Gun law questions inevitable after shootings

It was inevitable that questions would be asked about our gun laws after the  Bay of Plenty shootings and siege.

I don’t know how tightening firearm laws would prevent isolated incidents like this. It’s impossible to predict which individuals might make stupid decisions.

Perhaps it’s more important to seriously reconsider our cannabis laws.

Stuff: Kawerau siege: Is it time to look at our gun laws?

While the Kawerau siege ended peacefully, the alleged shooting of four police officers has raised the issue of whether cops need better access to firearms, as well as questions about New Zealand’s gun culture. Can anything be done to stop similar situations?

The last major change to police firearms access came in 2012, when police were given access to a lock-box of firearms in every frontline car.

The Kawerau siege is not an ideal example for those pushing for easier police access to guns: the police shot were not unwitting constables taken by surprise, but members of the elite Armed Offenders Squad, sporting extensive training and body armour which saved their lives.

Tellingly, the idea of police officers toting guns on their hips isn’t a vote-winner, either with politicians or ordinary Kiwis.

But is it a vote loser?

And should votes be the deciding factor?

Police Association president Greg O’Connor, a long-term supporter of greater police access to guns, says talking about the topic now would distract from the main issue – how criminals are getting guns in the first place

O’Connor says no police officers are surprised by the Kawerau shooting, coming on the back of a notable rise in firearms-related incidents which police have faced in recent years.”There have been so many near-misses, so many times police officers have been shot at…this time, four officers weren’t lucky.”

He says the real arms race is taking place between criminals, with police the “collateral damage”.

But is ‘criminals getting guns’ the issue in the Kawerau incident?

I think one of the biggest questions from this shooting is:

Another issue which the Kawerau siege raises is the country’s drug laws, and the dangers that police face in enforcing them.

In Napier, Christchurch and Kawerau, it was a cannabis search or operation which led to a violent outcome in each case.

The amount of resources involved in policing cannabis and the risks involved should be balanced against the risk of using the drug – which are relatively low. Illegality aside cannabis causes far fewer problems than alcohol.

The Kawerau incident is more failed cannabis policies (political and police). Firearms were a prominent factor but gun laws don’t seem to be the issue here.

Firearm purchase warning

The Police have given what are now Newshub staff (from Story on what was TV3) a warning over the forgery involved in illegally purchasing a firearm to demonstrate how it could be done.

This is about when Heather du Plessis Allen and Story forged a police signature to obtain approval to purchase a firearm.

And Newshub have apologised for what they did.

I think this is a reasonable result, as long as it’s seen as a warning to journalists not to break the law in doing stories or prosecutions could eventuate next time.

The police statement from Superintendent Richard Chambers – District Commander, Auckland City District:

Outcome of investigation into TV3/MediaWorks staff

Police in Auckland City District have concluded the investigation into the actions of some TV3/MediaWorks staff involved in the purchase of a firearm for a television report broadcast in October 2015.

Police became involved as a result of those staff seeking to surrender a firearm that had been illegally purchased from a licensed Auckland firearms dealer.

The Police investigation focussed on the actions of staff members in the creation of a forged document and the use of the document to obtain a firearm.

Having completed a thorough investigation, an independent review of the case has been undertaken by a Detective Superintendent.

Police have now issued formal warnings to three TV3/MediaWorks staff.

In reaching this decision, the Solicitor-General Prosecution Guidelines were considered, together with independent legal advice.

Police are satisfied that in this instance, there is no evidence that the acquisition of the firearm was for a sinister purpose, a factor which was taken into consideration in reaching this decision.

Police is aware of some commentary suggesting that the television report was in the public interest and should not have been investigated.  Police would like to make it clear that for any investigation, public interest considerations are applied at the conclusion of an investigation and in accordance with the Solicitor-General Prosecution Guidelines, when prosecution is being considered. The public interest test does not determine whether Police should commence a criminal investigation or not.

Police view this case as no different to any other matter where criminal offending is disclosed.  The circumstances of individual cases are routinely assessed to ensure that an appropriate investigation is initiated.

We would also like to be clear that the freedom of journalists to report on any matter is fully accepted without question by Police. The law, however, applies equally to everyone, including members of the media and Police do not accept that it is appropriate to commit a criminal offence purely to publicise the ease with which something can be done.

The outcome of the investigation has been communicated to the individuals involved and to TV3/MediaWorks, which brings this matter to a conclusion.

END

There will be no further Police comment or interviews on this matter.

Media note: A formal warning does not result in a criminal conviction against an individual. However a record of the warning is held by Police and may be used to determine eligibility for any subsequent warnings, and may also be presented in court during any future court proceedings.

So no prosecution or conviction but a warning on their records. And a warning to other journalists and media organisations.

And Newshub have apologised in this report:

MediaWorks warned over Story’s gun item

Police have decided not to lay charges over an item on TV3’s Story programme last year in which a firearm was purchased online.

A number of MediaWorks staff have been warned, and the Story team has apologised to Gun City, the store at the centre of the item, and its owner David Tipple.

“The intention behind the story was to put a spotlight on an issue rather than any one individual business,” a MediaWorks spokesperson says in a statement.

“Story regrets any impact that may have inadvertently been caused to Mr Tipple as a result of the story.”

Superintendent Richard Chambers says there is no evidence to suggest obtaining the firearm was for “a sinister purpose”.

He says police are aware of suggestions the television item was “in the public interest” and shouldn’t have been investigated.

“The public interest test does not determine whether Police should commence a criminal investigation or not.

“Police view this case as no different to any other matter where criminal offending is disclosed.”

Following the item, which aired in October, police were quick to close the highlighted loophole.

That there was no malicious or ”sinister’ intent will have helped kept this at a warning level.

More twists in Mediaworks firearm purchase

While journalists generally have been supportive of Heather Du Plessis-Allan over the Story rifle buying story, and scathing of the police for searching her home David Fisher and NZ Herald have been doing some actual investigative journalism.

Fisher reveals a number of very pertinent facts in The Big Read: Twist to TV gun-buying tale.

Elements of TV3’s gun buying story were contrived as documents show a production manager on the show may be directly implicated in the purchase and delivery of the .22 rifle at the centre of a police inquiry.

The Herald also understands Mark Weldon, the boss of TV3’s owner MediaWorks, appears to have personally approved the gun buying story.

During broadcast of the story, du Plessis-Allan was shown holding a piece of paper to the camera saying: “Normally you take this form down to the police station along with your firearms licence. The police officer checks that you actually do have a firearms licence and signs at the bottom of the form. We can tell you we didn’t take the form to a police station.”

In the wake of an outcry over the search, police put out a press release saying TV3 staff would not be interviewed so detectives took “steps necessary to obtain the information required to progress the investigation”.

Du Plessis-Allan told viewers that night TV3 had handed over information sought by officers.

“They asked me for the original mail order form – I handed it over. They never asked me for my handwriting samples and know that had they done it, I would have handed them over.”

The Herald has studied the copy of the mail order form used to buy the rifle from Gun City and compared it to the form shown in the broadcast on October 21. The documents are different – the “B” in “bolt”, the “R” in “rifle” and the “AC” in “action” most strikingly so.

It means detectives were confronted with the possibility of more documentation other than that which was used to purchase the weapon.

The existence of two forms would compel detectives investigating the gun buy to search for other documentation, according to Criminal Bar Association president and former police detective Tony Bouchier.

The search warrant of du Plessis-Allan’s home was for more than handwriting samples:

The single reference to the “original mail order form” by du Plessis-Allan has been the only comment about the documentation used to buy the rifle. Both Story hosts have spoken repeatedly of the search being to obtain handwriting samples, referring to police “looking for handwriting samples”.

There has been no reference to the second part of the search warrant – of which the Herald has a copy – and its second stated objective. The warrant specifically seeks “all copies of the Gun City mail/online order form, or other sheets of paper that have Justin Devine’s signature on it,” referencing a copy of the actual order form used to buy the weapon and the false name adopted for the purchase.

Another person involved:

Along with the order in the name of “Justin Devine”, the form carried a credit card number said to be in the name of “J Devine”.

Story’s production manager is Jayne Devine, according to her LinkedIn page. The address on the Gun City mail order form to which the rifle was delivered has been matched by the Herald with Ms Devine’s home address.

So the Story story was a packaged story that left out a few of the details. As has coverage of the search.

While a jail term is a possible outcome for forgery and impersonating a police officer I don’t think that would an appropriate penalty. But it seems reasonable for the police to investigate this.

And it’s good to see journalists like Fisher doing some hard core investigating rather than just jumping on the media bandwagon (and mutual defence wagon).

 

More on HDPA and firearms

The purchase of a firearm by Heather du Plessis-Allan for the Story programme on TV3 continues to get attention.

The police have issued a statement:

HDPAPoliceStatement

Like the police raid on du Plessis-Allan’s house this has been criticised. Rummaging through personal belongings looking for handwriting samples seems an odd step considering she had openly described what she had done.

However while many kournbalists are condemning the police action David Fisher has written a brave and thought provoking opinion column:

Heather du Plessis-Allan and the gun: Did she find a loophole or simply break the law?

Whoever filled in the form provided some of the required details by using a bogus name and credit card number.

The section seeking the number of a firearms licence was filled using an invented number. (The invented number was checked by Gun City staff and came back from police as genuine, clearing the way for the purchase.)

Lower down the form was a section marked “Police Use Only”.

Whoever completed the form created the name of a fictitious officer and included what appeared to be a police registration number.

The requirement for the police officer’s involvement is explained at the top of the form. It quotes section 43a of the Arms Act 1983. That’s the section of the law which makes it legal for guns to be sold by mail order.

Of interest to the Story team was the legal requirement for the form to be signed by the person buying the gun, and the legal need for it to carry the endorsement of a police officer who had seen the buyer’s licence.

The “Police Use Only” section wasn’t just for decoration – it was a stated legal requirement for a mail order purchase, as was the use of a proper name. There are penalties for selling a a gun without consideration of all those steps.

I believe there was great cause for serious thought before the form was completed using bogus details. There are serious penalties around forgery, with a maximum prison sentence of 10 years.

As Fisher goes on to say, this wasn’t a loophole, it appears to be breaking the law.

The law doesn’t stop anyone from walking onto the street and punching another person. It provides clear guidance why it should not be done and sets out penalties for stepping outside that law.

Almost always, a “loophole” is what is exposed when you do something the law does not cover but should. In my opinion, a “loophole” is not what you have when you break the law just to show how easy it is to break.

While it’s fair enough questioning how the Police are investigating, it’s also fair enough questioning whether the degree of law breaking was justified to point out a potential weak part of the online purchase process.

 

 

 

Illegally buying a firearm

Story (TV3) ran a story last night showing how Heather Du Plessis-Allan bought a firearm, pointing out how ridiculously easy it was to buy a rifle online.

This is a serious concern – but serious concerns have also been raised about the use of a fake name and a fake firearms license number, and also allegedly used the name, ID number and signature of a fictitious police officer.

(Reports refer to a gun license – they are called firearms licences. And the ‘gun’ that was purchased was a rifle).

What you should do is print off an order form, fill it in and then go to a police station with a firearms licence to get Police to verify it and sign the form.

The Story report simply says they didn’t visit a police station.

Highlighting a problem with the ease of purchasing firearms has some merit. But forging police officer details and ‘obtaining by deception’ are potentially serious offences and the police “would not rule out charging the woman who bought the gun”.

Story reports (video at the link): Loophole in gun laws needs to close.

Story was able to obtain a rifle, but it should not have been able to happen and it was too easy to get.

There is a serious weakness in the gun laws that should be closed.

Perhaps – but how tough should procedures be to prevent false claims and forgery?

It would be interesting to know what led to Story doing this? Did someone suggest it to them? Were the ways of faking application details also suggested?

A mail order form was printed off the gun dealer’s website. A fake name and gun license number was used, and the form was not taken to a police station.

Duncan Garner says “we bought it under the name who simply doesn’t exist and who doesn’t have a firearms licence” – obviously if they don’t exist.

The form was sent to Gun City and on the same day, Story received a call.

Two phone calls happened, but information was not checked either time.

A few days later, a parcel arrived.

I could imagine someone in a rural area wanting to obtain a firearm (legally) but why in a city like Auckland? It would be far quicker and easier to do it in person at a shop – and easier to check fraud. Firearms llcences have the holder’s photo on them.

Story wants to stress that someone with a current firearms license was nearby who took possession of the rifle. It was locked away in a steel cabinet as the law requires.

Complying with bits of the law is not a defence against others. Du Plessis-Allen says they also didn’t have any ammunition for the rifle (it was .22 calibre) – a firearms licence would be necessary to purchase ammunition.

And I presume ammunition can’t be delivered along with a rifle,

Gun City is taking a private prosecution against Story and does not believe criminals exploit this weakness, so think nothing needs to change. However, they have admitted they will make changes.

I can imagine them being very unhappy about being duped into selling a firearm to Story.

StoryRifleSproting

$300 sounds cheap for a .22 rifle but what do you expect when the manufacturer can’t spell Sporting on the instructions.

Stuff reports that Police are investigating – Gun shop owner vows to prosecute TV3 reporter:

A gun shop owner is vowing to privately prosecute TV3 reporter Heather du Plessis-Allan, claiming she bought a gun without a licence for her current affairs show.

Auckland City Police has announced it has opened a criminal investigation into the purchase of the gun over the internet.

The police investigation stemmed from a report “from a woman alleging that false details had been used to fraudulently obtain a firearm via an online dealer”, the police statement said.

“For anyone to possess a firearm without having the necessary license is a criminal offence and, if proven in court, could result in a sentence of up to three months’ imprisonment or a fine of up to $1000.

“Charges for obtaining by deception, if proven, carries penalties ranging from three months imprisonment up to seven years imprisonment depending on the value of the item obtained.”

And Gun City isn’t happy:

A gun shop owner is vowing to privately prosecute TV3 reporter Heather du Plessis-Allan, claiming she bought a gun without a licence for her current affairs show.

Owner David Tipple said the store had broken no laws – but claimed du Plessis-Allan and TV3 could be in trouble.

If police didn’t prosecute the journalists, he would take a private case against them, he said.

He claimed that: “We’ve done nothing wrong. We have completely and absolutely complied with the law.”

The form for the gun purchase had, he claimed, been forged, using a fake name against a fake gun licence number that just happened to be a valid number for a licensed New Zealand gun user.

Tipple said maybe du Plessis-Allan just got lucky with the licence number.

His bigger concern was that the gun form also featured the name, ID number and signature of a fictitious police officer.

That is a concern.

To what extent of illegality should journalists be able to go to prove deficiencies in legal procedures?

I could imagine Police not being very happy if Story did a story on how easy it was to buy drugs by buying drugs.