Justice

Extremists able to own guns under National’s proposals

A proposed amendment from the National Party to the second tranche of gun reforms would allow extremists to obtain a firearms licence, Marc Daalder reports

The National Party wants to water down a proposal to restrict extremists from obtaining a firearms licence.

In a Supplementary Order Paper submitted on the Government's Arms Legislation Bill, National's Police spokesperson Brett Hudson proposes that a test for violent and extremist tendencies should only be applied to people who have been "convicted of an offence under the Human Rights Act 1993 or the Harmful Digital Communications Act 2015 relating to violent, hateful, or extremist speech or behaviour".

However, Gun Control NZ's Nik Green says this would allow many extremists to obtain a firearms licence, pointing to the fact that no one in New Zealand has been convicted of such an offense under the Human Rights Act.

Police Minister Stuart Nash said Hudson's SOP was "very concerning. I do not know why the Nats are not supporting this because it takes guns off gangs and it's much tougher penalties for gun crime."

Proposed amendment narrow

There have been no convictions under the Human Rights Act that would meet the SOP's requirements. The Harmful Digital Communications Act, which was designed to deal with issues of cyberbullying and revenge porn, has also seen few prosecutions. According to the Ministry of Justice, there have been 163 people convicted of offenses under the HDCA since it was introduced in 2015. Just 33 of them were sentenced to prison.

It is unclear how many - if any - of these people were convicted with relation to "violent, hateful, or extremist speech or behaviour".

The new proposed test is significantly narrower than the Government's suggestion, which prevents people who have "shown patterns of behaviour demonstrating a tendency to exhibit, encourage, or promote violence, hatred, or extremism" from receiving a firearms licence.

In the SOP, Hudson explains the reasoning for the change. "This provides certainty and clarity in the way Police would be assessing patterns of behaviour of people, and bring these assessments in line with current legislation in New Zealand," he writes.

Extremists not covered by SOP

The existing measure has been put forward by the Government to deal with cases like that of the alleged Christchurch gunman, who was able to legally obtain a firearms licence despite his extreme views. Police have been widely criticised for granting the man a license without discovering his extremism.

However, had they found out about these tendencies, the new law would allow them to refuse his application for a firearms licence. Under National's SOP, the Christchurch accused would have been able to obtain a firearms license even if Police had known about his extremist views, because he had not been convicted under the HRA or HDCA.

Other extremists in New Zealand, like former National Front secretary Kerry Bolton and members of the white supremacist group Action Zealandia, would also be able to gain a firearms licence under Hudson's SOP.

"The National party’s preferred definition of extremism is so narrow that not even neo-Nazi Philip Arps could be denied a firearms licence," Gun Control NZ spokesperson Philippa Yasbek said.

Provision redundant

Hudson said this wasn't the case, pointing to the fact that, as a man who was convicted of a charge that could lead to imprisonment, Arps was banned from obtaining a firearms licence under other measures of the Government's bill. However, Hudson conceded, this means that his SOP is largely redundant.

The bill stipulates that anyone convicted of a crime that could carry a term of imprisonment would fail to meet the fit and proper person test - even if they aren't actually sentenced to prison. The offences described in National's SOP carry a term of imprisonment and are therefore already covered by other provisions of the bill.

"Arguably we replicate the provision by referencing the HDCA and HRA, but the point was to ensure that there was a clear reference point for Police to make determinations," Hudson said.

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