22 Mar 2019

Military-style semi-automatic weapons ban: Gun lobby will fight changes warns reform advocate

11:15 am on 22 March 2019

The government is being told it has a real fight on its hands over gun control if what happened in Australia is anything to go by.

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Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announcing the ban on MSSA firearms and assault rifles. Photo: RNZ / Ana Tovey

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced a ban on all military-style semi-automatic weapons and all assault rifles on Thursday.

She said that every semi-automatic weapon used in the terrorist attack on two mosques in Christchurch last Friday would be banned under more stringent gun laws.

University of Sydney associate professor Philip Alpers, and the director of a global database on gun policy, said the pro-gun lobby here had successfully stopped reform over the past 25 years, and they wouldn't take this lying down.

New Zealand's pro-gun groups were the sole reason why politicians had rejected reform recommendations for decades, he said.

"All of that delay, all of the the obfuscation, and the argument, the interminable demands for more consultation, let's have another enquiry - all of that has come from the gun lobby. They are the ones who have steadily defeated every proposal to change in the past quarter century," Mr Alpers said.

"And the fight has only just begun."

Mr Alpers said the proposals here didn't seem to be as wide-ranging, or as strong, as Australia gun law changes following the Port Arthur massacre in Tasmania in 1996.

Australia's law changes left little room for debate about what was banned, he said.

"Centrefire semi-automatic rifles and shotguns - full stop."

He said this definition, if adopted by our legislation, would capture the mosque attacker's weapons.

Contrary to what Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said on Thursday, none of the guns from last Friday's massacre were genuine assault rifles, Mr Alpers said.

Philip Alpers

Philip Alpers Photo: University of Sydney

He described them as "wannabe, lookalike assault rifles".

He said that sort of mistake could not happen when the law was written in New Zealand because the gun lobby would exploit any inaccuracies.

"There's going to have to be much better wording in the legislation, and that wording is up for argument," he said.

"You'll now have dozens of vested interests trying make sure that their guns, their models are not included in this ban."

Tim Fischer, who was Australia's deputy prime minister at the time of the 1996 gun reforms, said the New Zealand government was on the right path.

Norm Legg, a project supervisor with a local security firm, holds up an armalite rifle which is similar to the one used in the Port Arthur massacre and has been handed in for scrap 08 September in Melbourne.

Australia's buyback scheme introduced in 1996 cost $A300 million. Photo: AFP

But Mr Fischer agreed that the devil was in the detail.

Mr Fischer said there was fierce opposition in Australia 23 years ago to the reforms, but the then Liberal government stood its ground.

"We stared them down. We argued it in the public square, and we succeeded," he said.

"You [New Zealand] had an inquiry [on the illegal possession of firearms] in 2017.

"You adopted just seven of the quite large number of recommendations. Well let's get real: this is now the time to move and stare down any element of the NRA of New Zealand, but more particularly the global role of the national rifle association of the USA."

Mr Fischer said their buyback scheme - which cost about $A300 million - relied on the goodwill of citizens, and because the vast majority of them complied, it was a success.

Mr Alpers said Australia's crackdown on gun ownership had saved lives.

"After Port Arthur, the risk of dying by gunshot in Australia dropped by more than half and has stayed there ever since.

"There were 105 people killed in mass shootings in the years before and at Port Arthur; for 22 years after that there was not a single public gun massacre," Mr Alpers said.

NZ hunters 'more Barry Crump than Rambo'

Phil Mitchell a former police officer turned lawyer and long-time hunter said the ban on all military-style semi-automatics and assault rifles was long overdue .

"I was personally very disappointed it took the slaughter of 50 innocent people, and the wounding of so many more, before the government took action when this incident was so foreseeable.

"Being able to buy semi-auto high velocity centrefire rifles and easily sourcing interchangeable 30-shot magazines was always going to end badly, and this was an issue that's been known about for years," he told Morning Report.

Mr Mitchell said he thought hunters would, like him, back the restrictions.

"All of my hunting friends have the same attitude, I've been hunting in New Zealand for 40 years and I've never seen a single person in the bush with a semi-auto military rifle, everyone uses bolt-action rifles.

"People have got to realise that hunters in New Zealand are more like Barry Crump than like Rambo."

"These military-style high velocity semi-auto rifles are made for killing people, and they do it very well, and that's what we've seen." - Phil Mitchell on Morning Report.

Federated Farmers has said it supports the government's proposed changes to gun laws.

Coalition of Licenced Firearm Owners secretary Nicole McKee said more time was needed to consult with legal gun owners.

"We have been told that the timeframe will be extremely short, and when you have 15 percent of licenced firearm owners not having any online presence how are they going to be able to get their views across? And we think that's legitimate, that they should be able to have a voice."

Rural security spokesperson Miles Anderson said some members wouldn't like reform, but he said there was no need for high-calibre weapons or large-capacity magazines.

Mr Anderson said it was pleasing farmers would still be able to use some small-calibre semi-automatic rifles and shotguns.

Ms Ardern said there would be a short time for technical feedback through the select committee process. The government then plans to pass the law under urgency by 11 April.

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