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Govt gun law blunder embarrassing

The Prime Minister and Police Minister were left red-faced after an almost unbelievable blunder when announcing their second round of gun law changes. Laura Walters reports.

They had more than a month to prepare themselves for the announcement of their second tranche of gun law changes, but Jacinda Ardern and Stuart Nash still got it wrong.

On Monday, at a post-Cabinet press conference in the Beehive theatrette, in front of the press gallery and the public watching via facebook livestreams, Ardern and Nash announced the details of the second round of proposed gun law reforms.

They spoke about the March 15 terror attack, where 51 Muslims were killed, but for some strange reason, did not anticipate an obvious question: which of these changes would have stopped the shooter?

The Prime Minister faltered for a brief moment, then quickly recovered to talk about the provision included to stop visitors buying weapons.

This proposal would apply to short-term visitors – often those on hunting trips or competitive shooters – it would not have applied to the Christchurch gunman who was an Australian, so had automatic residence status, and held a New Zealand category A firearms licence.

But once Ardern said this it was too late, and both she and Nash doubled down.

When asked to clarify whether permanent residents, including Australians, would no longer be able to purchase guns in New Zealand, Ardern replied: “that’s my understanding”.

Nash followed that up later in the press conference saying now only citizens would be able to buy guns and hold a firearms licence.

This is not the case, and it would be a marked deviation from the current situation.

This incorrect message was beamed out to the country, and gun lobby groups were quick to jump on it. Major news outlets took the Prime Minister and Nash at their word, and printed the incorrect information.

At no point following the press conference was there an attempt to clarify or correct the incorrect statement.

One television news organisation received a visit from Nash, to their press gallery office, to correct himself. The minister did not poke his head into any other office in the corridor.

Newsroom, and some other news organisations, called Nash’s press secretary for clarification, which was then provided. However, those who did not proactively contact his office were left to rely on reports of the mistake from others.

A message to the Prime Minister’s chief press secretary in a WhatsApp group, usually monitored around the clock, also went unanswered.

It wasn’t until Tuesday morning that Ardern said she had received the incorrect advice from officials.

Ardern did not apologise for the blunder. Nash did.

Jacinda Ardern did not apologise for her mistake, instead she blamed officials, saying she was provided incorrect advice. Photo: Lynn Grieveson

During Tuesday’s 'caucus run' (when ministers and MPs can be stopped by press gallery reporters on their way to caucus meetings), Nash assured the assembled media he knew his own policy. People make mistakes, he said.

Mistakes do happen but this one was avoidable and embarrassing not just for the magnitude of the mistake, but the doubling down during the conference, and the lack of proactive correction or clarification in the minutes or hours afterwards.

It’s little things like this that can take the shine off what is a significant announcement, and a longtime coming step-change for gun laws.

This was the Government’s announcement, and the two had more than a month to prepare their message to the world, since the high-level details were signed off by cabinet in June. There was no reasonable excuse for this mistake.

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