12 Nov 2019

Firearms Prohibition Order proposal raises fears of warrantless search powers

9:22 am on 12 November 2019

The government's firearms prohibition order (FPO) proposal is being met with both approval and alarm bells.

President of the Police Association, Chris Cahill and Police Minister Stuart Nash.

President of the Police Association, Chris Cahill and Police Minister Stuart Nash. Photo: RNZ

A discussion document on giving police the power to keep those they deem high-risk away from firearms, is now open to consultation.

Under the proposal, those with a history of violent offending, gun crimes or family harm could be subject to an order.

That could stop those people from living at or visiting a property where firearms are kept, or being in a vehicle with firearms.

Gang members were specifically noted in the document but Police Minister Stuart Nash said they would not necessarily be subject to an order.

Police Association president Chris Cahill said he supported the proposal in principle.

"The majority of offences are committed by people who don't have firearms licences," he said.

"This is targeting those offenders who are outside that regime who illegally possess firearms, use them to commit serious offences ... police can proactively target them to try and prevent them from ever getting access."

Mr Cahill told Morning Report there was still a way to go in bringing clarification to who would issue the orders and what sort of offences would make someone liable for an order.

"I think [the offences] probably need to be at the more serious end, we don't want these to be commonplace ... also you want to use them for the right sort of people," he said.

"So I would suggest on the face of it, you're talking serious violent offences and maybe the more serious end of family violence as well. And if you put it at that level, I can think of numerous people that would meet that requirement, many of them gang members, and they're the ones we're most concerned about."

In terms of who would issue the FPOs, he said it would be important to get the balance right.

"I wouldn't be uncomfortable ... that it's a judge that issues them and police make the application to the judge. Certainly, if that wasn't the case, there needs to be the ability to appeal to a judge just to get that mix right."

He said while there was space for unintentional breach of order, the bar would be set high because that was a standard excuse for those who commit offences, and there would have to be some firm proof of that.

Rob McCann, manager of the White Ribbon campaign against violence to women, said it could make a real difference if guns were kept out of the hands of people with a history of family harm.

"One of the things that people are particularly scared about is that we know that when - women especially - leave a relationship, a perpetrator no longer has that power and control over someone and violence can escalate," he said.

"One of those escalations can be the use of weapons or the threat of it."

No caption

Golriz Ghahraman Photo: RNZ /Dom Thomas

Green Party Justice spokesperson Golriz Ghahraman said the document raised significant human rights concerns.

"The one that really jumps out, for example, is warrantless search powers, so we are giving police extra powers without them being governed by our usual search and surveillance or search and seizure laws.

"We know that where police abuses of power do happen they are disproportionately used against Māori or Pasifika people," she said.

Ms Ghahraman hoped the consultation phase would receive broad feedback, leading to changes.

National's police spokesperson Brett Hudson said the government did not need to wait around for consultation.

He said the government had sat on its hands for two years since it voted down a National Party member's bill that would have introduced Firearms Prohibition Orders.

"The framework, the policy, is already clearly there, they should be introducing it now into the arms legislation that is already before Parliament, that would give that bill a much stronger focus on where it should be, which is on genuine criminals and gangs," he said.

He told Morning Report if the prohibition orders were to exist as put forward in National's bill, then police would better be able to use existing search and seizure powers rather than expanding or adding new measures.

"What it would do is identify the people most at risk to other New Zealanders and enable them to be properly monitored and dealt with, to make sure that firearms are genuinely kept out of the hands of people that are dangerous to New Zealanders."

He said he believed the ways in which FPOs would be applied was "pretty well-contained".

"The Firearms Prohibition Orders are intended to be a discretionary thing, that the police commissioner can use to ensure that firearms are kept out of the hands of the most dangerous people. It is not anticipated by anyone's measure - ours or this new discussion document - that that would be broadly applied over large swathes of New Zealand or New Zealanders."

Submissions close on the discussion document on 13 January. From there, police will report back to the government with recommendations.

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs