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The Way Forward
The Need for a New Approach

Standing back from the specific issues it is clear that there is a need for a totally new approach to firearms control. As this has now been accepted by the Police, the issues are the manner and timing of reform, not the need for it.

The Main Proposals for Reform

There are limits to the ability of statutes or regulations to reduce the misuse of firearms. In the long term, promoting responsible attitudes to gun use and ownership will undoubtedly play as important a part in reducing misuse as changing the formal system of gun controls. But a well-designed system can help to encourage responsible attitudes, and to achieve a number of other useful objectives which will ultimately have an effect on firearm misuse. The report proposes a considerable number of reforms designed to further three main objectives:
  • Reducing the number of high-risk licensees;
  • Increasing personal responsibility for firearms; and
  • Reducing the availability of firearms for misuse.
Reducing the Number of High-Risk Licensees

This was the main thrust behind the 1983 Act, and remains a sound objective. The report recommends that the current process be improved by:
  • disqualifying unsuitable persons from holding licenses for defined periods of time; [Part 6.1.4]
  • improving the vetting of licence applicants; [Part 6.1.4]
  • giving health professionals power to report their concerns about individuals with poor mental health who may have access to firearms - without fear of penalty. [Part 6.1.5]
Increasing Personal Responsibility for Firearms

Most shooters in New Zealand currently exhibit a responsible attitude to their firearms and their sport. This can be further encouraged by:
  • a firearm-specific licensing system and the registration of all firearms; [Part 6.2.1]
  • practical training of shooters; [Part 6.2.2]
  • publicity and educational programmes to emphasise the responsibilities attached to firearms
  • setting responsible patterns of use by children. [Part 6.3.1]
The most controversial of these measures is likely to be the registration of individual firearms and firearm-specific licensing. The latter is the system used in Western Australia which generally permits shooters to use only those firearms listed on their individual licenses.

Much time was spent investigating the practicality and benefits of registration, which received support from a wide range of people, including many shooters, but was hotly opposed by those who challenged the usefulness of closer controls. In the end the report concludes that the reasons which led to the abandonment of firearm registration in 1983 no longer present compelling obstacles in 1997. Not only have technology and methods of administration moved forward since then, but experience has shown that the alternative of total reliance on personal vetting does not meet the reasonable needs of our society.

In addition, the benefits of a well-run registration system should be sufficient to justify the estimated additional cost of $2M per annum. The principal benefit would be greater personal responsibility for firearms. Each firearm owner would know that he or she was responsible and accountable for those firearms listed on his or her licence. If he or she wanted to allow others the use of those firearms, other dm under direct supervision, this would require a joint registration or a temporary permit. Firearms stolen or used in crime, and later recovered, could be traced to their owners. Selling or lending a firearm to an unlicensed person would carry with it a risk of detection much greater than under the present system.

Registration would also provide more information about firearm ownership for management and policy decision-making, assistance in solving crimes, and better protection for front-line police when attending incidents involving firearms.

If this new system is to succeed it will be essential that an adequate level of compliance is achieved-and 90 percent should be the minimum target. Considerable energy and commitment will be needed to achieve this. Measures to that end should include:
  • modern, efficient and user-friendly management; [Part 6.4];
  • government funding of the establishment costs; [Part 6.2.1]
  • the involvement of firearms users in the planning processes; [Parts 6.2.1 and 7]
  • technical systems to enhance the integrity of the registration database; [Part 6.2.1] and
  • effective publicity and educational programmes. [Part 6.3.7]
Reducing the Availability of Firearms for Misuse

The Review does not support broad programmes to reduce the numbers of firearms and shooters, but does support targeted measures to limit high-risk firearms. These include:
  • banning MSSAS, with compensation for their owners; [Part 6.1.1]
  • preventing major increases in the numbers of handguns: [Part 6.1.1]
  • permanently deactivating restricted weapons; [Part 6.1.1]
  • regular amnesties; [Part 6.1.2] and
  • higher minimum standards of security in homes and dealers' premises. [Part 6.1.3]
The most high-profile of these measures is likely to be the ban and buy-back of military style firearms. The proposed ban is narrower in scope than that in Australia. and is estimated to cost $2.1M. The Review concludes that, on balance, the Government's money would be better spent developing an efficient Authority to manage firearms control than on buying back a broader class of weapons.

The other measure which will affect many shooters directly is the proposal to revise security conditions to provide four grades of security, proportionate to the risk involved in the type and number of firearms being secured and the extent of public access. It is suggested that details of the new rules be worked out by a special committee of persons with appropriate expertise, after consulting user groups. The changes are likely to result in additional cost for many shooters. However the Review found that from the lowest to the highest areas of risk, there was an unacceptable laxity in the present arrangements, and has recommended higher standards of security, to be set out in simple and clear terms, and regularly monitored. [Part 6.1.3]

Who Should Implement the Reforms?

Much of the business of firearms administration requires database management skills and other skills which are uncommon within the police organisation and not part of core police business. This points clearly to contracting out registration, licensing and fees collection to people with expertise in these areas.

More fundamentally, the Review concludes that it would be difficult for the Police to change the attitudes which have time and again led them to defer arms work until other responsibilities were met, or to implement major changes with the energy and enthusiasm which successful implementation must require. The pressures of other work on the Police are at least as great today as on any of the previous occasions when competing pressures operated to displace the reasonable needs of arms control. For all these reasons, the report favours setting up a Firearms Authority, either on a permanent basis, or with a five-year sunset clause.

The long-term method of firearms administration is a matter for the Government. Whichever arrangement it may prefer, the reform process should be managed by a body which is not part of, nor controlled by, the Police. A special-purpose Authority with the sole objective of advancing firearms control should provide:
  • informed management of firearms administration by persons with skills appropriate to that business;
  • separate accountability for its performance;
  • ongoing monitoring and research into firearms regulation;
  • a customer-service orientation; and
  • the better use of modem technology to improve effectiveness. [Parts 6.4 and 6.3.7]
Around the world concern about firearms is growing, and evolving. There is continuing discussion within the "public health" community on the subject of firearms control. The UN Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice is actively promoting measures to limit arms trafficking and to strengthen domestic gun control systems. The proposed Authority will need to keep abreast of those developments, and take advantage of the experience of others who are pursuing similar goals. In particular we should be able to get useful assistance from the reforms proceeding in all the Australian States, which involve changes to a wide variety of pre-Port Arthur systems.

Reform of firearms law must take time, and can best be advanced by a staged programme of reforms. As more base data becomes available, and as overseas developments unfold, it will be possible to refine and develop the options proposed in the Review.

First Steps Towards Comprehensive Reform

As the first steps towards comprehensive reform, the report recommends that the Government:
  • establish a Firearms Authority as soon as practicable, and not later than 31 December 1997;
  • allocate additional resources to complete current re-licensing and the follow up of non-responders by 30 June 1998;
  • declare a general amnesty for a period of 12 months commencing at the earliest convenient date;
  • determine the extent of any ban and buy-back, and authorise the new Authority to manage it over an appropriate period in 1998; and
  • direct the new Authority to assist in the drafting of new firearms legislation based on the Review's recommendations by 31 December 1998, with the intention of bringing a new Act into force by 1 July 1999.
Longer-term developments

Longer-term development of effective controls will need:
  • the collection of sound data about the numbers, use and misuse of firearms in this country, a task attempted, but only partly completed, by this Review;
  • the definition of detailed reforms which relate to that information;
  • the management of the reform process by an Authority having the reduction of misuse of firearms as its principal purpose and objective; and
  • the citizens of New Zealand, shooters and non-shooters alike, being satisfied:
    that the present level of misuse of firearms should not be accepted; and
  • that while there is no ground for expecting that closer controls will provide an immediate and major reduction in firearms misuse, they are a necessary step towards that goal. [Part 7]



Back to Thorp Review of Firearms Control in NZ Index
 

Standing back from the specific issues it is clear that there is a need for a totally new approach to firearms control

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