Joe Green is the Lay Pastoral Leader at Wellington South Catholic Parish. As a police inspector he managed arms control 1998–2013. He suggests an evidence-led approach, reflecting Dame Sian Elias’ comment, ‘legislation should be based on solid research, not pious hopes’.
We know ‘it’s not us’ because our history tells us so. The first Arms Code, published in 1969 notes a non-intentional death or injury with firearms on a weekly basis, with one event a month happening in the home environment, often involving children.
Now, there are on average about 10 non-intentional deaths or injuries with a firearm each year; and an incident in the home, especially with children involved, is almost non-existent – three or four cases in the last 20 years.
Until 1983, arms control was based on the registration of firearms. This process was: expensive; inaccurate (66 per cent so in 1973); did little to help solve crime (none of the nine homicide cases in 1981, and in the years 1971–81 only 1.6 offences a year on average); and added little to the safe use and control of firearms – characteristics I have observed in so-called ‘modern’ registration processes in Australia and Canada.
In 1983, New Zealand made a radical change in its arms control regime. Except for pistols and military-style firearms it abandoned the registration system. Individuals are licensed on the basis they demonstrate themselves as fit and proper to possess firearms through a vetting process that is possibly one of the most intrusive in the world.
By law, licence holders have to secure firearms in their possession. The reduction in suicide by young men aged 19–24 years is directly attributed to this requirement. Applicants for a licence are required to undergo safety training and testing.
Violence with a firearm is at low levels compared with international levels. Homicide and suicide where a firearm is involved has reduced significantly over the last 30 years – both are at about 10 per cent.
About 1.4 per cent of violent crime involves a firearm – as Judge Thorp (1997) said, miniscule on
a graph of representation, but each a tragedy.
As we know from recent events, these statistics are not grounds for complacency or a lack of vigilance in terms of the safe use and control of firearms.
In the end, and despite the rhetoric, the pending changes to our gun control laws may not be driven by making New Zealand safer; they may be driven by the need to ‘just do something’. In the face of the evil that happened in Christchurch, it may be the best we can do, other than pray, and pray we certainly did!
Published in WelCom March 2019