The Government can, and has, put a lid on importing these weapons. Now it should be making their possession, with valid exceptions, illegal. There is nothing to be gained by this unseemly haste.April 9, 2019
The March 15 Christchurch massacre was unprecedented, and never imagined possible, in this country. No one could have prevented it, despite the 24/24 hindsight many people have displayed since.
The process the Government has adopted to ban military-style semi-automatic and assault rifles is also unprecedented in this country, and probably the world. But our politicians do have control over that. They should be slowing the process down, ensuring that the new laws are well-drafted, without the loopholes that are already coming to light. They should, and must, get it right first time. There is no excuse for not doing so.
The process, including the 'consideration' of 16,000 submissions in 24 hours, is preposterous, and deeply undemocratic. Our statutes are littered with defective legislation that has been pondered, drafted, debated, amended, consulted on and finally enacted over months. How can we have any faith at all in a process with a gestation period of nine days? We can't.
Why the extraordinary haste? The Government can, and has, put a lid on importing these weapons. Now it should be making their possession, with valid exceptions, illegal. There is nothing to be gained by this unseemly haste.
Is it a case of politicians being carried away on a wave of emotion? Never the best environment for making legislation. Or does the Government have a guilty conscience?
It has gone almost entirely unremarked upon that on December 17 last year the Government deregulated this country's gun laws. National knew about it, and has said very little, if anything, over the last three and a half months.
The only politician who has noted it publicly is Act leader David Seymour, who is rapidly becoming the sole voice of reason in Parliament. (Mr Seymour, incidentally, supports the new legislation, but not the process by which it is to be adopted).
Mr Seymour made it known last week that eight days before Christmas, the Government, with the Prime Minister's involvement, made a regulation that allowed electronic applications for dealers' licences, licences for gun shows, and permits to import and procure guns, including MSSAs. He could find no public announcement of that, at the time or since. He found it astounding, as should we, that the Government thought this regulation, effectively made behind closed doors, was a good idea. Not any more it doesn't.
Now, he said, the Government, which had a "working group for everything", was abandoning any sincere attempt at public consultation and parliamentary scrutiny of laws as it set about changing the Arms Act.
What motivated the December 17 decision? Mr Seymour believes it was to save the police time, and money, by excusing them from talking, in person, to those who would deal in or buy guns. The same politicians who put their faith in the internet to conduct last year's shambolic census decided that computers could do the job previously done by the police more efficiently.
Mr Seymour's view was that personal contact between the police and gun dealers/owners was critical to identifying those who, for any number of reasons, shouldn't get within cooee of owning or dealing in firearms. It would be difficult to imagine that anyone, politicians included, would disagree with that now.
The process that is now under way doesn't simply undo the December 17 decision though. It will make owning MSSAs and assault rifles illegal. As it stood last week, that reportedly included any firearm that had a butt, a stock or a sight, the sort of shambles that the proper legislative process is designed to avoid.
Anyone want to open a book on how many times the new law that is about to be enacted will have to be amended before it is fit for purpose?
Part of the problem is that it is no longer politic in this country to stray from the Government's response to the Christchurch murders. Everyone who wants to keep their job, or even their seat, must agree with this ludicrous legislative process. Such is the climate of fear that has enveloped our MPs that National even had to apologise for not removing its petition opposing the UN's Immigration Pact from its website quickly enough.
The Immigration Pact had and has absolutely nothing to do with Christchurch. It is about our government retaining control of its immigration policy. There is no sane reason why we cannot continue to have that discussion. We have simply been told that it would be unseemly to do so. And we're doing as we are told.
Associate Transport Minister Julie Ann Genter had a tough time last week, explaining why her moves to reduce the rate at which people are dying on the roads are taking so long to kick in.
At least she backed away from her ridiculous statement last year that she was aiming for a zero road toll. Hardly surprising given that 27 people died in the seven days from Friday, March 29. By Sunday night that had risen to 29 in nine days. The toll for the year so far stands at 112, and there is every prospect that 2019 will prove to be even more deadly than 2018.
To be fair to Ms Genter, she and her Government are trying to keep us safe. Vast sums of money are being spent on making roads safer, on campaigns encouraging us to drive sensibly, and on increased police efforts to discourage us from killing ourselves, and others.
The sad fact seems to be that there is often neither rhyme nor reason behind road fatalities. There is no rational explanation for what happened over the week to last Friday, or for the specific crashes that claimed some of those lives. And, as everyone who has any experience at all of road crashes knows, people often walk away from collisions that appear unsurvivable, and die in others that seem relatively minor. Sometimes it all seems so random.
Police were thick on the ground in the Far North last week, exhorting drivers to obey two of the most basic of rules, to wear seatbelts and to not to use their cellphones. Most people seemed to be complying, but the officer in charge reckoned some drivers continue to adhere to the philosophy that seatbelts aren't needed for short trips. Tootling a couple of hundred metres to the dairy probably isn't especially likely to result in death or injury, but you never know. And when it comes to seatbelts there can be no exceptions.
Being the Minister in Charge of Saving us from Ourselves on the Roads must be one of the less rewarding Cabinet portfolios, so perhaps those who have the job can be forgiven for taking the credit when the death rate drops. But they don't take the blame when the toll rises, and they can't have it both ways.
If the rest of this year produces a lower toll than 2018's it will not be because of anything a politician or a police officer has done. It will be more a case of good luck than good management. And while everyone who drives in this country should take the greatest care at all times, for their own safety and the safety of others, many don't.
Some, no doubt, pay a horrible price for a momentary lapse of a single bad decision, while others tempt fate every time they get behind the wheel, and there is nothing anyone can do about that.