When considering carrying out stings, journalists should consider what laws - if any - they will break in an effort to prove something needs fixing.
In the case of Story's gun-buying sting at Auckland outlet Gun City, these considerations likely started with the mail order form used to buy a gun through the post.
Whoever filled in the form provided some of the required details by using a bogus name and credit card number.
The section seeking the number of a firearms licence was filled using an invented number. (The invented number was checked by Gun City staff and came back from police as genuine, clearing the way for the purchase.)
Lower down the form was a section marked "Police Use Only".
Whoever completed the form created the name of a fictitious officer and included what appeared to be a police registration number.
That person created "Rebecca Were" (QID RWH846), who apparently worked at the North Shore Policing Centre. The same fictitious Were signed and dated the document, stating she had seen the firearms licence referred to higher up the form and confirmed the applicant named on the form owned the licence.
The requirement for the police officer's involvement is explained at the top of the form. It quotes section 43a of the Arms Act 1983. That's the section of the law which makes it legal for guns to be sold by mail order.
Of interest to the Story team was the legal requirement for the form to be signed by the person buying the gun, and the legal need for it to carry the endorsement of a police officer who had seen the buyer's licence.
The "Police Use Only" section wasn't just for decoration - it was a stated legal requirement for a mail order purchase, as was the use of a proper name. There are penalties for selling a a gun without consideration of all those steps.
Other legal considerations were raised by a new police statement and the search warrant, which became public yesterday.
The statement refers to officers investigating the "impersonation of a police officer" - presumably the apparently name of the officer attesting to the authenticity of the firearms licence.
The statement and the search warrant speak of "forgery". The warrant also speaks of "obtaining with deception".
I believe there was great cause for serious thought before the form was completed using bogus details. There are serious penalties around forgery, with a maximum prison sentence of 10 years.
If there is to be a balance found, the potential for laws being broken would have to be balanced against the benefits for Story's audience and the wider public.
The sting appears to have been prompted by an interview Story co-host Duncan Garner conducted with Police Association president Greg O'Connor on the former's afternoon radio show.
In the interview, Mr O'Connor said anyone could fill out a form and buy a gun. Garner and Story co-host Heather du Plessis-Allan subsequently referred to a "loophole" in the law.
After the sting, Gun City owner David Tipple asked detectives to go through years of mail orders to check for any cases where guns had been sold to someone using bogus details. Mr Tipple says none were found.
Police did change the procedure after the issue was raised on Story. The form may have needed changing before the broadcast but it's easy to imagine someone in police headquarters deciding it was critical once Story explained an easy way to buy guns without a licence.
The law doesn't stop anyone from walking onto the street and punching another person. It provides clear guidance why it should not be done and sets out penalties for stepping outside that law.
Almost always, a "loophole" is what is exposed when you do something the law does not cover but should. In my opinion, a "loophole" is not what you have when you break the law just to show how easy it is to break.
Debate on this article is now closed.