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First reading: Arms (Prohibited Firearms, Magazines and Parts) Amendment Bill

Mr Speaker, as we meet today New Zealand is under a terror threat level of HIGH.

As we meet today, Police are routinely carrying firearms, Bushmaster rifles and Glock pistols, in a significant departure from normal practice.

As we meet today, mosques around the country require heightened security measures and a visible Police presence to ensure safety of worshippers.

As we meet today, the largest criminal investigation in New Zealand history is underway.

Dozens of specialist Police investigators, supported by Australian Federal and State Police, are following up concerns about a number of high risk individuals.

As we meet today, a number of people are before the courts for trying to promote hateful publications and videos of death; for unlawfully possessing weapons; for making threats against our citizens, and, for murder.

Mr Speaker, as we meet today we are driven by one objective.

We are driven by the need to ensure public safety is as strong as it can be.

We are also driven by the memory of fifty men, women and children who were taken from their loved ones on 15 March.

Their memory is our responsibility.

We don’t ever want to see an attack like this in our country again.

We are compelled to act quickly.

The Prime Minister announced the morning after the attacks that gun laws must change.

That now falls to us as individual MPs, and to the whole Parliament.

I am grateful for the support of colleagues across the Chamber.

The attacks in Christchurch exposed the considerable weaknesses in our current firearms law.

The most critical weakness in our firearms law is that too many people have legal access to too many semi-automatic firearms capable of causing significant harm. 

The current Act is not fit for purpose

The current Arms Act has a legal definition for military style semi-automatics or MSSAs that is easily circumvented and is difficult in practice to apply.

There are 7,500 firearms licence holders who between them possess approximately 14,000 MSSA firearms. 

Many more have semi-automatic firearms in a so-called sporting configuration and are easily converted to a MSSA.

Far too many people in this country have access to these dangerous firearms for no legitimate purpose, but at significant risk to the public.

However, more broadly than this, too many people have legal access to the parts and magazines that, in a single change, can easily convert a semi-automatic firearm into a lethal MSSA, which then has the capacity kill many people very quickly.

So today, we are debating legislation that will substantively tighten the current open and easy access to semi-automatic firearms, to make our country a safer place.

Our current firearms legislation came into force 35 years ago.

It dates from the 1980s, a time when New Zealand was more isolated from the rest of the world.

There were strong import controls and no internet market place or social media.

Since this time, firearms technology has shifted, the weapons market has become global and there is a significant online community and trading environment.

To bring the firearms legislation more up to date and substantially reduce loopholes and risk, major change is needed.

This Bill takes the first steps to modernise the Act.

Banning of assault rifles and MSSAs

It will restrict access to the number of assault rifles and MSSAs, associated parts, and large capacity magazines in New Zealand.

We want to remove firearms that are capable of causing the death and devastation we witnessed on 15 March.

We are also banning parts of a prohibited firearm, or any part that can enable a weapon to be fired as a semi-automatic or fully automatic firearm.

There are legitimate uses for firearms

It is important to reiterate the legislation is not directed at law-abiding firearms owners who have legitimate uses for their guns.

Our actions are instead directed at making sure March 15 never happens again.

Semi-automatic firearms which are commonly used for hunting, pest control, stock management on farms, and duck shooting will not be affected.

People can still use .22 calibre rifle with a maximum 10-round magazine, and semi-automatic and pump-action shotgun with a maximum 5-round magazine.

These firearms are widely and safely used amongst our farming and hunting communities.

Indeed today the Game Animal Council has confirmed that recreational and commercial hunting of large game animals, such as deer, pig, tahr and chamois, will be largely unaffected.

There will be a small number of tightly controlled exemptions for professional animal cullers and licensed firearms dealers.

Those groups or individuals identified as “management agencies” in section 100 of the Biosecurity Act, can apply to the Commissioner of Police for a permit to possess a prohibited firearm. 

This will include the sort of pest control work undertaken by contractors for the Department of Conservation or a local council.

Those applying will need to demonstrate they will only use the firearm for that purpose stated, and must demonstrate that they cannot do the work with any other firearm.

I know already that Federated Farmers and professional animal control groups would like to ensure that applies to pest control on private land too, and the Select Committee will take advice on that.

While these types of semi-automatics do not present the same level of risk to the public as MSSAs, nevertheless they can cause harm.

We have already signalled that we will be doing further work on strengthening the Arms Act in a future Amendment Bill, including the criteria around who can get a firearms licence.

The Bill also proposes an exemption for bona fide collectors, including Museums, and for film and theatre companies.

They must take steps to disable the weapon and follow other guidelines around security and safety, including storage.

Mr Speaker, the exemptions I have described come with considerable checks and balances around them.

Owning a firearm is a privilege, not a right.

We need to remove the most dangerous weapons from our community.

New offences

The Bill proposes the introduction of a number of new offences.

This includes possessing, using, presenting, supplying, selling, manufacturing and assembling a banned firearm.

The offences attract penalties ranging from up to 3 years imprisonment to 10 years imprisonment, depending on the nature and seriousness of the offence. 

We know this law change will have an impact on law-abiding firearms licence holders.

That’s why we have confirmed details of the amnesty, and are working on fair and reasonable compensation through a buyback scheme.

Amnesty

There are good people in all of our communities who will find themselves in possession of banned firearms, parts and magazines.

This is because we are changing the law, not because these people have done anything wrong.

Given this, the Government is putting an amnesty in place.

This will allow people to let the Police know if they are in possession of newly banned firearm, part or magazine.

The Amnesty also means any other firearm, magazine, parts and ammunition not affected by the ban can also be handed over.

Police are already working with the NZ Defence Force around storage, transport and safe destruction of these weapons.

The Government recognises that people have invested money in these firearms.

Running alongside the amnesty, the Government will implement a buyback scheme for the newly banned firearms which are surrendered.

The Government is currently working on the details of the buy-back scheme and will make announcements shortly.

The underlying principle is that fair and reasonable compensation will be paid.

It will take into account the age and type of weapon, and the market value. It is estimated it will cost between $100 million and $200 million.

This range is wide because we do not have an accurate picture of how many of these weapons are out there.

We recognise it is a substantial amount of money but we are committed to doing this.

We will find the money to do this because it’s about making New Zealanders safe.

We will remove these guns from our communities

The Government is taking action

Mr Speaker, the primary duty of Government is to ensure the safety and wellbeing of its citizens; and to allow them the ability to go about their lives free from harm and free from the fear of harm.

The select committee process will be used to ensure we have got the balance right between legitimate use of firearms, and tightening gun laws to improve the safety and security of all New Zealanders.

Just before I close I also want to pay tribute to the brave, compassionate and dedicated women and men of the New Zealand Police service.

Over the past few weeks they have shown why we have one of the best Police services in the world.

Our thoughts remain with our Muslim communities and the people of Christchurch.

We are doing this for them. We are doing this for our future generations.

It is our responsibility.