Keith Locke on the Arms (Military Style Semi-Automatic Firearms and Import Controls) Amendment Bill – first reading



It is with pleasure that the Greens will be supporting the Arms (Military Style Semi-automatic Firearms and Import Controls) Amendment Bill. It is a very good bill to restrict access to dangerous firearms and to put the right regulations around them.

As the material surrounding the bill explains, there has been a problem with the evolution of military-style semi-automatics, or MSSAs, in that they now have a variety of forms. They were defined previously by having the military pattern free-standing pistol grip, but there has been some variation on that, and this

bill allows those firearms to be included under the regulations if they fulfil a number of requirements. Among the most important requirement is what every person would probably expect—that they can fire off a whole lot of bullets in quick succession. They have various figures depending on the size of the ammunition, from seven rounds to 10 rounds or 15 rounds, in the regulations.

There is some resistance in the community to the passage of this bill, and no doubt other MPs have been getting emails from what we might sometimes loosely describe as the gun lobby—not wanting to be too pejorative. It varies in its composition. At the extreme end it includes people whose views are closer to the American concepts of having weapons for self-defence and of not needing any regulation, and at the other end are more responsible gun-owners. It is interesting to look at some of the emails that come through and some of the arguments used.

One of the arguments in an email I got on Monday was that this law will affect only law-abiding citizens and it will not affect the criminals. Well, that view is a bit strange. If we were to apply it to legislation we pass quite regularly in this House, we might say that we do not really need tax laws because honest people will pay taxes and dishonest people—tax criminals—will not pay taxes, so we do not need any laws because they will affect only honest people. Clearly, laws are intended to constrain behaviour in a proper manner. In fact, regulations like these do limit the availability of such military-style semi-automatics, which can be quite dangerous in the hands of criminals, for example. This legislation will limit criminals’ ability to obtain such weapons both in terms of the way the regulations are formulated and also because criminals in gangs will be more wary about keeping such guns in their gang headquarters, knowing that there will be penalties if, in raids, they are found to have them.

So it will restrict the availability.

There are already, according to the Government regulatory impact statement, 8,000 military-style semi-automatics in the country. I think it is important to make sure their possession is restricted to really trusted and registered gun collectors and the like. There is the idea that somehow—and sometimes gun lobby people argue this—it is just criminals who are creating the problem with military-style semi-automatics, but, in fact we often find that it is mentally disordered people.

If we look at some of the killings that have taken place so far, we see that they were people who are either mentally disordered or have gone a bit crazy for a period. Often they are people who are registered gun owners, for instance, David Gray, who killed 13 people at Aramoana down south in 1990. He was a registered gun owner. There was Jan Molenaar, who killed a police officer, very sadly, in Napier a little while back. His registration as a gun owner had not been renewed, but he was still on the books as someone who had registered as a gun owner. So it is important to not see this problem as one that affects just the criminal fraternity. Both David Gray and Jan Molenaar seem to have gone a bit crazy at a particular point. There is also the question of accidents. Clearly, military-style semi-automatics, because they fire off a lot of bullets in quick succession, are more likely to cause casualties in the population.

We do get some absurd arguments from the gun lobby people. An email I got on Monday states: “It is absurd that anyone would think that an MSSA-type firearm is any more or less dangerous than any other firearm.” Well, clearly, one that shoots off multiple bullets is more dangerous. There is sometimes—and this adds to the danger sometimes—a bit of a mystique around military-style semi-automatics, guns that fire off a lot of bullets, and military-style guns. We saw that in the case that came back in some of the reports in the

Sunday Star-Times

and on Radio New Zealand, about how the SAS was conducting little sessions with business people from a group called First Direct. One of the things they were doing on the exercise they had last October was that the SAS let them fire off automatic guns. Jerry Matepārae, when he did his review, said “hold on, that is not very good. They should not be doing that.” But I think it shows that military-style semi-automatics can be a bit dangerous and people can be attracted to their use for no really good purpose.

Another thing is that once people who have military-style semi-automatics go a bit crazy they can cause a huge amount of damage. We had the case back in 1996 in Tasmania in what is known as the Port Arthur massacre where Martin Bryant killed 35 people. Because he had military-style semi-automatics he was able to kill 20 of those people in the first 90 seconds. That is what happened, and it would not have happened with a single-shot rifle. So regulations and restrictions are very good. It would have been good if there had been more of a registration system for firearms.

The Green Party does advocate a more systematic registration system for firearms. It would be good to have known how many firearms David Gray or Jan Molenaar had in their possession. At the present time, once one is a registered gun owner—which is separate from the military-style semi-automatics registration issue—one can have as many guns as one likes and they are not registered. One is registered only as a gun owner. It would be good to register individual guns against the name of the owner. That process could begin in a cost-efficient way by doing something like Australia. They have to trade guns through a registered gun trader and computer records are kept and stored, and the trader forwards them on to the Government database. That provides a lot more control. When the police roll up to a property, suspecting an offence has taken place, they are not met by a hail of bullets from guns they did not know were present.

The other part of the bill, which has been referred to already, is the provision to reduce, or control or stop, the import of airguns that look like real pistols or military-style semi-automatics. I think that is a good provision, too, because with hold-ups at banks or for all kinds of things people use those fake pistols. It is very, very dangerous. Even if one is not firing real bullets it is dangerous in the sense of bank robberies and people living in fear. So that is a very good provision. All in all, the Green Party is very much in favour of this bill. We would like arms control to go somewhat further towards the systematic registration of firearms in the community.