COMMENT:

We need to change our gun laws.

If we do only two things, then we must do this: ban semi-automatics and start tracking who owns what guns.

There is no good reason to have military-style semi-automatics in New Zealand. These are massacre weapons. They're designed to hold as many bullets as possible, and fire them as fast as possible. That's why they're so devastating. The shooter rarely reloads. Victims don't have time to get away.

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Semi-automatics must be banned.

Gun enthusiasts will argue that they need semi-automatics in New Zealand. They're ideal for goat culling. They're collectors' items. They're fun to shoot at the firing range. They're examples of expert craftsmanship.

I couldn't care less. None of those reasons are good enough. What matters more? An enthusiast's right to fire a gun, or the lives of the people that gun takes?

Once we ban them, we need to destroy the semi-automatics already in New Zealand. We can do this. Australia showed us how. After the Port Arthur attack in 1996, the Australian government asked gun owners to hand in their semi-automatics and pump-action shotguns. The government bought each firearm from the owner. They collected more than 600,000. Over the next 10 years, gun-related murders dropped by nearly 60 per cent.

We could've done this 20 years ago. In 1997 the Thorp report recommended banning and buying back semi-automatics. We ignored it.

The other thing we need to do is to start tracking who owns what guns. It's unbelievable that we don't. We don't even know how many guns are out there.

Heather du Plessis-Allan managed to buy a .22 calibre sporting rifle via the internet using fake documentation back in 2015. Photo / File
Heather du Plessis-Allan managed to buy a .22 calibre sporting rifle via the internet using fake documentation back in 2015. Photo / File

At the moment, we only track who is allowed to own guns. But we don't know what, or how many, guns that person has. That's why Peter Edwards was able to buy 67 guns from one retailer over 18 months in 2012.

Once a gun leaves the shop, it's on a completely untracked journey through this country. That's why Edwards was able to sell those guns to the Head Hunters.

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The solution is simple. Set up a gun register that lists each firearms owner, and next to their name, lists each gun they hold. If they sell it, the register lists the new owner. If it's stolen, it's listed as stolen. We do this for cars. Why not for guns?

The answer is money. A register would cost about $30 million. Apparently that's too expensive. But, how much would you pay to undo Friday's attack?

It's heartbreaking and frustrating that it's taken a massacre in New Zealand for a government to finally pledge to change the rules. We've been talking about this for decades. Since 2005, we've tried three times.

Government after government has been too cowardly to act. Even this one. Last year, Police Minister Stuart Nash was about to back away, describing our gun law as "fit for purpose".

I doubt he'd say that today.

The gun lobby will fight any changes. They've already started. They're putting out online calls to "resist" changes they see as "stupidity". They're telling gun enthusiasts to "join a shooter's rights group" and "tell your shooting friends to do the same".

They'll tell us we should be cracking down on illegal gun users, not legal gun owners. Well, where do you think the illegal gun users get their guns? They're often stolen from legal gun owners. Or sold on the blackmarket by legal gun owners.

The gun lobby is powerful. It's the reason no government has had the courage to make significant change.

It will organise and fight dirty. I've been at the sharp end of their group attacks. I showed how inadequate our gun laws are by buying a firearm online without a licence in 2016. They hounded me online for weeks and paid for targeted character attacks.

So, this won't be easy for this government. It'll take courage.

But change has to come.

Our inaction has cost us too much.