By Peter Ryan
On 15 March 2019 a terrorist entered two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand. Using a variety of firearms, some illegally modified, he killed 50 people outright. The victims were men, women and children between 3 and 77 years of age.
Another 49 were wounded. A further victim died weeks later. It is by far the worst mass killing in modern New Zealand history.
This column will not go into the politics of these actions. Those are issues for the courts and more qualified observers. It is focused on what this means for licenced firearms owners in New Zealand and any impacts this might have on the Australian scene.
That’s the technical angle but there is a personal side to this. Living in Australia in the 1990s I still recall having to surrender some of my firearms to the Howard scheme. Why did the actions of a madman in Tasmania mean giving up my first .22, the one my Dad gave me? That still stings.
I was two minutes away from the first Christchurch mosque shooting when it took place. The building went into lockdown, cops everywhere. This is a small community — I have friends living nearby who tended the dead and wounded, I know some of the first responders. It was exactly what you saw on TV but worse. It was obvious from the start that things would change. It was also obvious what would come with that — the same tired media bias, the same clueless reporting.
Since then the New Zealand government has introduced legislation to ban all semi-auto rifles in any centre-fire calibre. This was given almost complete support by both the government and the opposition. In fact, any rifle with a magazine holding more than 10 rounds is now banned. Semi auto shotguns with a detachable magazine are prohibited, but semi-auto and pump shotguns with tubular non-detachable magazines that hold no more than 5 cartridges remain legal.
To be clear, there is no ban on Aussies bringing their own rifle or shotgun into New Zealand under a visitor’s permit, provided it is not a prohibited weapon. That process is still in place and is similar to bringing a firearm into most countries.
The legislation was drafted quickly and it shows. The government’s estimates on total cost of the buy-back look absurdly low compared to industry experts. Compensation allowances per firearm appear on the cheap side which might encourage the black market or non-compliance.
All of this will of course only affect licenced firearm owners. There are around 250 000 in New Zealand, with around 1.5 million firearms in circulation. It is worth pointing out that this group makes up an astonishingly low percentage of murder convictions. The number of homicides committed by licenced firearm owners from 1983 to 2018 — a 35-year period — was 12.
As with Australia, licenced shooters are not the problem.
All of this is playing out in front of an undemanding public. That’s hardly surprising given the almost complete lack of firearms knowledge — and a savage degree of bias — shown by mainstream media. Basically, the public thinks that ‘assault rifles’ have been banned and that’s it. There is almost no understanding outside the shooting world of how sweeping these changes are. They extend to Grandad’s old pump-action .22 (if it has a long tube magazine), collector’s pieces, some lever actions. These are not exactly the weapons of choice for crime or terrorism.
Most Kiwi shooters are trying to support each other, to push for fair treatment and compensation, and to keep a positive public image. Above all we need to push back on the media demonising licenced firearms owners. We are not the gang member, the armed robber, the meth dealer. We’re the farmer, the small business owner, the tradie. People who have done nothing wrong — and that’s a statistical fact.
It could have been so much worse. Kiwis can still own a five shot semi or pump for duck season. We can still have a suppressor for a rifle, or a five shot semi-auto twenty two. If that had been the case in Australia in the 1990s I would still have my dad’s nice little Krico, the one that went for scrap under the Howard scheme. Yes, it could have been worse, and we get that.
However, a second amendment to the Arms Act is likely to land just after this column goes to print. Registration of individual firearms looks likely. (New Zealand used to register individual guns but dropped that a long time ago on the basis that it is the owner that needs to be licenced and fit for purpose, not the individual firearm — exactly the way car licences work. I still think that is a sensible approach.) Registration would not have prevented the Christchurch shootings or Port Arthur. An ‘evidence trail’ means nothing when a shooter plans on being caught. At political level there is little sign of opposition to registration.
Registration would mean a permit to acquire when buying a firearm, more strict storage requirements and more administration. The Police Minister and Police Association are both in favour of full gun registration. I have a sense of déjà vu about all this. It sounds familiar.
Stay tuned folks. This show is a long way from over.
The buybacks have commenced and registration of firearms is now law in New Zealand.
Australian hunters travelling with firearms have already encountered difficulties, causing some to cancel trips.
We will continue to monitor developments and provide updates and advice to the large cohort of Aussie hunters who see NZ as a second home.