COMMENT:

When the numbness following the Christchurch mosque massacre wore off, the immediate question turned from "how could this have happened" to "how could this have been stopped".

Some politicians would and should have been feeling sick to their core on March 15 for having neglected firearms reform over three successive decades.

It was sheeted home that a failure to act can be just as devastating as an action.

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Political parties avoided singling out any minister or Government. It would have shattered the collegial response to the tragedy but it was largely because almost every party in the past has rejected an opportunity to act when they could have, despite persistent calls for reform.

Former Police Minister Paula Bennett may have been the latest minister to reject recommended reforms but no party was blameless.

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The gun lobby is now crying foul over the haste to pass a law outlawing weapons and parts of weapons that can kill 50 people in a matter of minutes.

And usually Governments reserve urgency for trophy issues after triumphant election campaigns, legislation that has to enacted by a strict date, or issues they don't want dragged out.

Urgency in the technical meaning was avoided by Act's David Seymour being late to the House when his sole objection could have prevented the current truncated process.

If he had objected, he would have forced the bill through under urgency. The outcome would have been the same. It is being considered with urgency, not under urgency.

But this is perhaps one time when urgency, whether in the colloquial or parliamentary sense, should be worn like a badge of honour. The ban is a rational response and so is haste. Just do it, and do it fast.

As Christchurch mayor Lianne Dalziel pointed out in her submission to the select committee, the bill for firearms control after the Aramoana shootings was presented to Parliament a full year after 13 people were murdered and over that year, a very powerful and effective gun lobby did their work.

Seymour has a lot to gain by differentiating himself from the other 119 MPs. All he needs to pick up is 0.5 per cent from the gun lobby and he will have doubled his support base.

He may be seen as opposing the ban on semi-automatic weapons rather than being the champion of due process, which may not go down particularly well in Epsom, but that is a risk he is willing to run to gain higher profile.

Three decades of failing to act on tighter controls must be weighing heavily on conscience of politicians. Illustration / Guy Body
Three decades of failing to act on tighter controls must be weighing heavily on conscience of politicians. Illustration / Guy Body

Seymour has already shown he is willing to take risks in the aftermath of this tragedy: he issued a press statement based on rumour that the police had been at the Al Noor Mosque and had not prevented the shooter from leaving – the police timeline has them missing the shooter by a minute.

Then he issued a press statement this week suggesting Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern had secretly done away with vetting requirements for gun licence-holders just before Christmas – the move was in fact to allow people to apply for firearms licences online, not just on paper and did not affect vetting requirements at all.

Those changes were made at the request of police, whose technical expertise on weapons sits behind the cabinet papers on the ban.

Having argued for such reform for many years, they did not come from a standing start.

It might be a speedy process but the Government did not start with a blank piece of paper three weeks ago.

The Police are also wise to potential loopholes through which gun owners might try to circumvent the intention of the ban.

The select committee and the Government will not be impervious to change, clarification or correction on the ban and buy-back scheme.

For example, the buy-back scheme was originally going to exclude the dealers, about 500 of them, and they would have to recoup their losses through returns to suppliers abroad.

Police Minister Stuart Nash has now quite rightly has said including dealers is back on the table as details of the scheme are worked through.

Their lawful livelihoods are about to end and they should not be treated as criminals.

The areas of policy in which Ardern will be more deliberately paced are in regulation of social media, and other issues that impinge on media generally, free speech and the free exchange of ideas. The effects would be more wide-ranging and could be insidious.

Ardern has put together a group of digital and media experts who met with her for the first time in Auckland yesterday to discuss what happened and may be a sounding board and think tank for future policy proposals.

There has been no shortage of developments in that space in response to the Christchurch massacre which was screened live on Facebook for 17 minutes and widely shared.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison this week pushed through the Sharing of Abhorrent Violent Material bill that imposes hefty fines and jail terms on executives of internet companies that fail to expeditiously remove videos portraying terrorist acts, murder, attempted murder, rape, torture or kidnapping.

It has alarmed mainstream media and Labor, while supporting the bill, will also review it if it becomes Government.

Facebook chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg, writing in the Herald a week ago, said the company was reviewing who could go live, and what it did to remove hate speech from its platform.

Founder Mark Zuckerberg earlier this week suggested greater Government regulation for internet companies in four areas: harmful content, election integrity, privacy and data portability, and global standards in some areas.

It sounds like a case of coming up with a solution himself before one is imposed upon him.

Ardern has kept her distance from the internet companies. Her allies are more likely to be found in fellow leaders as she embarks on political global support for change.

Her focus won't be on how internet giants should respond to such horrific crimes but how they can stop them happening, without sacrificing the social good that they provide.

The challenge is enormous.