This week I voted on Nelson’s behalf for tighter gun laws. It has triggered the wrath from some gun enthusiasts. I have no regrets. It is the right response to the atrocity in Christchurch that saw the loss of so many innocent lives.
Some critics have argued it is National’s job to oppose, but I disagree. Our job is to challenge where we honestly believe the Government is doing the country harm. It is good that parliament has united in response to this grotesque attack.
I do not claim that these new gun laws will prevent all mass killings. Terrorists can commit their atrocities by hijacking planes, making bombs out of chemicals or driving vehicles into crowds. The problem with semi-automatic weapons is that they are specifically designed to kill. This murderer committed this atrocity here rather than in Australia in part because our gun laws were more lax.
The vast bulk of the 5,000 firearm owners in Nelson and Tasman are responsible law abiding citizens who quite legitimately use their guns for recreation, sport and pest control. I do not believe sports people need the sort of military style AR15 weapons used in the Christchurch attacks to enjoy their hunting. The new law does provide exemptions for those who really need semi-automatics such as for pest control.
Critics claim we should just focus on filtering out those who misuse firearms. The last major parliamentary debate on gun laws was after the Aramoana tragedy that killed 14 people in 1990. A local constituent and farmer berated me over the proposed changes then saying they just penalized law abiding gun owners like him who did no harm. Three years later he lost the plot, fatally shooting his wife, farm worker and himself.
There is clear evidence internationally that tighter gun laws save lives. The rate of gun deaths per 100,000 people ranges from 12 in the US, to two in Canada to one in New Zealand and 0.2 in the UK. Australia has a lower rate than New Zealand and it halved after the John Howard government introduced tough laws in response to the Port Arthur massacre.
There are three areas where I take a slightly different view to the Government. Providing only two days for public submissions was too short. We need details of the buyback scheme so Parliament can ensure it is fair. The bill should also include the tougher provisions National has promoted in a members bill targeting gang gun violence.
New Zealand prides itself on being a safe and peaceful country. I love that our police are not routinely armed. It is unique that a Minister or MP like me can go to the Nelson market without security every Saturday with my caravan to meet constituents. I like that when we hear a bang in our neighbourhood we assume it is a car backfiring. These new gun restrictions are about reducing risk and reasserting our relaxed kiwi way of life.