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Stephen Franks

Firearms law changes – Royal Commission

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I am not surprised the Royal Commission into the Mosque attacks needs an extension of its report date. In April I posted on its terms of reference.  There is a great need for careful reflective investigation independent of a Police force that has become nakedly engaged in political advocacy.

The Commission’s work is vital – we should all want an evidence based disciplined report. How a free society deals with the terrorism threat is serious everywhere. If the Commission can give us a report that counters current political temptations to whip up the fever, it should have all the time it needs.

Many societies have been blighted, and ultimately undone, by leadership willing to exploit tragedies and panics and attacks, to distract their people. Among the oldest political tricks is to foment hatreds of minorities, to promote fears of ‘the enemy within’.

All societies are vulnerable to such unprincipled tactics. Here is a fascinating NYT account of how vulnerable the US was to that 100 years ago. Eventually Oliver Wendell Holmes was brave judge enough to reverse himself on the Supreme Court. He realized how important free speech was to dealing with that dangerous political climate.

The extension of the Royal Commission reporting date is an opportunity for MPs with courage – perhaps NZ First. Better still would be Labour MPs  taking steps to reserve judgment on the current Arms Legislation Amendment Bill until the Royal Commission has reported. Parliament needs to ‘breath through its nose”. It must suspend the cynical Police campaign that emerged in April. It is generating the ugly flower that has never before found fertile soil here – to root in antipathies over firearms law that so disfigure US partisan politics.

Prime Minister Ardern showed a superb sense of what was needed for the Muslim members of our society immediately after the attacks. She recreated grounds for trust. Sadly the need to be seen to do more was then hijacked with a pre-prepared Police strategy to arm themselves and to marginalise licensed firearms owners, transferring to them the fear and anger rightly felt toward Tarrant.

We have long been regarded as one of the lucky countries for our firearms regulation. We have very low rates of firearms crime, co-existing with high levels of lawful firearms ownership. Our good fortune has been recognised at international arms control meetings.

But in the April panic we got new firearms law while leaving criminal firearms owners essentially untouched.  Since then, the Coalition has doubled down, with slogans to be enacted in a fresh Bill. It will arm police unnecessarily with draconian powers. We are well on the way to poisoning the mutual trust and respect values that have distinguished our firearms community relations with Police.

If the Royal Commission finds that the best guard against radicalising is more trust, and more respect – what the PM showed immediately after Tarrant’s infamous action, it could be too late. No government will reverse its mistakes immediately. Especially if they have been trumpeted as an achievement internationally.

David Seymour puts it well in a statement immediately after the announcement on the extraordinary extension of the Commission’s report date.

Our client COLFO has also asked MPs to show at least enough respect for the Royal Commission’s careful work to delay legislating until the Commission lessons are available.  From what we have seen of the submissions to the Commission and on the Arms Legislation Bill, the latter does actually nothing that would have materially impeded Tarrant. Instead it vilifies lawful firearms owners. It is a diversion from reforming the Police practices that might even have enabled him.

The current timetable for the Arms Legislation Bill is itself a disgrace:

  • Most submitters have been insulted with MPs being allowed only a single question,
  • official briefing papers have great gaps on costs, and establishing connections between provisions sought, and mass murder risks,
  • briefings have involved obvious self pleading by the Police faction which has silenced the ordinary front line officers who have tried to maintain the traditional relationships with licensed firearms owners,
  • MPs who suspect that Police might have good reason to be ashamed of what the Royal Commission will report have not been given enough time to pursue their suspicions, and
  • the speed in legislating seems designed solely for political grandstanding in March, not for setting NZ up to defend its values and its reputation with the benefit of the Royal Commission report.

We have had an international reputation as being like Switzerland and Iceland – a high trust society with mutual respect between law abiding firearms users, and Police. We are seeing a cynical attempt to give NZ the kind of toxic permanent debate over firearms law that discredits politics in the US – for partisan advantage