Parliament's haste in outlawing military style semi-automatic weapons is entirely justified. All MPs except one are now doing what previous governments now know they should have done. The country has just had a sickening demonstration of the killing power of these weapons in the wrong hands. If what happened on March 15 now seems predictable, it was not the sort of crime many would previously have expected in New Zealand. That's how previous governments were able to be deflected from the sort of firearms legislation Parliament is passing now.
The Arms (Prohibited Firearms, Magazines and Parts) Amendment Bill has returned from a select committee and looks set to pass its remaining stages and come into force on Friday, just four weeks to the day after the massacre in Christchurch mosques. That was possible because so much of the preparatory work had been done before previous governments were talked out of it by gun lobbyists.
Even amid this haste, MPs on the finance and expenditure committee considering the bill have written in some exemptions to the ban for weapons collectors and for hunters and farmers who want this much rapid fire for pest control.
Pest controllers will be permitted to use semi-automatic .22 rifles with a magazine of no more than 10 rounds, as well as semi-automatic or pump action shotguns with internal magazines holding no more than five rounds. Are these exemptions really necessary?
The exemption for collectors will require a part to be removed so that the weapon is inoperable.
MPs must have been convinced the exemption was necessary because every compromise makes the law less effective. If assault rifles and semi-automatics with large magazines were simply illegal in non-military hands in this country, police could confiscate them on sight. Now they will need to find out whether the person in possession is an authorised pest controller or a collector.
Every exemption enables the weapons to remain on sale and perpetuates the risk they will get into the wrong hands. Gun lobbyists argue this will happen anyway. They believe bans are ineffective because only law-abiding gun owners will obey them. On that reasoning nothing would be illegal. In fact the law can make a clear statement and people flout it at their peril.
This bill will deem the owner of any land, building or vehicle where an illegal firearm is found to be in possession of it unless they can prove otherwise. The Government is still working out the terms of a possible buy-back scheme and later it will look, yet again, at a register of guns as well as licensed owners. That, too, should be an easy decision now.
It is wrong that police have no idea how many of any type of firearm there are in the country. No matter how many are surrendered in the amnesty to September, we will not know how many more might be out there. But if they appear they will be seized. It should make a difference.