Select committee hears out feedback on gun law reform

9:14 pm on 4 April 2019

Emotions ran high during a select committee seeking to change the country's gun laws today, with opponents taking aim at the speed at which the bill is being rushed through Parliament and supporters saying it can't come soon enough.

Chris Cahill from NZ Police Association showed MPs a photograph of 74 uzis at the Finance and Expenditure Select Committee.

Chris Cahill from NZ Police Association showed MPs a photograph of 74 uzis at the Finance and Expenditure Select Committee. Photo: RNZ / ANA TOVEY

The Finance and Expenditure committee has received about 10,000 written submissions on the proposal to ban military-style semi-automatic guns, like those used by the man accused of murdering 50 people as they prayed in two Christchurch mosques last month.

However, only 20 or so oral submissions were heard by MPs - the subject of much consternation among some firearm enthusiasts.

The owner of the Gun City, which sold weapons to the man charged with the terrorist attack, was also allowed to make a submission to the MPs.

David Tipple said that if they passed the law in its present form, "you would be helping him win".

Gun City continued selling the firearms used in the attack even after the prime minister said they would be banned.

"Rushing this good-feel [sic] law is causing division. It is bad law and it will result in serious injustices. Worse, it ignores what went wrong. There are no loopholes in the existing law, this happened because he broke numerous laws."

After his appearance, Mr Tipple told reporters what action he believed New Zealanders should take.

"Which one of us after this event doesn't have a warm fuzzy when we see a hijab? We have all grown in empathy with that community because of that event. That is how we beat that mad Australian; when we get together and not divide. When you stop lynching me as a gun owner."

Police Association president Chris Cahill praised the government and the opposition for their decisiveness in getting the legislation through Parliament.

Mr Cahill raised some serious concerns, though, about possible exemptions to the law, including for specially licensed dealers, "bona fide collectors", museum curators and people using firearms for dramatic productions.

He said they were only required to remove a part from a firearm in order to make it inoperable. But he said this still was not safe as it was possible to reattach it.

He showed MPs a photograph of 74 uzis.

"[These were] imported by a collector on the idea that these are to be used for props. These were all operable firearms," he said.

"They were only stopped at the border because the exporter from overseas alerted Customs and said, 'You know, this person has imported these - and numerous previous imports - and we believe he's got enough to set up a small militia in New Zealand'."

The police officer who shot mass-murderer David Gray at Aramoana in 1990 also spoke out in support of the fast-track weapons ban.

Tim Ashton appeared before the select committee and later told RNZ's Checkpoint that failing to change the law now would enable more mass killings in future.

"What if we don't do it, then we're leaving our society open to people who have abhorrent ideas, vile views and they can express them through a firearm."

There were submissions from people seeking exemptions, including Andrew Edgecombe from the Antique and Historical Arms Association, who said his members were feeling "victimised, marginalised and criminalised" because of their chosen interest.

Ben Allen from Airsoft NZ gives his submission.

Ben Allen from Airsoft NZ gives his submission. Photo: RNZ / ANA TOVEY

Ben Allen from Airsoft NZ asked that plastic airsoft guns be exempt because, although they may look a bit like military-style semi-autos, they wouldn't be able to to fire actual bullets.

Pistol New Zealand, too, asked that legitimate target shooters be exempted.

Martin Taylor from Fish and Game, which represents some 40,000 hunters, said while the organisation supported the bill, he was concerned about the six-month deadline.

"With the nature of the large number of weapons that have to be bought back we wondering whether six months is actually practical," Mr Taylor said.

Gun rights blogger Mike Loder gives his submission via video conference.

Gun rights blogger Mike Loder gives his submission via video conference. Photo: RNZ / ANA TOVEY

"We did a quick calculation based on very efficient public servants being able to process one gun every half an hour and then if you think of 30,000 guns and half an hour and then you divide that up, that's a significant amount of time."

The most contentious submission was by gun rights blogger Mike Loder, who called Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern a "tyrant" for rushing the law through.

"I watched the prime minister literally laugh when she announced that new gun laws will be rushed through. A journalist said would people be able to make submissions? She literally laughed. That is a tyrant."

Federation of Islamic Associations of New Zealand president Mustafa Farouk, who has become a key figurehead in the wake of the devastation in Christchurch, told the committee he was there to represent those unable to attend because they were dead.

Federation of Islamic Associations of New Zealand president Mustafa Farouk.

Federation of Islamic Associations of New Zealand president Mustafa Farouk. Photo: RNZ / ANA TOVEY

"They are dead because they have been killed using the kinds of weapons that this legislation is trying to take out of circulation," he said.

"Just before I stepped forward here [to address the committee], I took a mental note of how many people are here, and there are probably in this room about 50 individuals.

"This is the number of people that this individual killed in a very short time using the kind of weapon that this legislation is trying to control. I just want you to think about that."

The select committee will conclude its deliberations tomorrow and take the bill back to Parliament on Monday.

Various reactions on gun law amendments

The New Zealand Law Society has raised major concerns about the short time-frame given to submitters on the Arms Amendment Bill.

The government has given just one day for a select group of people to present oral submissions on the new gun laws.

NZ Law Society president Tiana Epati told MPs the rushed process meant many of the bill's potential impacts were likely to be overlooked.

She said the public should have had at least five working days to submit to achieve a a robust democratic process.

Federated Farmers has also drawn attention to the short time-frame for submissions, but says it recognises the government is working within exceptional circumstances to act quickly following the Christchurch attacks.

Federated Farmers has urged MPs to consider allowing select groups access to semi automatic firearms in order to manage pest control, but under strict management criteria.

It's spokesperson Ewan Kelsall has told the select committee for the Arms Amendment Bill that its definition of 'exempt persons' needs to include landowners demonstrating a genuine need to use prohibited firearms for pest control.

He said those identified as exempt would only use such firearms to reduce significantly large numbers of pests.

A spokesperson for the Islamic Women's Council, Anjum Rahman, told MPs the ban was an urgent and necessary step.

"While this particular legislation may be rushed, the need is also immediate. We are still at high alert. We still have armed police outside our mosques.

"And the fact is that we had experts look at our legislation, and report in April 2017. The work has been done, it's just that the result wasn't there at that time to make a change."

Ms Rahman shed tears as she presented the council's oral submission at the Arms Amendment Bill select committee today.

She said the Muslim community in New Zealand was one of the most demonised groups in the country.

Ms Rahman has also urged MPs to ensure the Islamic Women's Council has a voice in the government's recently announced royal commission of inquiry into the country's security agencies.

Tim Watson from the New Zealand Deerstalkers Associations wanted more detail about gun buy-back scheme which he said must take into account what people had paid for weapon parts and security.

"You may have a two and a half thousand [or] three-thousand dollar optic on there ... not only that you've got to have the right security.

"I've put in a safe room and that cost me nineteen thousand dollars. That's not uncommon for people whocollect and use these firearms."

MPs pitch in to the reactions

Meanwhile, National Party MP Judith Collins has responded to the extreme comments by some gun-owners opposing the government's fast-tracked ban on semi-automatic rifles, saying they've left her reeling.

Ms Collins is on the committee hearing submissions on the Arms Amendment Bill today.

She told reporters the submissions showed there was a lot of intolerance among more extreme gun-owners.

"What I've seen today is quite a lot of division and intolerance in some parts or extreme parts of the gun lobby. I've also seen some really excellent work from the pistol association, I thought their submission was incredibly sensible and helpful around the issue of sports shooters."

On the other hand, ACT Party MP David Seymour has accepted a petition calling for the government to slow its rush to ban semi-automatic rifles.

Before the petition closed, 15,761 people had signed it so that it could be put to the select committee considering the gun law changes.

Mr Seymour said the signatories should have been given more time to make submissions on the Arms Amendment Bill.

"The people who signed this petition will want to tell MPs a range of things about the details, about their lifestyle, about how you might be able to better control guns while also protecting the legal rights of people who have done nothing wrong, and I think that people have the right to be heard in our democracy."

He said the government was alienating gun-owners with its haste to pass the ban.

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