Sleeping dogs

datePosted on 23:08, July 8th, 2010 by Lew

Tim Watkin usually writes good sense, but with the latest post on gun control it’s clear he just doesn’t know his subject. Toughening gun control in NZ is basically a hiding to nothing, both in policy and in symbolic terms. It’s pointless for three main reasons:

  1. We already have pretty sane firearm laws and gun culture which regulate legitimate gun owners, and constrain the sorts of weapons most useful to criminals;
  2. As a country, we own a lot of guns, and they’re important to our way of life and identity, and this importance is the subject of bipartisan political consensus;
  3. We have very low rates of gun-related crime already, and any regulation which would be effective would be very costly, both in financial and political terms.

Just to preface this: I own a hunting rifle, and as a bit of a propaganda geek I’ve paid close attention to gun control as a matter of symbolic politics (alongside abortion, it’s a leading “touchstone” rhetorical issue in US domestic politics). I’ve been watching the way NZ is beginning to develop a (rather amateurish, but effective enough to not be laughable) US-modeled gun-ownership lobby with interest as well. But I’m not one of those “don’t tread on me” gun nuts who thinks bringing a loaded assault rifle to a town hall meeting is a core part of the democratic process. Owning a firearm is useful, but it’s not an absolute right — rather one which must be weighed against other consequences, including those which stem from arming communities. But I object to knee-jerk policy proposals which misoverestimate the problem, won’t solve it in any case, and will come at considerable cost.

What problem?
The most significant objection I have to Tim’s analysis is that he assumes gun crime is a serious enough problem to warrant harsh regulatory consideration; and seems to think that tackling it like the government has “tackled” knife crime is a sensible approach. I reckon both are suspect assumptions.

According to a UN survey from 2000 (the most recent I can easily access), 13% of our homicides (including attempts) were committed with a firearm, at an annual rate of 0.18 per hundred thousand population. That is a rate slightly higher than the UK (0.12 per hundred thousand, with much more strict firearm laws); just over half the rate of Australia (0.31, also with much more strict firearm laws, including a hugely expensive buyback programme undertaken in 1996 with the intention of solving the problem). I don’t think things have changed all that much; in 2009, the year of Jan Molenaar, the figure was 15% of our recorded murders (incl. attempts). You can use the Statistics NZ tools to get data here. You can also compare a bunch of countries’ rates here, but be sure to read the disclaimer. The bottom line is that we have extremely low gun crime rates by world standards, especially given that we have very high gun ownership rates. By far the highest proportion of gun-related deaths in NZ are suicides — I don’t have the numbers to hand but I recall it being above 70%. That’s a consideration, since suicides are usually committed with weapons of opportunity, and a firearm is particularly effective. But this is not the argument being made.

Knives are a much more serious problem, accounting for about twice as many homicides in NZ, and “other weapons” and “manual” which I assume includes unarmed homicides are also generally more common than firearm murders. The government has seen fit to “crack down” on knife crime by trying to prevent youths’ access to knives at the retail level using a voluntary code of practice. This is pure security theatre. Everyone credible knows it won’t make a blind bit of difference because kids don’t go and buy a knife from a shop, they just take one from the kitchen drawer or the toolbox in the garage. Firearms are already much more heavily regulated than this, and as a consequence people wanting one but who lack a license don’t roll into Hunting & Fishing and buy one — they get them illegally because we have no idea how many there are or who owns them (more on this later). So the comparison between guns and knives, while tempting, is bogus. Knife crime is much more serious than firearm crime, much less-heavily regulated, and the trivial additional regulation proposed won’t change anything — but it also won’t cost anything.

What guns?
Part of the reason gun crime is such a minor problem in NZ is due to our history and culture with guns, and in particular the fact that “personal defence” has never been a justification for firearm ownership. Tim also gets this wrong: citing “personal defence” as a reason for needing a firearms license will mean you get denied one, especially if you’re trying to apply for a restricted weapons license (which is the example he uses).

Excluding the post-settlement period, firearms in NZ have generally been conceptualised in law and culture as tools rather than weapons — for hunting, sport shooting, or the defence of the realm. Most in existence today are .22 calibre rabbit guns, or bolt-action ex-infantry rifles from the first and second world wars, passed down from father to son, or modern firearms based on near-identical designs, or shotguns designed for gamebird hunting. Partly due to length, partly due to action design and calibre, these are pretty useless for self-defence except for the appearance of threat and as clubs. By the same token, they are far from ideal for offensive use. Part of the reason criminals are rarely armed with firearms is because they are nearly impossible to conceal (which makes carrying or using them a riskier proposition than, say, a knife), and if sawn off below the regulation length of 30 inches, they are still not very convenient, and give police instant cause for book-throwing if discovered.

There are relatively few pistols or assault rifles in NZ, and those which are owned are very tightly controlled, with extremely high standards required of the owners. The NZ Police apparently operate a “sinking lid” policy on restricted weapons: to gain permission to import or produce one, you need to destroy another. This has driven the market price of such weapons through the roof, putting them out of the reach even of many legitimate collectors; although it must be said that the distinction between a “military-style” semi-auto and any other semi-auto is largely (not entirely) cosmetic, and one is no less deadly than the other. As the rather grim saying goes, the seven-round magazine restriction on an ordinary semi-auto centrefire rifle just means that if you want to kill more than eight people, you’ll need to reload.

Firearm licenses, especially those for restricted weapons like military-style semi-automatics and pistols, are issued at the discretion of an Arms Officer on the basis of the applicant being of “fit and proper” character. The threat of losing the license acts as a firm constraint on legitimate gun owners’ behaviour, with most hunters, collectors, etc. living in fear of having their license revoked. This constraint comes into force, for example, when deciding whether to keep a firearm for self-defence purposes in a country where most potential assailants, burglars, etc. are not themselves armed: if you happen to use it as such, you must then explain to your arms officer how come you had it handy, rather than locked up in its safe, with the bolt and ammunition separated. Most people comply to avoid this inconvenience, and because they know that the chances of a family member actually meeting a life-or-death situation are much higher with a loaded firearm lying around than otherwise.

In general (and again, I don’t have the figures to hand) the vast majority of gun crime in NZ is committed by people without a legal right to own or use a firearm in the first place (being not “fit and proper”). Jan Molenaar was just such a person, so using him as an exemplar of all that is wrong with the system is a bit misleading. It’s certainly an indictment on police procedure following the last shake-up of gun laws. Probably the biggest failure in our gun licensing regime is the lack of a registration system for specific firearms. It’s expensive, time-consuming and bureaucratic but would have been of some use had it been implemented when suggested by the Thorp report, even if just to draw a clear demarcation line between compliant and non-compliant owners. I think that horse has bolted now.

As for the matter of private internet sales of arms and ammunition — Tim clearly hasn’t used Trade Me for this purpose. It’s considerably more robust than any comparable method other than a brick-and-mortar shop (and many B&M shops use the same methods to sell nationwide). Anyone can view restricted auctions, but to bid or ask a question you need to enter your firearm license number. Repeated failure to do so (or entering made-up numbers) gets you blacklisted. If buying otherwise than by a face-to-face meeting, you are required to complete a form designated by the Police for this very purpose, and have it counter-signed by your local Arms Officer, who sights your license. The first step (needing to enter your number) prevents anyone without access to a license even bidding or making contact with a seller. This is probably the most effective safety mechanism in the system.

Sleeping Dogs
These are policy and cultural reasons which explain why trying to crack down on gun ownership in NZ is likely to be pointless. But Tim’s post was largely about the political aspects of the issue: the tension between the imperative to be Tough On Crime and the danger of getting tarred with the Nanny State brush. In symbolic terms, I reckon gun control is a loser for both of the major parties because, unlike the knife measure which is empty theatre, any meaningful changes to the gun ownership regime will come at a considerable costs. One important consideration with this is that in NZ (and Australia), unlike in the USA, gun control is seen as a matter of bipartisan consensus, with both National and Labour generally occupying the middle ground (and ACT and the Greens taking up the flanks). This means there’s little or no partisan advantage to be gained by either side.

The first of these costs is purely financial. A registration, licensing audit, inspection-reclassification or buyback scheme to remove firearms (or certain firearms) from circulation (or from the hands of those not “fit and proper”) is hugely expensive. The Australian Federal Government raised a special tax for the purpose and spent hundreds of millions of dollars on its buyback scheme, and even given the dramatic reduction in gun crime rates which resulted, it was generally seen to be wide-open for rorting. In New Zealand, with a much lower baseline level of gun crime, much less money and much more pressing law and order policy issues, this simply wouldn’t fly. Quite apart from the money, the drain on already-stretched police time would make a mockery of the government’s pledge to deliver resources to the front lines and away from the “bureaucrats”. And for all of that, it would still predominantly capture guns possessed by licensed owners: the “good guys” who, of all people, should retain their gun-owning privileges.

The second, and probably weightier cost is about the NZ identity. As I’ve argued before, wild places matter to us in identity terms. While most New Zealanders don’t own firearms, and never will, many more than the 250,000 who do like to think of themselves as potential outdoorsfolk who might go and shoot a possum and do their bit to save the rata. I don’t want to overstate this, though. Gun owners and hunters are viewed with considerable ambivalence by the general public, and with some cause. The gun lobby doesn’t do itself or the more reasonable branches of the sporting community any favours, and to a large extent they’re thought of in similar terms to Jan Molenaar and the various flavours of SHTF nutters.

But Nanny State also comes into this. Tim suggests that Labour couldn’t afford to do this for fear of strengthening the narrative established by the last term of the Clark government (I agree), but that National might just be able to get away with it. I disagree. Half of National’s support base are farmers or rural/semi-rural men of above-average income who are generally law-abiding and consider themselves responsible citizens in partnership with the authorities — of the view that the government “works for us”, rather than the view that the government is an agent of their oppression. (There are exceptions to this last, but mostly they vote for ACT and are thus irrelevant to this calculus.) This is almost exactly the same demographic which wants to be able to take care of his own rabbit problem and hunkers down in a cold maimai before dawn on the first weekend of winter for a laugh, and they greatly value the illusion that doing so is an inalienable right akin to that laid down by the Second Amendment. They tolerate (often with considerable reluctance) the existing licensing regime partly as a pragmatic solution to the social problem of crime, and partly because it accords them the status of being officially deemed “fit and proper”. But they will not tolerate further incursions on these privileges, and it is this demographic whom the gun lobby, with its US-imported “armed society is a polite society” rhetoric, is targeting using the present hysteria about violent crime as a springboard. These are the guys who already feel under threat from policies like the ETS, which prevents them from buying the V8, forcing them to settle for the V6.

This demographic might be the sort of people who could be persuaded to support tighter restrictions if there were a strong crime-reduction case to be made for it. But since there’s so little to gain, and since the existing regime is already at the margins of what is acceptable, National rouses these sleeping dogs and permits their radicalisation at its peril.

L

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22 Responses to “Sleeping dogs”

  1. Phil Sage on July 8th, 2010 at 23:31

    Excellent post, I agree with the sentiments wholeheartedly. One small quibble on knife sale restrictions, you seem to overlook the fact that a mum is going to know fairly quickly that her son has whipped a knife out of the drawer. The knife laws are about deterrent of carrying in the same way as you discuss deterrents regarding guns.

  2. Lew on July 8th, 2010 at 23:37

    Phil, your drawers must be much more orderly than mine (or contain fewer knives).

    L

  3. Tiger Mountain on July 9th, 2010 at 11:39

    Well written post, convinced me, not being a major gun enthusiast. Have used shotguns over the years, don’t currently own one.

    At the risk of stating the obvious guns do have that strong male ego connection. A friend of mine with an impressive gun collection including rare examples lost the lot, and license, after just one unfortunate act of waving around an unloaded revolver during a fraught argument with his partner.

    While the cops have quick access to firearms uniforms don’t carry them routinely on their person. When/if this happens and more urbanites acquire arms gun law may need a relook.

    Also Lew your take on the modern ‘reassigned’ male’, was a delicious observation…

    These are the guys who already feel under threat from policies like the ETS, which prevents them from buying the V8, forcing them to settle for the V6.

  4. Hugh on July 9th, 2010 at 12:49

    While I agree with your general point Lew I’m a bit specific of your constant references to national culture. To be frank, I can’t think of a single country in the world which doesn’t have some sort of history/tradition of gun use, so I don’t see how this makes New Zealand in any way worthy of particular consideration.

  5. Lew on July 9th, 2010 at 13:31

    Heh, a common objection from you, Hugh. I sometimes wonder if you think we (or anyone else) have a national culture or identity (and if so, what you think it is).

    I’m not really arguing that we have a unique relationship with firearms here — lost of countries, especially those colonised or engaged in wars during the firearm age, also do (with some notable exceptions such as Japan). But I am arguing two things: we do have a relationship which matters at the identity level, and this presents difficulties for governments wanting to pave over it; and that relationship is a pretty responsible one.

    Do you disagree? If so, what’s your explanation for the paradox of very common and quite lightly-regulated firearm ownership here, coupled with very low rates of gun crime?

    L

  6. Lew on July 9th, 2010 at 13:47

    TM, yeah, there’s certainly a lot of “manly ego” involved, and I’ll admit to a certain amount of that myself. This is why I say identity is highly relevant to gun ownership policy.

    Your anecdote about the man who lost his license matches my (indirect) experience as well — one strike, or if the person is very fortunate, two strikes is all it takes to have these privileges revoked (and once revoked, it’s nearly impossible to gain them back). This is entirely appropriate.

    L

  7. Hugh on July 9th, 2010 at 15:23

    A lecturer of mine once warned me against cultural explanations for different policy outcomes. To say New Zealand is different due to a different culture is basically just saying New Zealand is different because New Zealand is different.

    Lew, the paradox you describe – of high levels of gun ownership and low levels of gun crime – is actually not that uncommon. Canada has much the same situation.

    We, despite the best efforts of people like Key, have a pretty low level of violent crime generally, which can be attributed to a fairly egalitarian distribution of wealth.* That’s a good enough explanation for me.

    *I use these terms advisedly; I don’t want to deny that we could definitely be a lot more egalitarian. I’m really drawing an explicit comparison with the USA here, but given that the original post does so, I’m comfortable with that.

  8. Tim Watkin on July 9th, 2010 at 15:40

    Hi there,

    By the end of your piece I think you’re being fairer to me… Sure, I don’t have a hunters insight into this issue, but I still reckon I can claim a working understanding of the issue, especially the politics of it, which as you note is what the post is about. So it’ll come as no surprise that while I bow to the depth of your hunting knowledge, I don’t buy your line that I don’t know what I’m talking about.

    The knife comparison, for example, was a political one. If a government thinks limiting sales of knives will cut crime, surely the same logic should be applied to guns.

    You characterise Thorp’s recommendations as harsh, but in fact they would largely bring us in line with comparable countries. A register, a buyback, and some limits on unpoliceable sales is hardly onerous. Yes, gun crime is relatively low here but if a bit of extra paper work saves even a few lives, isn’t that worth it? Any life is worth saving, isn’t it?

    You say Molenaar is a bad example, but then concede the lack of a register is a failing. Yes, it would have been better to have started one when thorp first suggested it, but why not sraw the line in the sand now? Better to start late than not at all if it means that somewhere down the track sloppy legal owners feel compelled to take more care of their guns and not let them fall into the hands of those who will mis-use them. A register may have kept some of Molnaar’s guns out of his hands.

    As for the online sales, no I haven’t bought a gun off TradeMe. But the media stings show that it’s pretty easy to buy without a licence or sell without filling out the proper forms. Maybe limiting sales to those bricks and mortar stores is worth considering.

    And on the politics, I made the same point you do – that National will take a risk if it acts on this given its already fraught relationship with the rural community on the ETS – hence the title of my piece.

  9. Tiger Mountain on July 9th, 2010 at 15:48

    @Hugh: not pretty reading; according to 2006 census, in 2006 the distribution of income among individuals had a similar pattern to that in previous census years. The greatest number of the adult population were in the $10,000 to $15,000 per annum range. Many in this category would be on New Zealand superannuation or a social security benefit. The unemployment benefit in that year was $8,800.
    There were a few people with losses of income (typically self-employed and investors) and some (such as students or stay-at-home mothers) had zero or very low incomes. One-tenth adults made less than $280. The bottom half of the population had only about a sixth of the total income.
    There were also people with very high incomes (the top tenth had incomes of over $64,800). Over half of the country’s personal income went to the top fifth of the adult population. The average (or mean) income was $32,500, but the median (the middle income, with half the adult population above this figure and half below) was only $24,500.

  10. Bruce Hamilton on July 9th, 2010 at 16:43

    In general (and again, I don’t have the figures to hand) the vast majority of gun crime in NZ is committed by people without a legal right to own or use a firearm in the first place (being not “fit and proper”). Jan Molenaar was just such a person, so using him as an exemplar of all that is wrong with the system is a bit misleading.

    Jan Molenaar was one of the 50,000 people who did not renew their firearms licences ( he apparently had collector endorsement as well ) in 1992, when the new regime was introduced. I’ve no idea when he obtained all his weapons, but some may have been legally procured, but obviously all were illegally owned after 1992.

    The police have put very little additional resources into licensing, such as producing a combined weapon and owner database, and their Union now wants to extend the carrying of firearms by police.

    I would prefer that all Firearms and owners were licensed, and there was an annual registration fee for weapon ownership, same as for vehicles. I would also scale the fees, so semi-automatic owners pay more.

    That would allow licenced owners to use registered firearms on their own property without cost, but carrying firearms on public property or using firearms on government land requires an annual registration fee.

    That would encourage encourage owners to sell unwanted weapons, or donate them to police.

    Given the police’s inability to pursue and eliminate the hazard from the 50,000 ( of which Molenaar was one ), perhaps gun licencing should be contracted out.

  11. Pablo on July 9th, 2010 at 16:50

    As someone who has some past familiarity with firearms and US gun laws (recall my post on “An Armed Crowd is a Polite Crowd,” a phrase that Lew is unimpressed with) I think that Lew has framed the issue well.

    My view is that NZ already has quite good firearms laws that do not need to be tightened as much as tweaked. As an illustration: a few years back I asked my best mate to lend me his .22 so I could deal to rabbits and stoats on the property. He refused–and was quite aghast at my request–stating that since he owned the license it could be major trouble if I was caught with the rifle or questioned about how it came into my possession (since I do not hold a NZ firearms license). Coming from a US state where one can buy guns in Walmart, I found his reasoning, while correct, also a bit prissy. But it was faithful to NZ law. So thwarted and still plagued by animal pests, I bought a hunting pellet gun that did not require a license and works just fine against small game (and, unfortunately, against undercover cops). No transferability for a .22, no scrutiny at all for a high powered air rifle that can drop a sheep-killing dog at 75 meters–what is the logic of that?

    The issue with firearms, it seems to me, is exactly what Lew mentioned in his post: it is about handguns and automatic weapons, not hunting weapons. So long as these former types of firearm are prohibited from general circulation, and all firearms license holders required to take a firearms safety course and/or pass a stringent test and have a background check (my same friend–who is my neighbour and would be asked by the Police if he felt comfortable about my owning a firearm–also told me that he would never agree to my having a real gun because of my background working for US security agencies!), then NZ law is doing just fine. It is not perfect but it suffices as is.

    Of course the criminally minded will work to circumvent the rules and of course crimes of passion/rage with hunting weapons are still going to happen. But things like accidental shootings of children after easily handled firearms are discovered at home, or neighbourly and/or drunken disputes gone violently bad (things that are regular tragedies in the US), are considerably mitigated by current NZ gun laws.

    As much as I hate to borrow from the NRA on anything, at the end of the day “guns do not kill people; people kill people” be it by commission, omission, stupidity or criminal intent. The same goes for knives. So for me the solution is not in curtailing the freedoms of all to guard against the transgressions of a few, but to enforce NZ extant law as strongly as possible. And that includes knives–after arriving in NZ I found out much to my dismay that my prized US military combat knife was illegal in NZ. It differed from a hunting knife only in small details, so I cannot quite see the logic of that law. But I felt that if anything it was better to err on the side of caution when it comes to bladed weapons and packed it away. As it turns out it was stolen in a house burglary that remains unsolved, which goes to show that tough laws do not in and of themselves prevent the evil-minded from going about their business when there is inadequate law enforcement capability.

    And that, in a nut shell, is the crux of NZ’s crime problem: a lack of enforcement capability due to under-resourcing and erroneous priorities. As I have often said to acquaintances, NZ is a place where one can literally get away with murder if cunning enough, and with proper planning a gun or knife are not needed.

    Which is a long-winded way of saying that I agree with Lew.

  12. Phil Sage on July 9th, 2010 at 20:53

    As I have often said to acquaintances, NZ is a place where one can literally get away with murder if cunning enough,

    David Bain would certainly agree with you.

  13. Lew on July 9th, 2010 at 21:01

    Hugh,

    I don’t think that explanation is adequate, but it’s a bit away from the topic. Just to reiterate that my point is not that the NZ circumstance is somehow unique or different — just that it does act as a constraint which renders regulation less useful; as is also the case in Canada.

    Tim,

    I’m not really trying to be hard on you, but your grasp of the details of the existing regulatory regime and the facts around gun crime seems loose (specific errors in the OP), leading me to suspect that this is not really your subject. Nothing to do with ‘hunting’ knowledge, not sure where that comes from.

    As I said over at Pundit, I do think you’re convinced that gun crime here is a serious problem needing regulatory attention based on (I guess) your experience with the US policy which you mentioned in your post. You haven’t made that case, even slightly, and it’s not something which can reasonably assumed; there’s considerable evidence to the contrary. Of course, preventing even one death is a success, but all public safety policy is about what’s traded off against that success. To thrash a dull trope, we could drop the speed limit to 30kph and reduce the road toll to almost nil, but at what cost?

    Anyway, regarding the proposed regulations. I do think a registry for firearms is worth doing, and I agree with your reasoning that if it’s worth doing, then late is better than never. But there’s no reason a registry would or could have prevented the Molenaar case: sure, he had 18 guns, but he used only a couple against the police. What would have prevented that case is if the police had properly enforced the existing regulations, particularly those around the revocation of lifetime licenses. This wasn’t a policy/regulatory failure; it was a failure of police procedure caused, the police claim, by a lack of resourcing. Evidence elsewhere shows that implementing a registration scheme, or worse, a buy-back (such as would be necessary if all semi-auto centrefires were restricted) presents significant resourcing challenges which would compound those sorts of problems — look to the Australian example. It might be worth it if we had a problem with gun crime, but we don’t. The money and police time is better used elsewhere.

    And in any case, as I say, such schemes only really work to curtail the activities of legal firearm owners, who by and large are not the problem. The same goes for restrictions on private sale: as much as I also dislike borrowing the rhetoric of the NRA, it’s true that if you outlaw guns only the outlaws will have guns. If you mandate that all firearms be sold “on behalf” through a licensed dealership, then in general licensed firearm owners will grudgingly comply. Unlicensed owners will have no choice but to sell to other unlicensed shooters. And so on.

    I think there are some worthwhile regulatory changes which could be made relatively quickly and cheaply, however. I’m inclined to suggest a hardening of firearm license testing and vetting processes, because they’re honestly a joke, but even despite this the relative lack of gun crime committed by licensed owners suggests they present a sufficiently high bar to be “good enough”. A shorter licensing period or more frequent checks would be worth doing, since Thorp was right that 10 years is a long time. This could be worked in with a gradual registration drive, whereby at any point you can voluntarily submit documentation as to your firearms in exchange for — say, a waiver of your next licensing fee, while at some point it becomes mandatory to register your firearms at your next license renewal. But none of this really deals with illegal firearms held by unlicensed shooters, and as such it’s not coming anywhere near the real problem. It might make people who know little or nothing about firearms feel better, but that’s the extent of it. Reclassifying some weapons would be useful — the high-powered air rifles recently used to shoot that undercover cop in Auckland are unrestricted and almost as deadly as a .22; and as I said the distinction between a “military-style” semi-automatic and an ordinary semi-automatic often just comes down to how many rounds the magazine appears to hold — it can actually hold seven rounds, but if it looks like it holds more then it is technically “military-style”. Truly bizarre.

    So I think we’re not as far apart as all that. But there are important differences, especially as to priority: you seem to think this is a pressing issue which needs to be addressed with some alacrity, while as far as I’m concerned there are dozens more important violent crime policies which could use the resources (not to mention non-law-and-order policies which are even more urgent). Similarly, while we reach the same conclusion on the politics, you think that the failure to toughen regulations betokens a lack of political bottle on National’s part. I think that’s based on a misunderstanding of the present state of play, and that the political powers that be recognise that it’s basically a non-issue.

    L

  14. Lew on July 9th, 2010 at 21:09

    Pablo, hilarious. Your neighbour is quite right, that would have been very illegal. But a neighbourly thing would have been to accompany you on a shooting trip. However it seems like this chap was a bit twitchy, so perhaps not likely.

    The test and background checks are hardly ‘stringent’, though, and I’d be surprised if an arms officer interviewed your neighbour for your license application. The mention of your airgun — as powerful, or near enough, to a firearm — being freely available to you without so much as a “can I see your ID” is an example of a hole in our regulatory regime which could do with being plugged.

    L

  15. Lew on July 9th, 2010 at 21:24

    Bruce, one suggestion has historically been that local shooting clubs take on some of the enforcement duties (subject to police endorsement, training, etc). This would be good, but for a couple of facts, the main one of which being that shooting clubs tend to hold firearms enthusiasts who oppose vehemently any further restrictions. The suggestion of a licensing regime for weapons is unworkable in practice. For one thing, one of the reasons vehicle licensing works is because you’re out and about in your car in public, with a publicly-visible number plate police can enter into a database query without actually bugging you or needing any reason to do so. They’d never get the chance with guns, which are generally out of sight until they’re out in the bush or at the range, where there are (and can be) no police.

    Police carrying firearms more routinely is a concern, for two reasons. One is the usual “arms race” argument that criminals will arm themselves if they know others are more likely to be armed; the other is to do with the relatively poor standard of police firearms training, which leaves many officers less-than-confident with their firearms. That’s a dangerous combination.

    L

  16. Tim Watkin on July 9th, 2010 at 22:29

    Well Lew, in each post you seem to be critical of my inclination towards more regulation (ie enacting Thorp’s recommendations), but then go on to endorse those exact regulations. That seems a little contradictory. But as you eventually conclude, I don’t think we’re far apart.

    As you say at the end, you don’t see this as a priority because the government should instead be enacting some other, unspecified crime-stopping policies.

    I’d just point out that Thorp’s recommendations having been sitting there for years… the bill has been sitting in select committee for years… there’s little risk of log-jamming the system or stopping any other anti-crime action (and we’re already wasting years on three strikes and resource consents on another prison and another prison and another prison…), so what are we waiting for? More deaths, more public outcry?

    And the politics? I’m not prejudging what National will do. I’m certainly not claiming they lack the bottle given that they haven’t decided anything yet; rather, I’m pointing out the political risks they face. And I’m confident that at least some powers-that-be see it as an issue.

  17. Lew on July 9th, 2010 at 22:45

    Tim, well, since basically any other meaningful law and order policy would be both cheaper and more effective than reforming firearm regulations which work pretty well as-is despite very lax enforcement, I say the resources could be better deployed elsewhere, such as to police enforcement of existing regulations. Not that the current priorities in the lauren order sector are much good, but really, given the low rate at present better social and public safety outcomes would likely accrue from almost any sort of social-policy programme. Gods know there are plenty crying out for money.

    But if we ever find ourselves in with a bunch of spare crime-fighting money, then, hey, why not?

    L

  18. Pablo on July 9th, 2010 at 23:47

    Lew:

    Given what you have said about licensing enforcement and scrutiny, I think I need to go out and buy me a REAL gun. On the other hand, and referencing the phallic extension commentary in the thread, I must again remember the tried an true military adage: “This is my weapon and this is my gun, the first is for killing and the second is for fun.”

  19. Bruce Hamilton on July 10th, 2010 at 06:51

    Bruce, one suggestion has historically been that local shooting clubs take on some of the enforcement duties (subject to police endorsement, training, etc). This would be good, but for a couple of facts, the main one of which being that shooting clubs tend to hold firearms enthusiasts who oppose vehemently any further restrictions. The suggestion of a licensing regime for weapons is unworkable in practice.

    Actually, I was thinking more of a specialist, commercial national firm, as shooting clubs would be foxes in charge of the hen-house. If I ruled the world, membership of a shooting or a firearm enthusiast club, would be grounds for not being permitted to own a firearm :-) .

    The issue of the 50,000 who didn’t renew highlights regulation enforcement failure. There were 250,000 licence holders, 200,000 renewed and complied with the new requirements, 50,000 didn’t. As you are aware, doing nothing was not a legal option.

    To me, the greatest hazard from the 250,000 exists in the 50,000. It’s the old 80:20 rule, yet again.

    I obviously disagree about the workability of a gun register. We don’t have to make the mistakes that Canada made when trying to introduce one. Nor should we let the police manage it, given their track record.

    A specialist, national, commercial firm, acting under appropriate legislation, and a 10 – 20 year timeline should be able to create a firearm and licence holder database as well as administer and train/retrain all firearm licence holders. I think a five year review of licences, and/or a simple refesher course would be good.

    There also needs to be a no-cost, simple system to register/administer firearm sales by sellers. The key is to easily capture transactions between licence holders, and then use fees to encourage owners to surrender/sell weapons they no longer use.

    I would use higher fees to also discourage holding semi-automatic weapons and handguns once the need for them changed.

    The issue is to make it very easy to enroll and participate, low cost for rural owners, and punitive for illegal ownership and transactions after the 20 year establishment period.

    Once again, it’s likely that 80% of owners will register their weapons, and the 20% who don’t are the ones that should receive extra attention.

    I wouldn’t mind if the agency purchased unwanted weapons and sold them, as a significant % of the 20% will be solely due to laziness. I don’t want to criminalise apathetic owners, just mitigate the hazard.

    Firearms aren’t essential for many occupations, and our mental health changes during our lives. We should try to protect owners and society.

    The small % who actively don’t participate or mislead ( eg don’t temporarily surrender licences/weapons when being treated for mental health issues ) should receive seriously punitive responses, eg lifetime prohibition on owning a firearm.

  20. peterlepaysan on July 11th, 2010 at 23:26

    Excellent post.
    Actually the main reason I went through due process
    to get my firearms license was as a small block land holder i have the usual bunny/possum probs. There is another issue. Personally owned livestock.

    Three times I have been asked to help with damaged animals (broken legs) cattle and horses.
    If Watkins thinks it is fun watching an animal suffer while waiting hours for someone to arrive to deliver the coup de grace he can stick with the lala land of television.

    Some of us live in a real world.

    Oh by the way someone should tell Watkin (not that he would listen) that terminally damaged sheep can be dealt to very quickly, and humanely with (shriek) a knife.

  21. Ray on July 13th, 2010 at 14:48

    Actually, I was thinking more of a specialist, commercial national firm, as shooting clubs would be foxes in charge of the hen-house. If I ruled the world, membership of a shooting or a firearm enthusiast club, would be grounds for not being permitted to own a firearm :-) .

    A very good round up of the problems or raather lack of problems of firearm licensing
    Regarding the Ruler of the World
    When I applied for my license I was asked the specific question”Did I have a subscription to shooting or gun magazines”
    Someone else thinking along the same lines?

  22. KPete on July 14th, 2010 at 14:46

    Awesome post – very well presented. I disagree with some commentators re the knife restrictions stopping people from using kitchen knives as alternative by mere inconvenience of handling.
    Students (predominantly of african origin)at my stepsons high school are routinley discovered to be armed with vegetable and small serated steak knives. The sale ban won’t make an ounce of difference to them.
    cheers

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