Jacinda ardern firearm confiscation assault weapons
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern (AP Photo/Thibault Camus)
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By Samara McPhedran, Griffith University

Immediately after the Christchurch massacre in 2019, the New Zealand government pledged dramatic gun law changes.

A year later, amid an ongoing elevated terror level, the government has quietly dropped its promises the laws will prevent future mass shootings. It has shifted instead to platitudes about never wanting to see repeats of such horror, and vague assurances about making people “feel safe”.

The government aimed to have more gun laws in place before the first anniversary of the massacre, but it is unclear whether its bill – which focuses on creating a national gun register, substantially altering requirements around legal firearm ownership and making numerous other administrative reforms – will pass parliament.

The opposition National Party does not support the bill. It has raised serious concerns that many proposals ignore evidence about what does, and does not, work to reduce firearm violence.

Even the NZ First Party, which is in coalition with Labour, is voicing doubts – including about whether police are fit to administer the laws.

This marks a major shift from the almost unanimous passage of laws banning “military style” and many other semi-automatic firearms less than a month after the Christchurch shootings.

Political appetite for extensive gun law change appears to have diminished considerably – but why?

There are three key issues that help to explain this.

Questionable policy efficacy

Similar to Australia’s response following the Port Arthur massacre in 1996, New Zealand implemented an amnesty period and compensation scheme (“buyback”) to facilitate newly prohibited firearms being handed in to police.

When that program ended in December, about 56,000 firearms and over 190,000 parts had been handed in, with more than NZ$100 million paid out.

Estimates about the total number of now-prohibited guns in circulation in New Zealand before the buy-back have varied wildly, from a remarkably convenient 56,000 to a far more awkward 300,000.

The gun buyback scheme initially had bipartisan backing in New Zealand.
New Zealand Police/PR Handout

 

The figure commonly bandied about in the media is 170,000, suggesting a compliance rate of under 30% (similar to – or even lower than – Australia’s estimated compliance rate).

Challenging government statements that the amnesty and buyback scheme have been a success, opponents highlight the prospect the same black market that appeared in Australia following the 1996 laws is now going to occur in New Zealand. They also cite international research showing hand-in programs are ineffective at tackling crime.

Drawing on Australian and Canadian evidence, the National Party has further

  • highlighted the prevalence of gun crime involving unlicensed offenders and unregistered firearms
  • challenged the government to back up its claims that gun registration will reduce gun-related crime and
  • called for full costings to be released.

In response, the government says it has “got to be a good thing” there are fewer guns in the community. It also cites public opinion polls showing support for strengthening gun laws.

However, it has been unable to provide credible evidence to support its belief the laws will have a direct effect on firearm misuse.

Perceived lack of transparency

Police issued the perpetrator of the Christchurch massacre with a gun licence shortly after he arrived in New Zealand, and were seemingly aware of the firearms he owned.

It has been suggested he was not properly vetted and if he had been, he would not have been issued a licence. Police deny this, but the allegations have not been independently investigated.

Was there a failure to enforce existing laws prior to the Christchurch shootings? It would be hoped not, but what we know about Australian mass shootings suggests New Zealand cannot ignore this possibility.

The royal commission into the attacks may consider this issue, but its terms of reference are somewhat open to interpretation.

Moreover, its report is not being released until late April. The government has been pressing hard to get its new gun laws passed before then, giving the impression it expects findings that could run counter to its policy positions. Whether or not that turns out to be true, it is not a good look.

Media: New Zealanders are OK With Giving Up their Guns After Mosque Massacre
(AP Photo/Mark Baker)

Irregularities in process

There were raised eyebrows when, during the first round of gun law reforms, the select committee process was shortened to just one week.

This has been followed by questions about the committee considering the second tranche of proposed laws. The bill was not sent to the Justice Committee, where firearm matters most logically sit. Rather, it was sent to the Finance and Expenditure Committee, which focuses on economic and fiscal policy, taxation and related matters.

Sending a bill to that committee greatly improves the chances of findings favouring the government. Unlike other committees, which tend to have an even split of members from opposing sides of the floor, the 13-member Finance and Expenditure Committee has a majority of members from the Labour-NZ First coalition.

The committee recommended a small number of what are essentially “cosmetic” rather than “substantive” changes to the bill. Nevertheless, the overall impression is the government is more focused on a scoring a “political win” than on carefully considered legislative development.

What else is going on?

The government and its supporters have tried hard to characterise criticism as nothing more than “gun lobby pressure”. This simplistic response seeks to deflect and delegitimise reasonable analysis of whether the proposed measures are really going to achieve their stated outcomes.

It also makes the government look fearful of being questioned and unable to provide arguments that withstand serious scrutiny.

Recent polls provide further insight. Labour is facing a battle to retain power in this year’s general election. And critics have cast it as inept and struggling to perform on a range of domestic policy issues.

Some commentators also speculate Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is less interested in handling domestic matters than in positioning for a future UN role. Others say her party is too quick to embrace symbolic but poorly thought-out measures.

Against this background, it would be naive to believe the government is not trying to use gun laws to boost its re-election hopes. Again, this mimics Australia, where political parties use gun policy to signal their moral and law and order credentials.

Yet, in one regard, the two countries diverge. In Australia, tactics such as sloganeering, deflecting close examination of policy, shifting goalposts and discrediting those who ask unwelcome questions have been meekly accepted.

Based on the bipartisanship in New Zealand immediately following the Christchurch shootings, there can be no doubt New Zealand’s government expected an equally smooth run. Instead, it is being held to account and seems affronted by that.

Inevitable political horse-trading may still see the laws pass. But rather than unifying the country, it appears government overreach has instead paved the way for distrust and division. And when it comes to that, sadly, New Zealand and Australia are again in step.The Conversation

 

Samara McPhedran, Director, Homicide Research Unit/Deputy Director, Violence Research and Prevention Program, Griffith University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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50 COMMENTS

  1. I still think the People In Hong Kong are better than the folks in NZ when it comes to fighting for Liberty. But if they want to prove they are still alive. They can go to the polls and vote this woman who supporters Adolf Hitler’s gun confiscation plan for her country, out of office.
    Now that would be a shot heard around the world. If that happens. Just like BREXIT.

  2. “After a shooting spree they always try to take the guns away from those who didn’t do it…”
    William S. Burroughs

    • Relatively obvious, trying to remove the guns from those who *DID* do it, could be dangerous, and our LE going home at night is the first priority.

  3. New Zealand Prime Minister Ahern , along with ex Prime minister John Howard, who confiscated auto weapons off Australians after the Port Arthur massacre ( which has a lot of doubts surrounding the supposed shooter ) were i am sure both pandering to One world government.

  4. Because the roots of Gun Control are in racism and genocide it makes gun control zealots the nazis and racists that they claim to disdain.
    Obviously armed guard protected pompous gun control zealots count on gullible history illiterates for support. Clueless supporters are members of the KKK whether they like it or not.

  5. I spent last June to August on NZ South Island in a rural area and no one I spoke to supported the gun laws.

    The low payments being offered were mostly well under value plus multiple hacking of the registration website made it even more unpopular. Knee jerk laws by left wing politics not letting a crisis go to waste.

    • Well, it may seem to most that banning semi autos is a terrible idea, the gateway to universal disarmament. My personal experience is much different. I had an old (but unused) SKS, for which I paid the princely sum of $NZ 499. Years later, when I phoned the Police line to notify them of evil, slaughterous SKS, I was able to invite a horde of Police staff and young beautiful female
      trainees into my modest home. I was not tied up and the house ransacked. They oohed and aahed over my elderly SKS, and was offered and accepted $NZ710 for it. Yipee! I put this towards a beautiful camo patterned stainless steel barreled Howa Mini 1500 of the same Calibre so I could use the same cheap Commie ammo. So my experience was entirely positive. NB the balance of the total $NZ1,100 (including scope) was paid for by selling other old junk I didn’t need.

      • Did you bang the trainees too? I would have negotiated for that, female cops more often than not are whores with serious issues anyway, they would have probably said yes.

        • Oooh, you are awful. It was a highly entertaining experience as it was, without introducing wicked thoughts in the presence of policemen carrying tasers.

  6. This is what happens when you elect a scary-looking b!tch to any office anywhere. Jacinda Ardern, Maxine Watters, Elizabeth Warren —

    Be afraid. Be very afraid.

  7. Why oh why is America alone from the. former colonies?!? A racist Aussie shoots a bunch of moose-lims and you destroy gun owner’s. A massacre in Australia and so-called “conservatives” confiscate guns. Queery old England had to be beg us for guns at the onset of WW2. And Canada sux…Tucka’ just said ammo sales are UP-WAY UP! Better than hoarding toilet paper😏

    • Good question. The real answer is the distance in time from our common agricultural experience. If you are one or two generations citified, you might have red blood in your veins. If your great grandfather founded a city, you will only have thin gruel pumping weakly in your system, and you might be a Democrat…

    • Don’t take it for granted thought, decades from now we have more chances to become like NZ, the UK, or Australia rather than them becoming more pro guns.

  8. “…with more than NZ$100 million paid out…”

    I looked up the exchange rate, that’s about $61 million is US dollars. That’s a lot of money to throw away in a nation with a population about the size of Alabama.

    I hop;e their Supreme Feel Gooder does lose her job over this. Be a good lesson on how problems should be solved by careful study of the facts, causes and effects, not great panicked emotional stampedes to “DO SOMETHING NOW!!!!”

  9. WHERE THE HELL IS GUN CITY LOCATED???

    Didja see the “60% Off Storewide” sign in the window??

    I’m breaking out the plastic for this one…

  10. Show me one country run by a female that isn’t against guns, or just normalcy, even some countries like Canada that is in control of a dude that’s more pussy than a man.. never put a chick in charge, they rule by emotion instead of brains, even the governor’s Of the states in the U S that are broads have run their states into the ground.& ya I know I’m a male chauvinist pig, always have been, & proud of it.
    I’m right almost always also, maybe ,

  11. I don’t know why anyone even cares about the government and police now.

    The virus has shown what limited power they actually have

  12. ? Them damned Space Aliens are getting ready to strike. Do not believe the Borg propaganda.i killed six space aliens just last night with a meat cleaver. Called the cops but by the time they showed up the space aliens had dissolved. The cops thought I was nuts( I guess they don’t believe a possum could kill six Space Aliens with a meat cleaver?) Then the cops wanted to see my meat cleaver , took it away and told me to go home. The only thing I can think is “Well huh, the cops are in on it too.”

  13. The New Zealand shooting was fake. I know how crazy that sounds, but mistakes were made, and there is indisputable video evidence. Literally indisputable, once you see it, you know.

    • Except that it wasn’t fake, and you either post this “literally indisputable” evidence since you made the claim, or be written off as a loon.

      Either or.

      Pick one.

      P.S.: By the way, NO “jUsT lOoK iT uP” is NOT an argument because it’s NOT my job to verify your claims.

    • Under magnification, it appears to have a synthetic stock and an open magazine well, making it a M14 or derivative thereof.

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