I’m often asked why licensed firearms owners like me are so worried about the government’s phase 2 gun law changes, even if we supported the original announcement to ban semi-automatics.
The registry is just one part of abandoning our world-envied mutual trust basis of cooperation between police and citizen. Police HQ want the register despite having starved and mis-managed the arms registry we’ve had for 30 years for pistols and MSSAs. They let it become notoriously unreliable despite having all the powers they needed to ensure it functioned pretty much as the registry they now want to make universal.
But I don’t blame them for that dereliction. The existing registry was just not useful enough to justify much expense. Registry uselessness was most dramatically shown in Canada’s abandonment of their registry after spending more than C$1bn on it.
The logic of uselessness is not complicated (from Canadian experience):
- What is its purpose? – so Police can know whether a person or premises have dangerous firearms when they must approach them
- How does it work? – they look up the name or address on the register
- Will they do that? – sometimes, if they have time to prepare
- Will they rely on what they find? – No, because of:
- The number of firearms not on the register
- No way to be confident that firearms are in the recorded location
- The imprudence of relying on a person or place as not having firearms.
- If operational police in Canada came to see it as useless, what will be different here? – Nothing in the Police analysis or explanations show how it will not be similarly useless. No prudent cop will rely on a system that can’t tell if a person or premises has an unregistered firearm.
- Is there any way of achieving completeness and full knowledge of firearm whereabouts? –
- Not with any currently economic technologies;
- Not with widespread resistance to registration compliance
- Not if the “buy-back” has left or driven uncounted thousands of firearms into the black market or grey ownership
- Not unless customs can be sure that smuggling can’t supply more unregistered firearms
- How do we know if there are many guns circulating unlawfully (not held by LFOs) – by looking at black market prices. They tell us:
- There must be a ready supply.
- Prices are high enough to make smuggling profitable, but
- Sadly not out of reach of criminals.
- So – the proposed register will:
- Be near useless,
- Be very expensive to Police and firearms owners
- Be a permanent irritant in relationships between Police and communities with which they need mutual respect
- Constantly suffer Police diversion of resources to more useful crime-fighting spending,
- Have sacrificed our high mutual respect and public trust model of discouraging firearm offending, to poison police/firearms user relations for no gain;
- Import US style partisan divisions on an issue where we had been gracefully strong.
Above all, the phase 2 Bill is political grandstanding. It takes deliberately offensive steps against rural and shooting sports people (and indirectly our military) to posture before the world commentariat. Almost nothing in the phase 2 Bill combats terrorist threats. It is cynical opportunism, designed to serve as a political peg for partisan speeches – to blame innocent firearms users for the murderer’s evil.
The murderer’s suppressed writing says he chose his relatively inefficient mode of murder (firearms instead of bombs) precisely to stir up the politically motivated suppression of firearms users that has resulted. His theory was the governments would eventually provoke revolt from ordinary people.
Revolt will not happen. Instead decent people who are routinely patronized, bullied or mistrusted will just cease to cooperate with Police (and sadly they’ll also trust each other less). We will cease to feel responsible for the community loyalties that have been our pride and protection in the past.
Stephen Franks is a principal of Wellington law firm Franks & Ogilvie and a former MP. He blogs at www.stephenfranks.co.nz.