Arms Act changes flawed folly

Last updated 05:00 10/01/2013
Richard Lincoln
REFLECTIVE: Richard Lincoln says a good measure of a society's moral compass is its gun control laws.

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There has been a largely unnoticed change recently in New Zealand arms control law. Arms Amendment Bill 285 slipped through Parliament with little opposition and unified support from the major political parties, National and Labour.

The almost lone voice of opposition came from NZ First, whose Richard Prosser delivered a succinct, accurate and factual account of this new legislation.

He spoke of the sour grapes within the police executive and the revenge they sought from Parliament, having been reigned in by Justice Mallon in the High Court in 2009. Police tried to legislate outside Parliament to further their anti-gun extremist agenda, thereby infringing on the rights of law abiding responsible civilian gun owners; the High Court wouldn’t have a bar of it.

The disappointment that Parliament retrospectively sanctioned the police antigun extremist initiative is remarkable because no-one within police has been held accountable for the cost. $60,000 alone was spent on advertising their unlawful policy initiative. The overall cost would easily reach quarter of a million dollars. Notably, the police folly falls against a backdrop where their budget is almost at breaking point.

What is an even greater concern is that the general public has paid little attention to the waste of taxpayer dollars or the infringement of inherent rights that cannot be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society.

In a world where a nation’s moral compass can surely be measured by its civilian gun control laws, few have bothered to raise any objection to a further restriction of their inherent rights.

The rights to keep arms was enshrined in the Magna Carta around 1216. Would the first barons of Great Britain have struggled so much and spilled their blood to win our fundamental rights, had they known their descendants would so easily acquiescence?

Would my own father and grandfather have fought for freedom in the world wars if they knew the freedom they fought for would be so easily traded for the undisputedly fraudulent claims of a safer community?

Even though there was a complete submissions process engaged by the law and order select committee the intransigence of the committee and the legislature was obvious from the start.

On several occasions senior police officers set up scenarios where they could display and demonstrate firearms to the select committee for the purpose of poisoning their mindset with inaccurate technical information and anti-gun propaganda.

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Access to these scenarios by groups representing civilian gun owners was refused because police did not want truthful and objective advice to fall on the ears of gullible politicians.

The bill had a simple overall objective – to appease the anti-gun extremist agenda of a few senior police officials.

It is unsurprising, with that objective, that the submissions of civilian gun owners were ignored and their rights subsequently trampled underfoot.

The outcome is an amendment to the existing Arms Act that is fatally flawed in several aspects. The first aspect is that mentioned in Parliament by Richard Prosser for NZ First.

The capacity of low-powered rifles used for rabbit shooting and such like was supposed to be changed to accommodate several new types of low powered rifles.

Instead, the law will now place greater restrictions on the smallest types of rifles while relaxing the restrictions on bigger rifles: a complete antithesis of what was intended.

The second flaw is the introduction of a legal definition of the phrase ‘semi automatic’. Previously everyone knew what a semi-automatic gun was, but now the addition of a formal legal definition has allowed the creation of guns that are semi-automatic in fact ─ but not in law.

The new legal definition has allowed for a minor modification to take what would otherwise be a semi-automatic gun and remove it from that legal definition.

This in turn has a very significant impact on what constitutes a military style semi-automatic firearm (MSSA).

Unless a firearm is a semi automatic by legal definition, it cannot be a MSSA.

There are around 6500 MSSA firearms legally held in New Zealand; all but a few of these can now be modified so they are not subjected to the additional controls that are currently applied to them.

The third flaw is that the definition of ‘sporting configuration’ has been removed. Under the old law, a semi automatic firearm was either a MSSA or in sporting configuration.

These two physical feature configurations were ‘locked in’ by the phrase ‘at all times.’

With the demise of ‘sporting configuration at all times’, a MSSA rifle can now be removed from it’s legal definition by simply taking off the parts that constitute the defined physical features.

Most modern MSSA rifles are highly modular and unclipping the features that offend the emotional sensibilities of some police and politicians takes just a few seconds.

The consequences of the third flaw is that none of the controls which are normally applicable to MSSA firearms will apply to a semi automatic firearm that has, for the time being, had its military features removed.

This will undermine the permit to procure provisions and allow the trading of what would otherwise be MSSA firearms without a permit.

The police powers of inspection and security inspection are likewise undermined. Sharing a MSSA with a person who does not hold an endorsement can now be legally accomplished.

In fact all the special provisions of the Arms Act that apply to MSSA firearms can now be circumvented simply by removing the military features; this could be as simple as unclipping a standard 30 round magazine or unscrewing a flash suppressor.

Arms Amendment Bill 285 is a fatally flawed attempt to remove the 2009 egg stains from the faces of a few senior police officers whose antigun extremist attitudes are firmly set on civilian disarmament.

For me, at least, the profound words of the late Charlton Heston and the probing extra-judicial comments of Chief Justice Dame Sian Elias will always take precedence over the doctrine of parliamentary sovereignty and the infringement of inherent human rights.

“You can have my gun when you can take it from my cold dead hands.”

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