parliament

Introduction and overview

Mr Speaker

There are tragedies, or crimes, or losses in our communities that have shaped all of us in this Parliament in our own way.

Some have motivated us to come to this place in order to make change, to make our society a better place.

We have heard some of these personal stories this year during debate on abortion law reform and the end of life choice bill.

But there are tragedies, or crimes, or losses that occur far from our personal circles.

They have taken no-one who is close to us.

Nevertheless, they have marked us.

They haunt us.

They haunt us as MPs because we know, when we leave this place, we are going to be asked to identify the high points, the low points, the regrets.

Mr Speaker, gun crime, and the terror attack of March 15th in particular, haunts every one of us in this debating chamber.

There is no better illustration of that to be found than the words of the former Minister of Police, John Banks.

In March, some 25 years after he ceased to be the Minister of Police, an act of terror took the lives of 51 Kiwi worshippers. Another forty were injured by gunshots.

When the former Minister heard of the shootings at the mosques, a terrible image came back to him.

He was instantly at Aramoana, in 1990, walking amongst the dead, the thirteen men, women, and children who lost their lives in another mass shooting.

He told a reporter:

“Since Christchurch, I haven’t been able to get out of my mind a small boy aged about eight, lying dead on the ground with his eyes wide open and the look of fear I have never forgotten.

That young boy has haunted me these last couple of weeks.”

“It is the greatest disappointment of my political life,” he said,

 “not having the numbers, to rid this country of these killing machines”

Mr Speaker, in April almost this entire Parliament came together to change that.

The former Minister said the prohibition on assault rifles and military style semi-automatics will act as a tribute to that small dead boy he had not been able to forget.

I don’t want to be that Minister in 20 years’ time, expressing my regret that the gun lobby won out.

I don’t know who the little boy was who haunts my predecessor.

Two six year old boys were killed at Aramoana, called Leo and Dion.

Also killed at Aramoana was a Police officer, Stu Guthrie.

I stand here today and say to all Police officers, we have your back.

This bill will make a difference to every frontline officer.

They turn up to some callouts with no knowledge of what they are walking into.

Every month Police turn up to 200 incidents where a firearm is involved.

Every year between 800 and 1000 firearms are reported stolen.

They disappear onto the black market, many into the hands of gangs.

Around eleven percent of firearms offences are committed by gang members.

Police intelligence indicates most illegally-held firearms are stolen from legitimate owners through poor storage practices.

We owe it to Police, and we owe it to the victims and the survivors of the mosque terror attacks to make these changes.

We owe it to other members of the community, such as victims of family harm or aggravated robberies, to tighten our gun laws.

What is proposed?

In April we acted to take the most dangerous weapons out of circulation by prohibiting assault rifles and military style semi-automatics.

Now we are moving to stop other firearms falling into the wrong hands. 

Mr Speaker, the terror attacks at the mosques are not the first mass shooting this country has endured.

Successive governments have known since the Thorp review of 1997 that our gun laws were too weak.

The terror attack on March 15 highlighted the flaws in our licensing system.

Our gun laws date from 1983 and are dangerously out of date.

Since 1983 the firearms manufacturing industry and the ability to buy and sell online has markedly changed.

The changes announced today have been decades in the making.

It is now up to this Parliament to deliver in the interests of public and personal safety.

Under the current law, we do not know how many guns are in circulation, who owns them, who is selling them, who is buying them, or how securely they are stored against the risk of theft or misuse.

There are more than 260 shooting clubs and ranges which operate without any system of licensing.

Police have very few options for intervening when they see concerning behaviour.

Revoking a firearms licence can only happen for the most serious cases and can take weeks, during which time the guns can be given away or disappear without a trace.

The administration of the system is also very outdated.

We need to modernise the system.

The major change - a register

One of the biggest challenges facing Police and public safety is the lack of information on what firearms are in New Zealand, where they are and who is responsible for them.

The Bill lays the foundations for the development of a register to store information on all firearms, and other items controlled by the Arms Act.

The Register will require and enable individuals and dealers to record every sale/transfer of a firearm and will be able to be programmed to alert where the number of firearms held may exceed the sufficiency of the secure storage.

There are many benefits to introducing a register, for example it helps licence holders meet the obligations that the Act places on them only to sell firearms to other licence holders.

Within two years we can start to track and trace all licence holders and their firearms as all firearms will be required to be uniquely marked and recorded in the register.

This will also provide our fantastic Police staff with the information they need to effectively undertake some of their most dangerous tasks.

Firearms community is playing its part

Mr Speaker, owning a gun is a privilege, not a right

The proposed changes will spell out the duties and obligations for public safety that come with that privilege.

The vast majority of our gun owners are law abiding and responsible.

The law changes will reinforce the positive behaviour that is required of all gun owners.

The current response to the buyback and amnesty shows how everyone can play their part to make our communities safer.

It is still early days but good progress is being made.

As of last night more than 15,000 people have turned up to more than 217 collection events.

More than 24,000 firearms and 89,000 parts, such as high capacity magazines, have been handed in.

Compensation payments worth around $46 million have been processed.

Firearms owners have spoken to media and to Police at these community collection events to share their views on the process.

At the first event in Christchurch a recreational hunter handed in his Ruger because, he said:

“it's the right thing to do".

“we all need to play a part in making society a little bit safer.

We give up something but we make each other safer."

Mr Speaker, in the gun owning community, there is a change of mindset around firearms.

Because the wider community agrees it is the right thing to do, to make each other safer.

The 15th of March caused us to rethink many things, and that included our gun laws.

New offences and penalties

The Bill also updates a number of offences and penalties in the Act to make them more fit for purpose and proportionate with the seriousness of offending.

An example of this is increasing the maximum penalty for possessing a firearm without a licence from the current $1,000 and/or 3 months imprisonment to a maximum penalty of $15,000 or 1 year imprisonment.

Police will also have new tools to intervene when they see unsatisfactory behaviours. Improvement notices will be able to be issued to licence holders and range operators.

The notices can include remedial steps that must be taken.

These steps will help insure compliance and best practice for the safety of all New Zealanders.

Conclusion

Mr Speaker, in a summary of his 1997 review ‘Firearms Control in New Zealand’, Justice Thomas Thorp said:

“It is clear that there is a need for a totally new approach to firearms control”.

Twenty two years after the Thorp report that broken firearms law remains on Parliament’s statute books.

In the last 15 years over 170 people have had their lives cut short by gun violence.

Many more families have been devastated by suicides which have involved a firearm.

This House will be haunted by the memory of these tragedies, crimes, and losses, if we fail to act now.