The gun control compromise
By Richard Harman (author)
The decision to ban military-style semi-automatic firearms yesterday does not go as far as Australia did in 1996 after the Port Arthur massacre and was not the first preference of the Greens.
Instead, it is a political compromise designed to get the vote of NZ First and National when it is presented to Parliament in a fortnight.
What the Prime Minister clearly wanted to avoid was provoking a full-on fight with the rural community and the gun lobby.
POLITIK understands the Greens wanted all semi-automatic firearms banned.
That would have been consistent with their manifesto for the last election which called for the private ownership of fully functional semi-automatic weapons to be illegal
But the Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, yesterday announced that the ban would apply only to “military-style” semi-automatics.
All week, National Leader, Simon Bridges, has been signalling that he would agree to that.
Importantly for National, it would leave farmers free to continue to own non-military-style semi-automatics.
And Ardern confirmed that yesterday.
With Agriculture Minister, Damien O’Connor, also sitting in her press conference to announce the ban, she said: “We’ve targeted the guns that are needed to be targeted.
“There is legitimate use in our rural community; things like killing possums and animal welfare issues.
“We've targeted here the guns that are actually doing the harm in our community and we saw that on Friday.”
“For others. These guns will now come out of circulation.”And, discussing the decision not to ban the non-military style weapons, she pointed out that under the Australian law, though they were banned, farmers were able to get exemptions and there were 16,000 in New South Wales alone.
“We've essentially achieved the same outcome but by looking at those specific weapons that are used for legitimate use by farmers but are not designed to undertake the kind of horror and attack that we saw on Friday.”
The real political battle will come with what the Prime Minister yesterday called the “second tranche” of legislation which will deal with the registration of firearms and regulations around the sale of ammunition and the duration of licences. .
The whole process leading up to yesterday's announcement has shown how fast the Government can work when it has to.
Ardern has already confirmed that officials worked through the weekend to prepare the policy papers for Monday’s Cabinet.
She had spoken twice to Opposition Leader, Simon Bridges; first on Saturday when he travelled with her to Christchurch.
By Monday morning he was telling Morning Report that he favoured a tightening up the gun laws and he then spoke to the Prime Minister again, before Cabinet.
So Ardern was able to go into the Cabinet knowing she had his support.
As the week unfolded, Bridges would continue to talk to Police Minister, Stuart Nash.
His position would be similar to NZ First, and already under pressure from his rural base, like them, he did not want a ban on all semi-automatics.
Thus Ardern knew that if she wanted bipartisan support for a ban, she would have to reject the Greens policy.
So she set the platform for that by inviting Greens co-leader, James Shaw and Green MP, Eugenie Sage, who is Minister of Conservation to the Cabinet..
NZ First Leader Winston Peters knew he was likely to be going away on Tuesday, and with Shane Jones already away, he involved one of his closest confidantes, NZ First Minister, Tracey Martin, right from the beginning.
It was her job to continue the negotiations with the Government after he left.
It appears the broad decision not to accept the Greens' proposal for a total ban was made during that debate at the Cabinet on Monday.
Thus when Finance Minister Grant Robertson and Greens Leader James Shaw accepted a 31,000 signature petition calling for such a ban yesterday afternoon, both knew the idea was dead.
Shaw concedes that what the Government agreed to do is not the Greens policy.
“We have really clear policy ion this, which is that all semi-automatic weapons should be banned," he told POLITIK.
But he accepts the final decision.
“The question is one of definition.
“I think the idea that we have got rid of anything that can be turned into a weapon of mass murder is the kind of weapon we are aiming to get rid of and we have got rid of them.”
New Zealand First's position was never in doubt. It has close connections to the gun lobby.
During the last election campaign, the Kiwi Gun Blog, a popular gun owners site, rated the MZ First firearms policy.
“We will just say that the NZ First party has been supporting us – it would be good if a lot of shooters supported them--- Even with a tactical party vote," the blog said during the last election.
NZ First wanted the focus on military-style semi-automatic firearms scrapped but wanted restrictions retained on large capacity magazines.
Martin was keeping Peters, who was in Jakarta, briefed about developments in Wellington.
At a press conference in the Indonesian capital on Wednesday he said: "“This time next week you will see the principal behind what she [Ardern] said -- developing a new law to go to the parliament. So it is going to be really quick.”
So by yesterday, four Ministers were dealing with the details of the issue; Finance Minister Grant Robertson, Justice Minister, Andrew Little; Police Minister Stuart Nash and Defence Minister, Ron Mark were able to sign off the detail of the policy and get Government House to issue the order in Council.
Robertson tweeted last night: “I feel this might be one of the most important things I have been a part of as a politician. Huge work over the last week. “
Bridges spoke again to Ardern yesterday and In his response to the announcement, he referred to his early support for the ban.
"National has been clear since this devastating attack that we support changes to our regime and that we will work constructively with the Government," he said.
"We agree that the public doesn't need access to military-style semi-automatic weapons. National supports them being banned along with assault rifles.
"We also support the Government's proposals to limit the access to other high powered semi-automatic weapons and ammunition.
"National will work constructively with the Government to ensure we get this right."
But in many ways, it was the easy bit. The next phase will be more difficult.
There will be several contentious issues to deal with: a firearms’ register, restrictions on ammunition sales and the duration of a firearms licence.
Perhaps one of the most controversial is likely to be a NZ First proposal that firearms licencing be taken away from the police and put in the hands of an independent authority.
That idea may get some steam up if growing allegations prove correct that the Police were lax in their issuance of the firearms licence for the Christchurch shooter.
Retired Police Inspector Joe Green, the Chair of the Firearms Safety Council and a former Police Arms Control officer, has posted on the authority’s site that he understands that firearms licensing process “as it was applied to the offender in the Christchurch shootings was compromised.”
Green claims that the shooter applied for his firearms licence in a Police District in which he might have an increased chance of getting it approved.
“It seems that there was no interview of the offender’s spouse, partner or next of kin (the person who knows them best
“The process requires the interview of an unrelated referee.
“I understand that two people were interviewed.
“They knew the offender primarily through an on-line chat room.
“ Both referees are recorded as saying the same.
“The offender declined to be interviewed at his home.
“He was interviewed at his place of work.
“There is doubt as to if a home visit and security inspection took place.
“It is apparent in the vetting process that the offender has no friends as such.”
Ardern was recluctant to comment on sugegsitons that the process ahd been lax.
“I understand that he had a legal license," was all she would say but by late last night, Green’s allegations were spreading widely across social media and will reinforce a common theme among gun owners --- that if the current firearms regulations were properly enforced there would be no need for any more.
That is why NZ First proposes an independent authority.
In many ways, yesterday's announcement simply starts the debate on gun control.