Parliament’s Law and Order select committee (of which I am a member) has today called for public submissions to its firearms inquiry.
This conversation should have been live since last year, when the Police Association started talking about their concerns over the increasing number of firearms that officers were finding in the hands of people who ought not to have them. In early November, I sent a letter to the Chairman of the Law and Order select committee requesting that we invite a number of informed stakeholders to brief the committee on the nature and scale of the problem. The government majority on the committee did not refuse the request, but nor did they agree to it.
The matter sat in limbo until the events in Kawerau in March, which could have very easily resulted in fatalities, brought the misuse of firearms back to centre stage. The need for an inquiry suddenly became ‘urgent’ and, after the usual flurry of media commentary, the select committee began the process of establishing that inquiry.
This is not, and ought not to be seen as, an exercise intended to unreasonably restrict the legal ownership and responsible use of firearms. There are many law-abiding New Zealanders who use guns for hunting, for sport, for pest control. Those people are not the problem.
The committee is also keeping an open mind as to what the ‘solutions’ might look like. The stories I’ve heard from various people engaged in the conversation and the research I’ve done since November do seem to indicate, however, that we can do much better in terms of policy and practice around gun control.
The process for obtaining a licence to own firearms appears sound, and there is provision for police to routinely check that licensed owners are securely storing their firearms. Nevertheless, early evidence suggests that there are an awful lot of ‘illegal’ firearms in circulation: some owned and used by people without the proper licensing but no no criminal intent, others owned and used by those intent on criminal offending.
It is also likely that some guns are being illegally imported into New Zealand, especially those military-style weapons that only a very few individuals can legally own. Many of the guns circulating illegally, though, will at some point have been bought and sold legally. These guns have since ‘leaked’ into the wrong hands: stolen, sold to friends, traded illegally. The committee will no doubt hear about a wide range of issues during the inquiry, but a clear part of its purpose is to to try and establish a better understanding of where things are going wrong and how these leaks can be plugged.
I’m looking forward to being involved in the work, and I look forward to hearing from a wide variety of stakeholders and members of the public. I hope, if you have an interest in these issues, you’ll come forward to share your thoughts and ideas with the committee.