A bill aimed at giving the police greater powers to control the use of firearms by gangs, including Australian deportees, has come in for some serious criticism, even from groups which support its intent.
The Police Association, which supports the intention of the private member's bill, says its proposed powers would be "useless" without giving the police the additional power of a warrantless search, and without the need to suspect an offence had been committed.
The Arms (Firearms Prohibition Orders) Amendment Bill (No 2) does two main things.
It would ban gang members from 37 specified gangs from holding a firearms licence; and it would allow the Police Commissioner to declare certain gang members with convictions for serious offences to be subject to a Firearms Prohibition Order (FPO) with up to 14 years' jail for breaches.
It has been estimated that about 600 members of the 37 gangs would be eligible for an FPO because of having convictions for serious crimes under the Sentencing Act.
But Police Association President Chris Cahill says that without specific powers for warrantless search, it could not meet its most basic objective – to go after gang members with serious criminal convictions.
The current Search and Surveillance Act 2012 already provided for a raft of circumstances for warrantless searches by police but they still required good cause to believe an offence had been committed and good cause to suspect that evidence would be found.
The bill, in the name of Pakuranga MP Simeon Brown after its original sponsor, Brett Hudson, was voted out at the election, is based on similar measures in Australia.
"However it cannot mimic Australia's legislation without the key ingredient of FPO-related warrantless searches without cause," Cahill said in a submission to the justice committee.
"Without it, these are useless."
While firearms laws had been tightened since the bill was introduced, Firearms Prohibition Orders could help undermine the "rapid and challenging mutation of domestic organised crime".
Cahill said that the impact of gang members deported from Australia was particularly concerning.
"These 501 deportees have brought with them a new level of 'professionalism' to our organised crime. They wear designer clothing, sport buffed bodies and professional tattoos and travel in style – on gold-plated motorcycles and in luxury vehicles. This 'bling' in their best recruitment card. They deal drugs on an industrial scale and they are armed to the teeth," the submission said.
"This steady stream of people rejected by Australia has amplified our domestic gun and violence problems. With them in mind, FPO legislation is arguably timely but it must be fit for purpose."
Esther Watt on behalf of the Law Society said that the bill should not proceed because of its inconsistency with the Bill of Rights Act – in relation to freedom of association in respect of FPOs and a reverse onus on the presumption of innocence.
"Any limit on rights has to be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society."
That required a rational connection which meant there should be data and analysis to show that the characteristic of being a member of a gang, in of itself, increased the risk of firearm-related harm.
"That may well be the case but the concern is that it is not apparent at this stage that this analysis has been undertaken."
And it had to be shown that the objectives of the bill could not be met through current provisions of the law which said a firearms licence could not be issued if a police officer considered the person was not a fit and proper person to be in possession of a firearm.
The Bill of Rights Act vet by Attorney-General David Parker raised a number of concerns but said there was a clear rational connection in respect of not allowing a firearms licence for a gang member - gang membership had "repeatedly been found to pose an appreciable risk of firearms coming into the possession of another person who does not meet the 'fit and proper person' test to obtain a firearms licence".
"That rational connection in respect of the FPO regime is less clear," he said.
Labour originally opposed the bill and since its introduction, has won an outright majority in Parliament. But with increasing evidence of gun-related crimes by gangs, the Government is under pressure to give police more powers to address it.
The bill would apply to 37 gangs specified under the Prohibition of Gang Insignia in Government Premises Act 2013, and others added to it under regulation, or those substantially similar to them, namely:
Bandidos MC [motorcycle club]
Devils Henchmen MC
Filthy Few MC
Greasy Dogs MC
Head Hunters MC
Hells Angels MC
Highway 61 MC
Lone Legion MC
Lost Breed MC
Red Devils MC
Road Knights MC
Satans Slaves MC
Sinn Fein MC
Southern Vikings MC