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The Royal Commission of Inquiry - No Accountability

By Phil Cregeen, SSANZ

Firearm owners have waited 19 months for the report of the Royal Commission of Inquiry into the Christchurch mosque attacks, in the firm belief that it would vindicate their view that they were in no way responsible for this heinous crime. 

 

Regardless of the fact that our Security Intelligence services failed to detect any warning signs it is well known that the police failed in their duty to properly assess the suitability of Brenton Tarrant to own a firearm and went ahead and issued him with a firearm licence.

 

Originally planned to be released in December 2019 the Commissioners were granted a number of time extensions, due to the numbers of people to be interviewed and also delays caused by Covid 19 lock down, with a final date of 26 November.

 

“It seems that despite the 51 deaths no one is to be held accountable for the failings of state agencies that contributed to this tragedy.”

 

The inquiry's report was provided to Internal Affairs Minister Jan Tinetti on 27 November and was due to be publicly released on December 8, after first being shared with victims' families and political party leaders.

 

Many firearm owners were shocked and angered to learn that:

  • Evidence given by ministers and public sector bosses to the Inquiry will be suppressed for 30 years.
  • An interview with the Australian-born terrorist will never be released out of concern it could inspire and assist further attacks.
  • A number of individuals involved in the inquiry would also have their identities suppressed, including the police officers who vetted Tarrant for his firearms licence and the people who provided references for him.

 

It seems that despite the 51 deaths no one is to be held accountable for the failings of state agencies that contributed to this tragedy.

 

We finally got to see the report for ourselves on the 8th December and this is what we learned from Section 5:

  • District firearms staff are given limited initial training and, in recent years, no ongoing training and current training standards are outdated and inconsistent across New Zealand Police.
  • Licensing staff are not trained to go beyond what is in the Firearms Licence Vetting Guide.
  • The unusual nature of the individual’s firearms licence application was not appreciated.
  • The Dunedin Vetting Officer did not inquire of the individual how well he knew his referees.
  • The order of interviews did not follow the ordinary process where referees are interviewed before the applicant.
  • All of those we spoke to who engaged with this issue agreed that this level of interaction between the individual and gaming friend was insufficient to justify using them as a substitute for a near-relative referee. This included experienced members of New Zealand Police.
  • We consider the standard licensing practice to which we have just referred is inappropriately limited.
  • We are of the view that the guidance given by New Zealand Police to licensing staff was inadequate, as was their training.

 

And finally, and most important of all, the Commission says as its final word on that section of their report:

 

We find that New Zealand Police failed to meet required standards in the administration of the firearms licensing system.

 

“Obviously we are pleased that the Prime Minister and Commissioner of Police apologised for these failures to the victims and their families, but note there was no apology forthcoming for the unnecessary victimisation of the firearm community.”

 

As our President Neville Dodd said in a press release “Clearly the responsibility for the dreadful atrocity rests with police for their incompetence in issuing Tarrant a licence.

 

Obviously we are pleased that the Prime Minister and Commissioner of Police apologised for these failures to the victims and their families, but note there was no apology forthcoming for the unnecessary victimisation of the firearm community.

 

WHAT THE POLICE HAVE IN STORE FOR YOU

The following is taken from the published version of the Police briefing to their new Minister:

 

Firearms Reform Programme

New Zealand has relatively high levels of firearm ownership for recreational, sporting, and employment purposes. In administering the Arms Act 1983, we are committed to ensuring the safe possession and use of firearms, and controls to prevent illegal possession and use.

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This means we need to balance reasonable compliance duties on law abiding firearms users, with safeguards that protect New Zealanders from unsafe and criminal use of firearms.

 

“New Zealand has relatively high levels of firearm ownership for recreational, sporting, and employment purposes. In administering the Arms Act 1983, we are committed to ensuring the safe possession and use of firearms, and controls to prevent illegal possession and use.”

  

Police have an ongoing work programme to improve its standards and quality of processes, and risk-based decision making for licence applications. The rate of progress of this work will depend on resources available.

 

Those who hold licences and permits have made an ever-decreasing contribution to the costs of administering the Arms Act. This, together with constraints on government funding, will influence future improvements in these regulatory processes.

 

“Police have an ongoing work programme to improve its standards and quality of processes, and risk-based decision making for licence applications. The rate of progress of this work will depend on resources available.”

 

Work will be further informed by the recommendations likely to arise from the Royal Commission of Inquiry into the Attack on Christchurch Mosques, as the terms of reference include how the individual charged with the attack obtained a firearms licence, weapons, and ammunition.

 

Police are partway through a comprehensive legislative change programme designed to improve individual and public safety:

 

Firearms amnesty and buyback: On 3 August 2020, Cabinet agreed to the policy design for a buyback of items that were newly prohibited or restricted by the Arms Legislation Act 2020. This enables regulations to be made in 2020 for a compensation scheme to commence in early 2021 and run for six months. Police will provide you with draft regulations in November 2020.

 

New firearms regulatory entity: In June, Cabinet agreed that officials undertake further work on a model for moving accountability for some of the Arms Act regulatory functions from Police. You are due to report back to Cabinet in November 2020 on options for an independent regulatory entity. Following a decision on a preferred option, legislation will be needed to move some functions from Police to a new entity. 

 

“The Arms Legislation Act requires that the Minister of Police establish an Arms Advisory Group. This group may provide advice on any matter relating to firearms in New Zealand, including legislation and policy.”

 

Arms Regulations: Some sections of the Arms Legislation Act, including those covering the licensing of dealers, come into force 12 months after enactment (in June 2021). Regulations are needed to support the implementation of these sections.

 

Cost Recovery: The Act enables regulations to be made to set fees for licensing and other services. The current fees have not been adjusted to reflect increased costs (except for GST) for over 20 years. In recent years less than 20 percent of the cost of licensing services is met through fees, with the balance met through taxpayer contribution to Vote Police.

 

The low level of fees, and the absence of fees for some services reduces funding for audit and risk management functions, increasing the public safety risk. We will brief you on cost recovery options in December 2020.

 

“This non-statutory forum, chaired by Police, provides a formal mechanism for the firearms community to provide technical advice to Police on firearms policy and legislation.”

 

Arms Advisory Group: The Arms Legislation Act requires that the Minister of Police establish an Arms Advisory Group. This group may provide advice on any matter relating to firearms in New Zealand, including legislation and policy. You will appoint the Chair and up to eight other members. Membership must comprise a balance of people from both the firearm-owning and non-firearm-owning community.

 

Firearms Community Advisory Forum: This non-statutory forum, chaired by Police, provides a formal mechanism for the firearms community to provide technical advice to Police on firearms policy and legislation. This forum will continue to provide technical advice to Police, while the Arms Advisory Group will provide a broader perspective, including views of the non-firearm owning community, to you as Minister.

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A GENEROUS BEQUEST

SSANZ member Alan Walker, a long time firearm collector, and for many years Secretary of Hawkes Bay Branch NZAHAA, passed away in July 2018.

 

In his will Alan bequeathed the proceeds of his substantial collection to be used for the protection of New Zealanders rights to lawfully own, collect and use firearms.

 

“In his will Alan bequeathed the proceeds of his substantial collection to be used for the protection of New Zealanders rights to lawfully own, collect and use firearms.”

 

SSANZ acknowledges and thanks Hawkes Bay Branch NZAHAA for undertaking the collection, cataloguing and sale by auction of Alan’s firearm collection.

 

As a result of this effort a substantial donation has been made to the funds of SSANZ, COLFO and NZAHAA in accordance with Alan’s wishes.

 

Our grateful thanks to Alan Walker for his generosity.

 

AN ESCALATION OF CRIMINALS SHOOTING AT POLICE

November saw a number of incidents where criminals turned firearms on Police Officers including critically wounding a Police dog.

 

Police Association president Chris Cahill called for the urgent introduction of full firearm registration claiming that this would stop criminals from stealing firearms from licensed owners.

 

Meanwhile the Minister of Police Poto Williams MP admitted when questioned in Parliament by our member Nicole McKee MP, that she did not believe that criminals would register their guns.

 

SSANZ supported a call from National Party leader Judith Collins for tougher sentencing of people who shoot at police officers and also demanded Police and Customs make more effort to crack down on guns smuggled into the country with drugs. Pointing out that police seize many more firearms than those reported stolen.

 

Phil Cregeen

SSANZ Sec.

www.sportingshooters.nz

 

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