Why no action on guns?

21:06, May 19 2009

The author of a major gun law review is frustrated his recommendations, which may have prevented Jan Molenaar's deadly shooting spree, are gathering dust 12 years after being written.

Sir Thomas Thorp was appointed by the National government in 1996 to review firearm ownership in the wake of the Aramoana massacre, and similar tragedies in Australia and Scotland.

His recommendations included a government buyback and banning military-style semi-automatic weapons like those used by the Napier gunman and limiting ownership of handguns.

However, 12 years after his report, his recommendations sit before a parliamentary select committee in a watered-down form, waiting for another review by the police minister.

In February, the Arms Amendment Bill was delayed even further after a police request and is now due back next year 13 years after it was commissioned.

"It is frustrating," the retired High Court judge told The Dominion Post yesterday. "I can't see why military firearms should be in civilian hands, I can't see why the recommendation that we curb the number of handguns couldn't have been put in place."


Molenaar shot Senior Constable Len Snee dead and wounded three other men, sparking a 50-hour armed siege last week. He was found dead in his Chaucer Rd house on Saturday. Molenaar's cache included two pump-action shotguns, two self-loading rifles, two semi-automatic carbines and a handgun.

Molenaar was a registered gun owner and collector, but failed to renew his licence in 2002. Because of that, few people knew how extensive his arsenal was. His collection of 18 firearms had gone unchecked.

Sir Thomas said the fact Molenaar had once been a registered collector should have raised alarm bells. "He wouldn't have had a gun collector's licence unless he had a substantial number of firearms."

There are about 1.2 million guns in New Zealand, registered to about 225,000 licensed owners. Police admit they do not know how many unlicensed guns there are.

Three years ago, police records revealed that thousands of machineguns and semi-automatic military-style weapons were in public hands.

Police national manager of operations Tony McLeod said yesterday police had not lost control of guns.

"We don't know how many people out there are driving cars without licences," he said. "There will always be some people who operate outside the law. That's one of the challenges of policing."

Sir Thomas' review cost $1 million and took a year. Pro-gun lobbyists campaigned against many of the recommendations.

Jack Elder, the police minister at the time, did not ban military-style semi-automatics because he wanted to keep gun owners "on board", rather than "waving a big stick".

Gun safety advocate Philip Alpers said if Sir Thomas' recommendations had been implemented, the Napier siege may never have happened.

Council of Licensed Firearms Owners spokesman Trevor Dyke said New Zealand's gun laws were effective.


Findings of the 1997 Thorp Report:

-An independent registry should be set up for all guns, not just owners.

-The Government should buy back military-style semi-automatic weapons, then ban them outright.

-Gun owners should renew licences every three years.

-All restricted weapons to be permanently disabled.

-Higher minimum standards for security of guns in homes and dealers' premises.

-Doctors given the power to report concerns about people with poor mental health with access to firearms.

-Stricter vetting procedures for people applying for firearms licences.

The Dominion Post