Government planning firearm law changes, but important questions unanswered

It’s inevitable that New Zealand’s firearm laws are changed in the wake of the Christchurch terror attack. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has made it clear that the Government intends to make changes quickly, and will announce these within a week, but at this stage what is planned is vague.

There is certain to be changes to legal availability of semi-automatic weapons, and I think that most people accept this as necessary to some extent.

But there are fairly good reasons for retaining the ability to lawfully use semi-automatics for some purposes, especially semi-automatic .22 rimfire rifles for pest control (particularly possum control), and also semi-automatic shotguns for fowl control (like geese culling).

Ardern at her post-Cabinet media conference yesterday:

Cabinet today made in-principle decisions around the reform of our gun laws. I intend to give further detail of these decisions to the media and public before Cabinet meets again next Monday. This ultimately means that within 10 days of this horrific act of terrorism, we will have announced reforms which will, I believe, make our community safer.

In the intervening period, we will be working hard and as quickly as we can to finalise some of the details around the decision Cabinet has made today and the consequences of it.

The clear lesson from history around the world is that to make our community safer, the time to act is now. I know that this might for a short period create a small degree of uncertainty amongst some gun owners, including those who possess guns for legitimate reasons, and I particularly acknowledge those in our rural communities. I want to assure you that the work that we are doing is not directed at you.

In fact, I strongly believe that the vast majority of gun owners in New Zealand will agree with the sentiment that change needs to occur. I, in fact, believe that they will be with us.

In the meantime, I want to remind people: you can surrender your gun to the police at any time. In fact I have seen reports that people are, in fact, already doing this.

I applaud that effort, and if you’re thinking about surrendering your weapon, I would encourage you to do so.

I have a semi-automatic .22 and have considered surrendering it, but at this stage have decided to wait. I actually need it over the next few weeks, as it is time to reduce my sheep flock before winter, and a rifle is the best way to start the process. For this I don’t operate it as a semi-automatic as I use low velocity cartridges that have insufficient power to reload – I have to manually clear the spent cartridge and manually reload.

Ardern revealed a little more at her media conference – Government has agreed to gun law changes, will tell public within week

Ardern made the quasi-announcement following an extended Cabinet meeting with ministers on Monday, which was widened to include Confidence and Supply partners the Green Party.

Ardern, who appeared alongside Deputy Prime Minister and NZ First leader Winston Peters, said there was no disagreement around the Cabinet table on the decision.

“Within 10 days of this horrific act of terrorism we will have announced reforms that I think will make New Zealanders safer,” Ardern said.

“In the intervening period we will be working hard and as quickly as we can to finalise some of the details around the decision Cabinet has made today and the consequences of it.”

Ardern said she realised this period would create uncertainty for gun owners. She said the changes would not be aimed at responsible gun owners.

Peters, who has in the past opposed gun law reform, said that on Friday “our whole world changed. And some of our laws will as well”.

Ardern applauded those who had voluntarily surrendered their guns to police since the attack. She advised against prospective gun-owners making purchasing decisions in the coming days.

I presume that is aimed at people thinking of rushing in and purchasing a semi-automatic rifle to beat a ban (I think that is futile and silly), but more generally it is good advice.

I am likely to replace my rifle with a bolt action, but I don’t think now is a good time to rush into that. My rifle is stored safely and securely, ammunition is locked away separately, and only I know how to access it.

As for arguments for retaining some use of semi-automatics, some have been made here at Your NZ.

Andrew:

“Most hunters don’t use semi-automatics – they are a waste of time and bullets for most game shooting.”

This is true for large game. I have no issue all at all making all access to MSSA’s and semi-automatic “rifles” that can take an external magazine restricted. I would not include a .22 rimfire semi-automatic in this list though.

I would have an issue, however, if they banned semi-auto shotguns. Auto loading shotguns are by far the most commonly used shotgun for shooting water fowl. Every year we cull up to 1000 geese in and around the Waikato area. Being stuck with a side by side would make this next to impossible without large scale poisoning.

Ant Corke:

Semi automatic firearms are a tool that are currently used by pest controllers and DOC rangers to erradicate pests such as rabbits and wallabies that infest the central south island, feral pigs and goats that destroy important endangered species habitats throughout New Zealand. The goverment’s commitment for the Battle for the Birds and Preditor Free 2050 requires firearms that have sufficient firepower to ensure high productivity. A blanket ban would hamper this. There are laws, such as the E Category which could be widened to restrict easy access to these firearms without removing a very important conservation tool.

Careful thought is required in drafting new legislation not knee jerk reactions from the ill informed.

I think these are both valid points in the debate over restricting access to semi-automatic firearms, and i hope the Government carefully considers these – Ardern has given an indication that they are listening to legitimate firearms users.

There are legitimate uses for semi-automatics that could justify special licensing to allow their use. This could be similar to the current special licensing to possess and use poisons for pest control.

After carefully considering things I have decided that I have good reason to still to have a firearm. I can switch from semi-automatic to bolt action and may well do this. If special licensing is required for any semi-automatic then I am unlikely to bother with that.

I think that just about all responsible firearm owners and users accept and support the need for some restrictions and law changes.

We will have to wait and see what extent the changes end up requiring.