19 Feb 2021

ACT questions why more gang members getting firearms licence

5:40 am on 19 February 2021

The ACT Party is accusing the government of failing to keep New Zealanders safe, citing the number of gang members with gun licences increasing under its watch.

ACT's Rongotai candidate Nicole McKee in Te Anau for the launch of the party's tourism policy.

ACT firearms reform spokesperson Nicole McKee. Photo: RNZ / Dom Thomas

During Question Time yesterday, ACT firearms reform spokesperson Nicole McKee revealed that the number of people identified on the National Gang List who hold a firearms licence has increased from 11 to 12 between August and February.

While a small increase, McKee said that no gang member should have a firearms licence.

Standing in for the police minister, Kris Faafoi acknowledged the increase but said it was an operational matter for police.

"As the legislation currently stands, those on the National Gang List can have their firearms licence removed if police believe they are not a fit and proper person and associated with a gang. That is a piece of legislation the ACT Party voted against".

Commerce and Consumer Affairs Minister Kris Faafoi.

Kris Faafoi. Photo: RNZ / Dom Thomas

But McKee questioned why, if the police had such powers, were they not using them.

"Under what circumstances is it appropriate for a gang member to hold a firearms licence?" she asked.

Faafoi responded it was a decision made at the police's discretion.

"That is a judgement for the police to make as to whether they are a fit and proper person."

Former Police Minister Stuart Nash jumped in to defend the government's track record.

"Is it true that under the previous term of this government over 60,000 rifles out of our community that were primarily designed to kill people ... is it true that the ACT Party was the only party that did not vote to ban military-style semi-automatic weapons?"

But ACT leader David Seymour hit back with a supplementary question of his own.

"What does it say about this government's policies and the legislation they ask us to support that the number of gang members with firearms licences is going up even as the government takes 60,000 firearms off law-abiding firearms owners who have done nothing wrong?"

Police have not yet responded as to why there has been an increase.

In a statement, Police Minister Poto Williams said police had only had the ability to revoke firearms licences on gang affiliation grounds since December 2020.

"So it is entirely unsurprising that there has not been a significant change in the numbers of known gang members who hold firearms licences."

But McKee said this showed what a failure the rushed firearms legislation had been and the minister could not just pass the buck.

"That's a cop-out. The legislation was put in place by Parliamentarians to keep New Zealand safe, if police are not administering it then the minister's responsibility is to find out why on earth we're having an increase in gangs with firearms licences".

She also took aim at figures showing gangs are recruiting 10 times faster than police.

"Since October 2017, the number of gang members on the National Gang List has increased by 2264, but there are just 239 new police officers investigating organised crime.

"This government promised 1800 new police officers, with 700 of those being dedicated to organised crime. That's simply, again, a failure by this government to protect New Zealand".

Faafoi told the House the government would deliver the promised 700 police focused on tackling organised crime by 2023.

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