18 Nov 2020

Police Association pushes for firearms register to be put in place

5:38 am on 18 November 2020

The Police Association wants the government to hurry up its firearms register in order to stem the flow of guns to criminal groups.

Police conference in Wellington. Chris Cahill, NZ Police Association.

Police Association president Chris Cahill says guns are flowing into gang hands without a trace. Photo: RNZ / Rebekah Parsons-King

A 24-year-old man was last night arrested in connection with shooting at a police officer yesterday morning in the Whangārei suburb of Otangarei.

It's the second shooting at a Northland officer in a month, and less than six months after Constable Matthew Hunt was killed in west Auckland.

Legislation passed in June paves the way for a gun register, but Police Minister Poto Williams said while work was under way on "firearms licensing and administration", there was no fixed date for any decision, let alone implementation.

Without a registry, the union for police officers said guns were flowing into gang hands without a trace.

"If we track what's happened overseas when gun registers came into place, the number of firearms being stolen dropped dramatically. We know most criminals get their firearms by stealing them from law-abiding firearms owners, so let's get that up and running as soon as possible," said Police Association president Chris Cahill.

Cahill said across the country, officers have either had a gun drawn or shot at them on average once a month in the last two years.

He said to reduce the existing pool of black market guns, police also needed to place a greater focus on seizing them and following up on all gun-related information that they received.

More long-term, Cahill wanted more work to stop young people from thinking that joining a gang was their best or only option.

"To address why young people are joining gangs in the first place. Especially in provincial New Zealand, there's not the opportunities for other careers, so there needs to be a real effort to give them an alternative.

"At the moment, too many of them think a gang is their best option. We know long-term it's not good for the individual and it's not good for society, so it's money well spent to stop it."

Far North Mayor John Carter agreed social issues played a critical role in the conditions that underpin these recent police shootings.

"Yeah absolutely, but not just in Northland - across the country. We need to change our focus on welfare, we need to bring these people back into our community. We're not doing that enough... it's an example of the failure of our welfare system not working for our communities," Carter said.

Born and bred near the scene of yesterday's shooting in Otangarei, Martin Kaipo has seen the place change over the decades.

Otangarei Trust chief executive Martin Kaipo.

Martin Kaipo has seen Otangarei change over the decades. Photo: RNZ / Dan Cook

An ex-gang member himself, he now runs a local community organisation. He said Otangarei was beset by low employment, and riddled with gangs and drugs.

"Methamphetamine is probably the biggest influence around. Unemployment would be another factor. We're low socio-economic communities. There's high dependency on unemployment benefits."

Kaipo said a lot of these young men were looking for leaders - but with a lot of elders no longer around, criminal influences were stepping in.

"Outsiders coming into the community and bringing all these new, I suppose, enticements, drawing the wayward young person into that fold."

The new MP for Whangārei, Labour's Emily Henderson, said the current government was well aware of the concerns around firearms.

"I think the entire Labour government shares that concern and we've demonstrated that fairly clearly in the last little while... I don't think I have to push this government to worry about gun control."

The new Minister of Police, Poto Williams, said it was her job to ensure legal firearms were not repurposed in criminal settings.

Poto Williams heading into the Labour caucus where Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern will brief MPs on her ministerial preferences for the new government.

Minister of Police Poto Williams says there is no fixed date for any decision on the firearms register. Photo: RNZ / Nate McKinnon

"As Minister of Police, I will continue the work begun in the last term of Parliament which had one overriding objective - to stop firearms falling into the wrong hands," Williams said.

"The former minister signalled a couple of pieces of work which are yet to come back to Cabinet.

"These relate to reforms to the system of firearms licensing and administration; and a response to the public discussion document on Firearms Prohibition Orders.

"These are important matters and I will be taking some time to ensure Cabinet gets the best advice. At this stage, there is no fixed time frame for when those decisions are likely to be made. The delayed election has pushed out previous timeframes."

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