Arms Legislation Bill, Third Reading
The details of this bill have been worked on assiduously since it was first announced eleven months ago.
But in reality there is at least 23 years of knowledge and analysis behind it.
On a day like today, in the middle of winter, 30 June 1997, Justice Sir Thomas Thorp presented his Review of Firearms Control in New Zealand.
The Napier-born Sir Thomas passed away in 2018.
But his colleague, Simon Mount QC, has been closely following the passage of this legislation.
I would like to quote a message from Simon received this week.
“Sir Thomas would have been pleased to see so many of his recommendations implemented in this Bill.
He had a strong affinity with New Zealand’s firearms owners, and he knew how important firearms are for many sections of New Zealand’s community.
He worked extremely hard to meet with and listen to gun owners, and he respected those for whom firearms are vital tools or sporting equipment.
He also valued personal responsibility and public safety highly, and he worked hard to find recommendations that struck the right balance for New Zealand.
He had a deeply practical streak alongside his broad intelligence, and he wanted a firearms regime that would work in the real world.
He knew that effective firearms regulation is not easy, and no laws, no matter how good, can prevent all harm.
After years of waiting, he would have been very pleased to see Parliament finally adopt the key planks of the system he believed would give New Zealand the best chance of reducing harm."
Mr Speaker, the 15th of March 2019 will always be a devastating day in our history.
But it does not define us.
What defines us is how we reacted; the actions we took.
There were so many brave people who stopped directly in harm’s way to help victims; running into live fire, some knowingly giving their life to save others.
Families and friends sacrificed themselves and put others first on that day. People who were passing by stopped to rescue victims and take them to safe shelter.
Police and emergency services rushed to the scene.
And we know two of Police’s brave officers managed to locate and stop the killer, and prevent the horror from continuing.
So many people rushed to help.
I am proud of our response as a nation, of every person who took some small action to show support and solidarity, and especially of those courageous people who risked their own safety.
I am also proud of most of my fellow MPs in this chamber.
It's been nearly a year since that day and we’ve achieved a great deal. We’ve achieved what previous governments could not.
We have collected, destroyed, or modified almost 64,000 firearms (59k buyback and amnesty, 5k modification) and destroyed more than 227,000 prohibited parts and large capacity magazines.
But we do not stop with that.
As a Government we took a comprehensive, system-wide approach to the risk management of firearms use.
That brings us to the Bill before us today.
The Third Reading of the Arms Legislation Bill is an historic milestone for community safety.
We know we always have more work to do to make New Zealand a safer place. This is another significant step along the way.
The new law is designed to stop firearms falling into the wrong hands.
It spells out for the first time that owning a firearm is a privilege, limited to responsible licensed owners.
The most significant change is the new firearms register.
Successive governments have failed to deliver a register since it was first recommended by Sir Thomas Thorp in 1997.
This will finally track how many firearms are in legal circulation, who holds them, who is selling them, and who is buying them.
Once the register is established every licence holder has up to five years to register their guns.
They will need to keep updating the register as they buy or sell guns.
It allows us to link firearms to licence holders, return stolen firearms to their legitimate owner, and hold licence holders to account for the safe storage and possession of firearms.
We need to ensure that every part of our risk-management system – from licensing processes, to security requirements, and the firearms themselves – is robust.
We don’t want anyone to have access to dangerous assault weapons, or to be able to slip through a crack, or manipulate the system.
Which is why we have expanded the definition of prohibited firearms and prohibited those types of pistols that were really short MSSAs.
We need checks and assurance across the entire system.
This comprehensive risk management approach means a number of changes.
The changes we’re making to the Act touch on those key points where it is essential to mitigate risk.
Risks include unsafe use of firearms, or illegal possession of firearms.
These changes include those that take effect immediately following Royal Assent, expected next week:
- Reduced length of firearms licence from 10 to 5 years for first time licence holders and those who have previously had their licence revoked or allowed it to expire;
- Offences and penalties have been changed to better reflect the seriousness of the offending. Examples include possessing a firearm without a licence which now has a penalty of up to one year in prison or a $15,000 fine (3 months or $1,000 under old system); and selling a firearm to an unlicensed person which carries up to a two year jail sentence or $20,000 fine (3 months or $1,000 under old system);
- Further high-risk firearms are prohibited including short (pistol-length) semi-automatic rifles. There are new requirements for lawful possession of a pistol carbine conversion kit which converts a pistol into a shoulder-fired firearm;
- Endorsements for pest control now have a shorter duration and will need to be renewed before the firearms licence expires;
- More people involved in agricultural and similar businesses can obtain endorsements to possess prohibited firearms where it can be clearly demonstrated these are needed for pest control purposes;
- Those who come to New Zealand who are issued a licence for up to a year (a ‘Visitors’ licence) will no longer be able to purchase and take ownership of a firearm in New Zealand.
- A Ministerial Arms Advisory group will be established to ensure there is ongoing support and advice on firearms matters.
Some changes will follow over a three year period. These include:
- New rules will take effect in six months to determine who is “fit and proper” to possess firearms and who will be disqualified from holding a firearms licence. The “fit and proper” person status is at the core of any application for a firearms licence. Every person applying must be responsible and trustworthy enough to earn the privilege of holding a firearms licence;
- There will be new rules in one year governing a gun dealer’s licence, to recognise the range of dealer activities and associated risks of theft or misuse of firearms;
- In six months’ time anyone who sells ammunition will need a firearms licence;
- After two years there will be new requirements for shooting clubs and ranges, which previously were not governed by law.
It gives all club committees (including those of pistol clubs) the statutory ability to enforce their own rules around membership and use of ranges.
To satisfy the public and licence holders that the changes we have made are delivering on the intent we have brought forward the timeframe for reviewing the Arms Act from five years to three years.
This will include a review of the Act’s offences and penalties and the registry.
We appreciate the contribution from the firearms community throughout all these changes. We have had healthy debates and worked to keep people safe.
I thank them for their time and your support.
No doubt some of them will keep providing that support through the Arms Advisory Group which will be established under these new laws.
Its members will be people with knowledge and experience from both inside and outside the firearms community who will help advise me on matters such as legislative proposals and policies that contribute to the safe use and control of firearms.
At the heart of the new laws is a new principle; that the possession and use of arms is a privilege.
We must always remember that with this privilege, comes responsibility.
And that is what our changes to this Act ensure.
That every person involved with firearms has to act in the interests of safety.
Mr Speaker, I mentioned at the start of my speech that Sir Thomas was a Napier boy.
He watched his father rebuild his business after the devastation of the Hawke’s Bay earthquake.
We too, have been devastated by the loss of life on 15 March, and the harm caused by gun crime.
To quote from the obituary for Sir Thomas in the Law Society journal in 2018:
"He had an eye for the big picture and the future, and never stopped looking for ways the system could be improved."
That must be the duty of this Parliament too.
Sir Thomas, this is for you.