Gun control in New Zealand is one of those issues that has the same arguments as in other countries but without the same level of hype.

I saw a post recently showing that in 12 months the United Kingdom had suffered eight shooting deaths while the US had more than 10,000. On the news this week I have heard those promoting less change to firearms registration called manic zealots — yet they bear no resemblance to the National Rifle Association of America.

Our biggest problem is that the horse has bolted in terms of registering all firearms to the present day because, when New Zealand went to registering firearms owners instead of firearms, the register held by police "disappeared". There was no going back.

This doesn't mean we shouldn't start registering firearms now, but let's be clear about what it will achieve. That is where the next argument starts.

Advertisement

.

Feral rabbits provide justification for semi-automatic .22 rifles. Photo / File
Feral rabbits provide justification for semi-automatic .22 rifles. Photo / File

A new registration scheme can only capture those acting within the law and not the baddies. But of course, many firearms used in crime would be captured on a register because occasionally good people do dumb things and criminal things with firearms.
Also, most criminals source their firearms from burglaries of the homes and workplaces of legitimate and legal gun owners.

A register may not stop the crime, but it helps in location of the firearms, post-event, and the investigation of the crime, meaning perpetrators of gun crime are more swiftly brought to justice.

I have no trouble at all with outlawing military-style semi-automatic weapons.
I feel less inclined to support the banning of sporting semi-automatics of calibre higher than .22 calibre because there is a genuine reason why some people legitimately own and use these firearms to control animals such as feral goats and pigs. A farmer wanting to clear his land of feral goats cannot shoot them in the required numbers with a .22. The argument for semi-automatic .22 rifles — the need to exterminate rabbits — surely also applies to goats.

I do have an issue with police acting as the sole gatekeepers on who gets to keep and who gets to lose firearms licences. I have seen numerous cases where, because of a domestic dispute that may or may not involve family violence, an allegation has been made against a licensed firearms owner.

Allegations are very hard to disprove, especially when made by a spouse. Once a firearms licence has been removed, it can be very difficult and almost always expensive to get it back. The risk aversion of police is such that they deny the return of many licences. The law is at the end of the police officer's tongue.

Chester Borrows
Chester Borrows

We have seen the "give them and inch and they take a mile" attitude with new legislation on lots of occasions, such as traffic legislation, alcohol sale, distribution and enforcement, driver licensing, bail applications and conditions.

Ask any 70-year-old who had a minor crash and the police have offered not to prosecute on condition the driver surrenders his or her licence. This creates a huge inconvenience for the older person without any investigation as to cause and effect of the crash.

Advertisement

Then there are arguments that nobody in New Zealand needs a firearm. Well, we don't live in a jungle surrounded by man-eating beasts, but we do have legitimate and lawful reasons for gun ownership. In removing that well controlled and regulated freedom, rational, valid — and not knee-jerk — justification must be provided.

The Police Association has called upon the Leader of the Opposition not to play politics with this issue, yet historically that organisation has been among the best at playing politics of all the unions. And the decision made will be made by politicians in a political environment. Most of the Labour-held seats have the least gun ownership and the vast majority of National-held seats the most gun ownership.

Of course, politics, as with all issues debated on the floor of our parliamentary chamber, will play a part.

Whether or not those politics can be put aside by parliamentarians, public servants and especially the thin blue line remains to be seen.

•Chester Borrows served as Whanganui MP for 12 years and as a minister in the National Government. He is chairman of the Justice Reform Advisory Group, a lawyer and a former policeman