Should air rifles be restricted?

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.

Pistols collected after Don Wilkinson shooting - NZ Herald 12/09/08

Pistols collected after Don Wilkinson shooting - NZ Herald 12/09/08

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.

Helen Clark seizes more control

Further to my previous post on Labour making constitutional changes, we just had another major one pushed through. Labour has passed the Police Bill (hat tip: Tumeke!), a bill which is probably well intentioned and has a lot of stuff the police certainly like the sound of.

BUT, this bill also:

  • Lets the Prime Minister appoint the Police Commissioner and Deputy Commissioner
  • Places the Minister of Police under the authority of the Prime Minister

As Bomber says:

Meaning the Police are answerable to the Prime Minister and the Prime Minister hires and fires those who run the policy, it is a closed relationship that does as my co-blogger points out “invites political manipulation, under-performance and ultimately corruption”.

Once again this seems a minor change to law. What is really wrong with the Prime Minister being in charge of the Police? Someone has to and she is democratically elected after all. But when this Act is passed by a Prime Minister who has been investigated by the Police more than any other Prime Minister in the history of the country, who each time have declined to prosecute claiming it is “not in the public interest”, it becomes a bit suspicious.

When it comes at the same time as Labour is planning to abolish the Serious Fraud Office (currently independant of the police and not under the control of the Prime Minister), which is currently investigating the Minister of Foreign Affairs, and move its powers over to the Police (where they would be under the direct control of the Prime Minister now), it becomes still more suspicious.

When it comes after a long string of questionable constitutional changes by Labour, and is rushed in before they leave office, it becomes very worrying.

Now if the Prime Minister were to do something illegal or undemocratic, whether minor (say, speeding or blocking handicapped parks), moderate (such as financial fraud, such as what Mr Peters is currently accused of), or major (such as deciding we aren’t going to have an election after all), who could do anything about it?

  • The Police and the SFO, who could investigate, would be under her control.
  • The court system is under her control (through judicial appointments), and may be unlikely to rule against her.
  • The Governor General would probably not interfere, they are ultimately controlled by the PM.
  • The final safeguard, which you never wish to need, is a military coup. But the military is small and poorly equipped.

I am not suggesting that the current PM will choose not to call an election this year. But we have safeguards around the government for a reason. The more these safeguards are eroded, the more risk we have of some PM, sometime, doing something like this. Hitler was democratically elected, and should be a strong reminder of the need for these safeguards which Labour is systematically removing.