MPs from across the political divide previously stymied gun control

9:04 am on 27 March 2019

As recently as last year, New Zealand First MP Ron Mark boasted in Parliament about having repeatedly obstructed attempts to bolster gun control, describing such legislation as "rubbish" and "misguided nonsense".

Minister of Defence Ron Mark

Minister of Defence Ron Mark Photo: RNZ/Rebekah Parsons-King

The defence minister now finds himself sitting in a Cabinet overseeing a much more extensive clampdown on firearms following the Christchurch mosque shootings.

Mr Mark, NZ First's spokesperson on firearms, declined RNZ's request for an interview.

Speaking to reporters last week, he refused to answer questions about gun control, saying only that Cabinet had made its decision and he was a member of Cabinet.

But in September last year, Mr Mark was more vocal, touting his party's record of hobbling efforts to "restrict the rights of legitimate firearms owners".

Mr Mark made the comments during a speech opposing National MP Chris Bishop's member's bill to ban gang members from owning firearms, saying the bill reflected the "same misguided nonsense" as many others previously considered.

He derided an attempt in 1999 to set up a gun register, saying the proposed law was "finally trashed" due to "a lot of hard work" by NZ First and ACT.

Mr Mark told Parliament that NZ First also worked with the then-opposition National Party in 2005 to stymie the Arms Amendment Bill which would have created new offences related to the manufacture and trafficking of illegal firearms.

"Why? Because the bill was rubbish," he said.

The bill was ultimately abandoned, but Mr Mark argued that National - after coming to power in 2008 - allowed the police "unprecedented judgment" in regulating firearms.

Mr Mark also criticised a 2016 select committee inquiry into firearms, describing most of its proposals as "stupid".

A year later, that cross-party review reported back with 20 recommendations. At the time, NZ First refused to endorse the report, saying it targeted "legitimate ownership of legally held firearms".

Asked about that decision last week, NZ First leader Winston Peters indicated that the landscape had changed following the deadly mosque shootings.

"On the 15th of March, our world changed forever, and so will our gun laws."

Labour, NZ First, the Green Party and National have all pledged to support a sweeping crackdown on firearms including a ban on military-style semi-automatic weapons and assault rifles.

Paula Bennett listens to media questions during a press conference with Simon Bridges

Paula Bennett. Photo: VNP / Phil Smith

In 2017, National MP and then police minister Paula Bennett accepted just seven of the inquiry's 20 recommendations. The Police Association accused her of bowing to the gun lobby.

Speaking to reporters last week, Mrs Bennett denied she had been swayed by gun lobbyists but refused to say whether she regretted her decision.

"There's no point in having hindsight.

"We're in unprecedented times now."

At the time, Labour's police spokesperson Stuart Nash - now police minister - supported Mrs Bennett's move.

Minister of Police, Stuart Nash. The Government is responding to increased drug-related deaths by cracking down on the suppliers of synthetic drugs.

Police Minister Stuart Nash. Photo: RNZ / Rebekah Parsons-King

He also previously expressed reluctance to introduce a firearms register, but told RNZ he now supports one "in principle" and had requested more information.

Mr Nash said the terror attack had changed his outlook and forced him to consider the proposal through "a different lens".

"I'm not being glib when I say [the shootings have] shattered [New Zealanders'] naivety. It's certainly opened our eyes to the potential for what one terrorist with deadly weapons can do.

"It has forced us to relook at our Arms Act and our licensing process, and say, okay, is this fit for purpose?"

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs