Legislation to create a firearms register, increase some penalties, and give Police more vetting powers has passed its first stage at Parliament and now the public can have their say.
Some changes proposed in the bill include:
Creating a firearms registry. This would store information about firearms and link them to licence holders so that every firearm legally held in New Zealand can be monitored.
Strengthening and expanding the licensing regime, extending it to cover parts, magazines, and ammunition, and creating a licensing regime for shooting clubs and ranges.
Strengthening the oversight of arms imports and sales.
Giving the Police more tools to vet people and enforce the regime.
Enabling health practitioners to notify the Police if they have concerns about a licenced firearm owner’s mental health or wellbeing.
The Government promised to change the country’s gun laws following attacks on two Mosques in Christchurch in March; the first bill banning particular weapons and creating a buy-back scheme was passed in April, this bill is the second.
Officially titled the Arms Legislation Bill, it passed its first reading debate with 63 votes in favour (from Labour, New Zealand First, and The Green Party) and 57 against (National, ACT, and Jami-Lee Ross).
At a first reading debate MPs outline the purpose of the bill and indicate whether they think it’s good or bad.
The sponsor of the bill gets the first speaking slot which in this case is the Minister of Police Stuart Nash.
He began his speech with some reasons that people join Parliament in the first place.
“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.”
Mr Nash said there are events that don’t impact MPs personally but they can still haunt them.
“They have taken no one who was 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,” he said.
“Gun crime and the terror attack on 15 March in particular haunt every one of us in this debating chamber.”
Mr Nash then outlined reasons this bill is being brought before Parliament.
“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.”
Ten twelve minute speeches is the norm for a debate and usually flicks from the Government side speech to an Opposition side speech.
Police spokesperson for the National Party, Brett Hudson spoke next and said his party will Oppose the bill because it will target the wrong people.
“It isn't focused on criminals at all; in fact, it has it, in our view, 180 degrees the wrong way around,” he said.
“Instead, the bill is imposing greater regulation, more responsibilities, and more costs on law-abiding New Zealanders who happen to own firearms, and is doing very little of any substance to address genuine criminal activity and, particularly, gangs.”
Back to an MP on the Government side. Labour MP Deborah Russell is the chair of the Finance and Expenditure Select Committee which will consider the bill at the next stage.
She began her speech by talking about licensing.
“We're very familiar with the concept of licensing in New Zealand. We apply it in an extraordinary number of places—we are licenced to drive a car, secondhand dealers are licenced, electrical workers are licenced... why?—because of the harm that can be caused to other people,” she said.
The National Party has put forward a list of changes they’d like made to the bill including:
Introducing Firearms Prohibition Orders
Adding flexibility to dealer licences given the wider remit being proposed
Introducing clearer and more flexible rules for clubs
Introducing clearer and more flexible rules for sporting ranges
Ensuring the Register is clearly defined in legislation
Keeping licence duration the same as it is today
Including safeguards on healthcare practitioners reporting to Police.
Removing excessive regulatory powers from the Act
Introducing new and consistent exemptions for sports shooting
Providing for greater flexibility for pest control exemptions
Adding common sense amendments for collector exemptions
Amending the fit and proper person test to require some clear rules for assessing patterns of behaviour
Requiring common sense rules for visitors purchasing firearms over prohibition
The Bill passed its first reading with Labour, New Zealand First and the Greens voting yes, National, ACT, and Jami Lee Ross voted no.
The next step is for the bill to be considered by a select committee for about six months. In this case, the Finance and Expenditure Committee has the job and they’re calling for the public to submit their views through Parliament’s website.