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Guns and Gangs

Like her government’s policies at home or not, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is at her brilliant best on the international stage. The standing ovation which greeted her commencement speech to Harvard University, in which she touched on gun violence and the dangers of an unregulated internet, was genuine and prolonged and she also received a rare honorary degree from the university.
Her meeting with United States President Joe Biden went well over time and they reaffirmed the long-standing close relationship between our two countries. That relationship even survived the demise of the ANZUS Pact due to our anti-nuclear policy. Following their meeting the Prime Minister made much of their “shared values”. One of the things they also share is inadequate legislation to deal with gun violence in their respective countries.
The Second Amendment of the United States Constitution guarantees the right of the people to keep and bear Arms and regulating or reducing that constitutional right has, so far, proved impossible. The recent massacre of 19 school children and two teachers in Texas will probably not make any difference.
But this is not America. Ownership and use of firearms in New Zealand is a privilege not a right and there are rules, regulations and restrictions which firearm owners must comply with.
For most of our history those restrictions have been relatively permissive compared to other parts of the world in spite of concerns by many at the lack of effective firearm control. That came to a head following a spate of firearm murders and in 1996 the Government ordered an independent enquiry led by former judge Sir Thomas Thorp. His report, released in June 1997, was the most comprehensive review of firearm controls in New Zealand for 150 years but most of the effective recommendations were ignored.
Then came the Christchurch Mosque shootings in March 2019 and there was a swift determination by Parliament to introduce new restrictions on firearm ownership with an emphasis on banning all semi-automatic military style rifles. There was an immediate Order in Council to ban all military style semi-automatic rifles and extension magazines and, just 27 days after the Christchurch shootings, a new and far-reaching set of restrictions were written into law which ban a wide range of semi-automatic rifles as well as parts that can convert any rifle onto a high ammunitions capacity semi-automatic.
The new law, The Arms (Prohibited Firearms, Magazines, and Parts) Amendment Act (2019) included a
buy-back scheme and an amnesty to hand non-compliant firearms. There are also exemptions for professional pest control hunters who have a legitimate purpose for these weapons.
As was expected some of these firearm owners, and a few of the importers and retailers who supply them, have complained, with some justification, that the new law takes more from them than other firearm owners. The Council of Licenced Firearm Owners launched a Crowdfunding campaign to fund a legal challenge to the new laws but, given the wide spread outrage at the Christchurch shootings and the subsequent overwhelming support by the public, all but one Member of Parliament voted for the new legislation.
Just three years after the Christchurch Mosque attacks, we have had a spate of gang-related drive by shootings in and around Auckland, events which the new law was supposed to help prevent. It is unlikely that any of the offenders are licenced firearm owners or that the weapons they are using are the banned semi-automatic military assault rifles.
The new law was never going to be a silver bullet (pun intended) and the Government must now address the problem of gangs in New Zealand with the same swift determination with which they dealt with firearms. Collaboration with gangs and various funding projects in an attempt to change their ways have failed miserably and were always going to. Over the past forty years or more we have seen a raft of legislative change aimed at addressing illegal gang activities. They have also failed and we now have more gang members than ever.
Rather than target gang activities per se it is now time to target the gangs themselves. As one retired police training officer suggested, gangs can be, and should be banned entirely. Belonging to, or associating with, known gangs should be a crime. Those gangs should be listed and the list added to as each new group emerges. Wearing gang patches in public can and should be outlawed. That would no doubt bring howls of protest from civil libertarians and the woke brigade but better that than a continuation of the obscenity of drug dealing, murder and mayhem from a group of reprehensible social misfits.


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