Politics

Firearms law clears select committee hurdle

The Government’s firearms law reforms have cleared another hurdle, with a select committee recommending the bill be passed with tweaks to help gun collectors and those carrying out pest control on farms.

However, opposition MPs remain concerned with some parts of the fast-tracked legislation, including “constitutionally inappropriate” provisions giving the Government the ability to change aspects of the law at will.

After an abbreviated submissions and hearings process, Parliament’s finance and expenditure on Monday evening released its report on the Arms (Prohibited Firearms, Magazines, and Parts) Amendment Bill.

The bill, fast-tracked in the wake of the Christchurch terror attack, would ban most types of semi-automatic weapons from sale and use in New Zealand, as well as a number of associated parts.

While the legislation would remain largely unchanged if passed with the amendments recommended by the committee, there are a few proposed alterations following the submission process.

Pest control, collectors carve-outs

In response to concerns raised by Federated Farmers, the committee recommended adding “a narrow exemption” allowing specialist commercial businesses to use the banned semi-automatics to carry out pest control or wild animal management on private land.

It also confirmed that firearms collectors would be allowed to possess the prohibited firearms, while supporting an additional exemption for those who wanted to keep a banned gun or magazine “that clearly has special significance as an heirloom or memento” - as was currently allowed for some restricted weapons under the Arms Act.

“We believe that, without this provision, people may continue to illegally possess prohibited heirlooms or mementos for sentimental reasons.”

In order for collectors to keep a prohibited firearm, the committee said they should be required to remove a “vital part” of the weapon and store it at a separate address which could be regulated by police.

An alternative solution mooted by the NZ Police Association, rendering collectors’ firearms permanently inoperable, was dismissed as “an overly harsh solution [which] would significantly reduce the value of collectors’ firearms”.

However, the Green Party said in a minority view the exemptions for collectors were at odds with the purposes of the law. It believed collectors’ guns should be made permanently unusable to avoid “those with nefarious intention” taking advantage of any loophole.

The committee did not support an exemption for sports shooters or competitions, saying a carve-out was unnecessary as it would not stop people from competing in shooting disciplines at the Olympics or the Commonwealth Games.

However, it supported a weakening of provisions which would give the Government the effective ability to change the law without parliamentary approval through an Order in Council, saying the instrument should be used to amend, rather than replace entirely, the items on the banned list.

'Constitutionally inappropriate' provisions

In a minority report, the National Party said it supported the bill but had concerns about a number of aspects, including “constitutionally inappropriate” provisions allowing the Government to change criminal laws through regulation such as Orders in Council rather than a parliamentary vote.

“As submitter Graeme Edgeler noted, ‘Criminal laws, especially those carrying significant criminal penalties, should be imposed by Parliament, not delegated to regulation’.”

National said it was “sympathetic” to sports shooters’ appeals for an exemption, while it also expressed concern about the lack of detail for the amnesty and buyback schemes for firearms which would become legal under the law.

The Government needed to consult widely with licensed firearms owners and interest groups to make sure the buyback worked effectively, while dealers with stock they could not sell or return should not be left worse off.

“Intemperate exchanges” between committee members and some gun owners had led the latter group to feel as if they had been treated with contempt at a time when their support was needed.

ACT, the only party to vote against the legislation at its first reading, said it remained opposed to the rushed nature of the process which had limited the advice and information available to MPs and was likely to result in bad law.

“We do not feel that making law without the time to acquire suitable information, let alone analyse it, is good practice for any law, let alone one seeking to legislate complex matters in the wake of a tragedy as important as this.”

ACT said there was good reason to think the amnesty and buyback would not succeed, pointing to reports from Australia which suggested as little as 20 percent of banned weapons were recovered through the country’s buyback scheme.

“Intemperate exchanges” between committee members and some gun owners had led the latter group to feel as if they had been treated with contempt at a time when their support was needed.

A summary document compiled for the committee by police found that of the 11,309 public submissions which were not duplicates or form letters, 60 percent supported the law.

Twenty-six percent were opposed, while the remainder submitted on issues out of scope such as the buyback scheme and the parliamentary process.

The bill will now head back to Parliament for a second reading on Tuesday. The Government has indicated it is likely to receive its third and final reading on Wednesday, before going to Governor-General Dame Patsy Reddy on Thursday for the Royal Assent which will officially make it law.

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