The "plight" of firearms owners in New Zealand in 2017 was being watched by like-minded groups overseas, such as the National Rifle Association (NRA) in the United States, released emails show.

It was an invitation Paula Bennett would have found hard to refuse.

An email from Paul Clark, the head of the largest pro-firearm lobby group, asked to meet with her.

The relationship between the police and firearms owners had deteriorated, wrote Clark, to the point where the gun lobby was going to take legal action against the police.

At the time, Bennett was the Police Minister and the National Party deputy leader.

Advertisement

Any court case would force the issue into the political area "where it belongs", noted a press release attached to Clark's email.

"As a member of the National Party Hutt Cabinet Club [a fundraiser], I find this conflict between police and firearms owners detrimental to the overall good of NZ society," Clark wrote.

"And being realistic [it] will not improve National's position in the forthcoming election. There are approximately about 242,000 licensed firearms owners in New Zealand, the vast majority of voting age.

"It would be good to meet with you to discuss these issues."

The Council of Licenced Firearms Owners [COLFO], of which Clark was the chairman, was also a loud voice in a select committee inquiry into how guns were falling into the hands of criminals.

Clark was persistent in seeking a meeting with Bennett; one of many gun clubs and individuals wanting the ear of the influential politician.

"Last but not least when our members cast their votes in the next election, we will be recommending to them to consider whether that person or party supports them in their chosen sport or recreation," one rifle club in Christchurch wrote to Bennett.

A few months later, when Bennett rejected most of the 20 recommendations to tighten gun control - on the grounds the proposed changes would unduly impact lawful gun owners, not criminals - the Police Association accused her of bowing to the gun lobby.

Advertisement

"That's the time that it was in. There is no point in having hindsight," said Bennett today, when asked if she had any regrets.

"It's a great thing, but that was that time, we're in unprecedented times right now."

National deputy leader Paula Bennett was persistently lobbied when gun control was last debated in 2017. Photo / Mark Mitchell.
National deputy leader Paula Bennett was persistently lobbied when gun control was last debated in 2017. Photo / Mark Mitchell.

Following Bennett's rejection of the inquiry report, COLFO issued a letter to members praising them for being vocal in the campaign.

"This is a good start to what will end up being a long campaign.

"Over the past year firearms owners have felt as though their sport, hobby or lifestyle was under serious threat ... our media have been fed propaganda by the Police Association for tougher gun control which has sent alarm through the ill-informed public."

Under the heading "You made it happen", the letter said members of COLFO and other pro-firearm groups "mobilised" through social media, forums, blogs and emails.

"You voiced concerns to Ministers, their advisers, other politicians, the Police Commissioner and the media. Because of this we are having an effect. We are now being listened to."

The "plight" of firearms owners in New Zealand was being watched by like-minded groups overseas, such as the National Rifle Association (NRA) in the United States.

The COLFO letter encouraged firearms owners to share messages on social media and COLFO was "constantly" lobbying politicians.

"We are in the ears and in front of the faces of important people that are part of some important decision-making processes.

"It's election year. Our Members of Parliament are out lobbying and want your vote ... we will continue to lobby Government on your behalf and we would like you to continue to do the same."

When I was the Opposition Police Spokesman, I learned the hard way that firearms owners are passionate about their sport...

Posted by Stuart Nash MP on Saturday, 28 July 2018

Stuart Nash, now the Police Minister, was among the influential ears that firearms owners sought to speak with when Labour was in Opposition.

In a Facebook post last July, Nash said he "learned the hard way" that firearms owners are passionate about their sport and their guns.

"I also learnt that those from the firearms community who seek to engage with politicians tend to know the law better than most, and as a result often come up with pragmatic solutions on how to solve the issues that society judges as important," Nash wrote.

"Again, my experience is that 99+ per cent of the 250,000 firearms licence holders are law-abiding citizens who view those who use guns for illegal activity as some of the worst types of criminals who need to be punished accordingly."

Nash said Paula Bennett's decision was "100 per cent" correct but it's now his job to seek cross-party support for gun law changes following the terror attack in Christchurch.

The National Party has said it will support the Government.

However, in recent months Chris Bishop MP has been hosting roadshow meetings across New Zealand to garner support with the firearms community - and potential votes for the next election.

VICTORY! I’m told that the Police have now backed down totally on the radical restructure of firearms administration...

Posted by Chris Bishop on Tuesday, 19 February 2019

This was a deliberate move into the territory of New Zealand First, which was vocal in rejecting the select committee report in 2017.

"New Zealand First believes that this report does not adequately address the stated objectives of the inquiry.

"Rather, it targets legitimate ownership of legally held firearms by licenced users, importers and dealers, and recommends further restrictions on them by way of laws and regulations relating to them and their firearms."

Yet, it was a licensed gun holder who easily converted a semi-automatic AR-15 into a Military Style Semi Automatic who shot and killed 50 people in Christchurch.

NZ First leader Winston Peters has said the 2017 select committee report focused on access of illegal arms to gangs.

"The reality is though is that after 1 pm on the 15th of March, our world changed forever and so will some of our laws."

Cabinet had agreed "in principle" to the necessary changes, said Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern which will be announced by the end of the week.

The Government is widely expected to announce a ban on semi-automatic firearms.

"We do have legitimate and responsible gun use particularly in our rural community - animal welfare and pest control. My view is that those gun owners will be with us," said Ardern.

Police Association president Chris Cahill has been depicted online as a Nazi by firearms enthusiasts. Photo / Mark Mitchell.
Police Association president Chris Cahill has been depicted online as a Nazi by firearms enthusiasts. Photo / Mark Mitchell.

Her assessment is shared by Police Association president Chris Cahill, but said there was no place in the upcoming debate for the radical gun lobby.

While there nearly 250,000 licensed firearms holders, Cahill believed the vocal minority had spoken the loudest during previous gun control debates.

And while the gun lobby had accused him of spreading "propaganda", Cahill said he had been the subject of verbal and online abuse.

"We've had to redirect the [Police Association] phone lines because they light up if I've done an interview in the media [about firearms].

"I've been photoshopped as a Nazi, there were photos of me with a target painted over the top, there's been all sorts of stuff sent around social media, on blogs, on forums.

"It doesn't really bother me. But given what's happened over the weekend, I just think there's no place for it."