We have a gun problem in this country. It's not the problems on the social fringe — gangs getting hold of firearms, or the lax gun control that made it possible to commit mass murder a year ago. I'm more worried about "law-abiding" gun owners who don't seem aware of the enormous privilege they enjoy.
As we come up to the first anniversary of the massacre in the Christchurch mosques we can be relieved Parliament has taken military-style semi-automatic weapons out of civilian hands at last. But that was just the first shoe to drop in the Government's resolve to put gun law on a better footing. The second shoe, a law requiring all firearms to be registered, has been much more contentious.
Licensed owners and organisations representing them have been complaining to anyone who would listen that a register of guns would be unreasonably onerous on law-abiding citizens, and ineffective because the people it is trying to catch will ignore it.
If we followed that logic we would not bother with criminal law. The same logic is advanced for the decriminalisation of drugs, though I doubt the Green Party and the NZ Drug Foundation would apply it to lethal weapons.
The fact that some people — maybe quite a lot of people — disobey a law is not a sufficient reason to do away with it. Should we just give up the prohibition on the use of hand-held phones while driving? Some miscreants drive unregistered cars. Should we do away the register of motor vehicles?
It is particularly surprising to hear gun owners invoke this argument because they sound fiercely law-abiding by nature. They seethe with indignation at the suggestion their firearms warrant registration and insist they want to keep guns out of the wrong hands though they don't suggest other ways of doing this.
Their objections to the legislation made such little sense that I eventually went to their websites thinking they must have more substantial arguments. What I found on the site of the most outspoken organisation, the Council of Licensed Firearms Owners, was deeply troubling.
It offers advice to gun owners about what to do if the police knock on their door: "Be polite but firm. Ask to see identification. Record the name of the officer and their station. Ask them to refer to the exact statutory authority they are using to visit your home or to ask you any questions."
It assures holders of a standard firearms licence, "police cannot enter your home uninvited to inspect your gun safe unless they have reasonable cause to believe an offence has been committed. This requires a degree of evidence. At no time can police photograph your firearms. At no time can they record the serial numbers of your firearms. . ."
The advice goes on at considerable length in this vein. It is the sort of advice lawyers would give to people who have reason to fear police attention. It is not the sort of advice that should be needed or wanted by any person entrusted with a gun in New Zealand.
This council, which claims to speak for organisations representing hunters, target-shooters and gun-collectors, made a submission to Parliament warning of civil disobedience if the Government's Arms Legislation Bill was passed.
"This bill will create a bureaucratic behemoth," it said. "It will enrage users with frequent, impractical and confusing demands for information about individual firearms and magazines."
In one of its summary points, it warned: "New Zealanders will set out to evade the registry requirements because they will conclude their family's safety is more important than the threats of punishment. Few licensed firearms owners will believe in police assurance that the registry is secure against hacking or insider misuse. It will represent information of much greater interest to criminals than to anyone else."
If that sort or paranoia is typical of gun owners in this country we have a problem. We are licensing the wrong people.
A register of each firearm will be onerous on them and it should be. It's appalling that police do not know how many guns are in New Zealand, let alone what guns and how many each licensed owner has.
This is a country where you do not suppose your neighbours have a gun in their house. I'd find it creepy if they did. If they do, I don't want to know. But I want police to know all about it — what it is, where it is, how securely it is kept, who has access to it and for what purpose.
Passing this bill is the best way to mark the anniversary of the massacres. It underlines to all licensed gun owners that to be trusted with a killing device is a privilege in this society, not a human right.