After the fatal shooting of police Sergeant Don Wilkinson, probably with a high-powered air rifle, Police Commissioner Howard Broad has stated that he will review the Arms Act. Currently air rifles can be purchased by anyone over the age of 18 (or 16 with a gun licence), even though some now are as powerful as hunting rifles. The fact that you cannot buy a .22 rifle or ammunition without a gun licence, but can buy an air rifle of equivalent power without one, is an inconsistency that is worth looking into.
But would tightening up the firearms regulations actually do any good? If air rifles were restricted, would Don Wilkinson be alive today? Probably not.
When police raided the house he was investigating, and a bank safe associated with it, they found three pistols and ammunition. Pistols are restricted class B weapons – you need a firearms licence, with a pistol endorsement (B endorsement), you must be a member of a pistol club and attend at least 12 meetings of the pistol club annually, you require a permit to procure from the police before you can buy one, and you can only take the pistol between your home, the club and a gun dealer. These are heavily restricted weapons, yet they had three of them.
These criminals had no difficulty aquiring weapons. Had air rifles been restricted, Sergeant Wilkinson would have been shot with something else.
Furthermore, the current law works both ways. The same law that allowed these criminals to buy their air rifle, allowed Christchurch dairy owner Nike to purchase the air pistol that he used to defend himself and his wife against two knife-wielding robbers last month. In this case, this same law could well have saved two lives. At the time, much of the public seemed to fully support his right to have an air pistol and defend himself, and criticised the Police for confiscating his pistol and saying he had acted inappropriately. Now, another high profile incident one month later could persuade the same people to want to change the law that allowed him to do this.
We must remember the full facts, and not jump to a hasty conclusion from any one incident, however regrettable.
To prevent this happening in future, there are three main things we can do:
- Strengthen families, reducing the number of wayward youth that are attracted into gangs and drugs in the first place.
- Focus police resources on conquering the P epidemic, which is behind this shooting.
- Equip police with the tools they need to do their jobs. If Sergeant Wilkinson had been armed himself, he may not have died.
But tightening up the regulations too far (beyond the possibly logical step of putting rifles of the same power under the same regulations for consistency) will not harm the gangs at all – they are already capable of obtaining restricted weapons. There are hundreds of thousands of guns in the country already, a large proportion of which are owned by unlicenced owners – I am not saying that is ok, it is just the reality. Tightening up the regulations would however reduce the ability of people such as dairy owners to defend themselves, and therefore play into the hands of the gangs.
Tightening the regulations in this way would be a feel-good but completely useless act, similar to merging the MOT with the Police in the past, banning gang patches, and the current proposal to merge the Serious Fraud Office with the police. We need to focus on real solutions, rather than political meddling.
Check out the Family Party official response to this incident, written by Richard Lewis, a former South Auckland police sergeant and the leader of the Family Party.