Police defend response to shots

Last updated 13:00 21/02/2013
john hodge
WARNING: John Hodge with the sign he placed at the gate when he was target shooting on his Ruby Bay property.

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Nelson police say sending armed police to reports of gunfire in the Ruby Bay area was "entirely appropriate and professional".

John Hodge and his son fired about 40 live rifle and shotgun rounds down a makeshift rifle range on his self-described "semi-rural" property last Friday.

Police received a 111 phone call from a neighbour alerting them to a "prolonged volley of gunfire" coming from Mr Hodge's Pomona Rd property.

Tasman district police commander Superintendent Richard Chambers said the caller had not heard shots in the area previously and had no idea who was firing, or why.

"The experience was understandably extremely disturbing for them and their family," Mr Chambers said.

Six officers went to the scene and quickly ascertained that Mr Hodge had been shooting recreationally and was not a danger to himself, or the public.

Mr Chambers said an armed response had been "entirely appropriate and professional".

"Police treat any call for service where firearms are involved extremely seriously. I will never condone my staff putting themselves or any other member of the public at risk by taking a call too lightly.

"Police instructions in relation to armed incidents state that those people are to be treated as dangerous until the contrary is definitely established.

"The message firearms licence holders need to understand is that owning firearms and holding a licence is a privilege," Mr Chambers said.

Police at the scene warned Mr Hodge, who holds a firearms licence, that discharging his gun had caused his neighbours alarm.

But he believes it was unnecessary for police to point their weapons at him, and he does not think he deserved a warning either.

"I'd like to know what the error of judgment was," he said.

He said that after the incident he reviewed all the firearm regulations that came with his licence and could not work out how police determined he had been irresponsible.

"My question is, if you are being responsible and taking all the precautions laid down in the gun safety code - locking gates, posting notices, shooting into a soft ploughed bank, shooting away from neighbours' property, shooting away from the nearest road, wearing highly visible clothing, timing the shoot so no-one else was around the property and children were at school - how can this be classified as being negligent and causing alarm in discharging a firearm? One of the police officers even said, ‘we can see that you have mitigated all the risks, but nevertheless . . .' "

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Mr Hodge had not yet received a written warning from police, but would appeal if he did, and if not he would like clarification from the local firearms officer.

"If you can't see a house closer than 600 metres away, I don't see how they can say it's dangerous."

"Why is it because one person, who is probably new to the countryside, has phoned in reporting hearing gunshots in a rural setting makes it now impossible to control vermin or partake in clay pigeon shooting on a 10-acre block?

"Is it within the power of one complainant and the opinion of one constable to stop what I believe to be a safe and lawful activity?"

- The Nelson Mail

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