Joining the Criminal Class
Many of us use a shotgun to keep the birds off the grapes or take a rifle along on a cathartic hike in the hills after a stag when vintage is over, but the tragic events of March 15 have turned many of us into criminals. Paul Taggart takes a look at how our politicians are tragically inadequate.
My transition from relatively well adjusted middle-aged bloke to grumpy old man was fairly sudden. It happened soon after the Christchurch mosques tragedies in March.
The events of that day were utterly appalling and, as a consequence, anything and everything the government did in the aftermath was off limits to criticism, for fear of somehow being seen as less than supportive of the bereaved.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s stocks were boosted enormously by her response, and for a few weeks it was as if we were ruled by a messiah. But opportunists were quickly at work, as such events provide fertile ground for those with agendas.
After the worst terrorism of this century, the 9/11 attacks, the United States lashed out in a number of directions, with the invasion of Iraq being the most controversial.
Those who fail to learn from history are condemned to repeat it, said Winston Churchill. Jacinda Ardern worked as a policy advisor for Tony Blair, who followed George W Bush into Iraq so she, more than most, should know to take a breath before reacting.
But after March 15 our prime minister did exactly what President Bush did – she hit out at a target that did not deserve to feel her lash.
And that’s where my personal beef comes in. Since my teenage years I have been a licensed firearms owner; first in Britain then in New Zealand after emigrating here in my 20s. I am not a particularly active shooter and have never owned a military style semi-automatic (MSSA).
I’ve always understood it is my right to have a firearms licence unless the police showed there was just cause why I should not. Being of sound mind and never having been a wife beater, I felt I was fairly safe.
In fact, my criminal record is cleaner than police commissioner Mike Bush’s, as he is a convicted drunk driver. Kiwi drunk drivers can’t get a visa to enter Canada, yet we have one running our police force. You have to wonder. Also sitting at the police top table is Willy Haumaha, who has been accused of belittling and humiliating women.
So two men proven to have poor judgment were probably advising the prime minister, and collectively they approved new legislation that means that I, after 40 years as a licensed firearms owner in two countries, have suddenly become a criminal. The reason that has occurred is because politicians of all stripes were told that MSSAs are evil and should be confiscated from all owners and destroyed, as that was the type of firearm used in the Christchurch shootings. I’m not getting into that debate, because I have mixed views on MSSAs. However, between politicians’ calls for an MSSA ban and the law being drafted, all sorts of extra stuff was slipped into the bill. By whom isn’t clear.
The extra clauses and amendments mean that innocuous firearms from Winchester cowboy guns dating from the 1880s, some duck shooters’ shotguns and my deer rifle are now illegal.
My Browning rifle has a magazine that holds four rounds and has a floor-plate that prevents it having a large-capacity magazine inserted. It is a semi-automatic designed for deer hunting and has been popular for decades with left-handed people like me who, for many years, had limited choices in bolt-action rifles.
And yet, because the law change was rushed through before there was any opportunity for many people to read or absorb it, or question its utter stupidity, I am now left with a choice. I have to hand in my rifle, to have it crushed (or possibly stolen from a police station), or I face seven years behind bars.
Another burr under my saddle is the PR spin that has surrounded this issue. One example – when police were talking about the guns they were keen to confiscate they were “weapons” – as in weapons of war, even when they were referring to sporting rifles or shotguns. When eleven were stolen from a Palmerston North police station, they then became the much less aggressive “firearms”.
Politicians were appalling in the way they pushed legislation through at breakneck pace while riding a wave of public disgust after the shootings. Some were more appalling than others.
Judith Collins sank to a remarkable low when she attacked a submitter to the select committee personally over a past conviction overseas, which was nothing to do with the matter in hand. The battle had already been won, the select committee was a charade, the law was going to pass, so her performance for the cameras was shameless self-promotion.
Hearing police minister Stuart Nash say with apparent glee in a TV interview that those who failed to obey the new law would be jailed for seven years was probably the turning point for me in my transition to grumpy old man. What a stupid person Nash is.
We all know that real criminals often don’t go to jail, even when they commit serious offences and when the law allows for substantial sentences.
Hearing him spouting off about owning a firearm being a privilege not a right was also irritating. He was wrong in his assertion, but even if he had been correct – what gives him the arrogance to terminate my privileges after 40 years of faultless firearms
Minister of Justice Andrew Little has been calling for the jail gates to be flung open and thirty percent of serious criminals to be let loose to offend again. But people like me – with fewer convictions than the police commissioner – could now be filling those cells, and spending the next seven years feeding the pigs and listening to the guards slurping Slushies at Christchurch Men’s Prison. Then there is the firearms buy-back. The cost will be massive and may not make the slightest difference to public safety.
There are areas where the same amount of money would, without question, save lives – Pharmac is one. Being the widower of a victim of breast cancer myself, seeing women being forced to sell their family homes to travel overseas for drug treatments that are unavailable in New Zealand hurts me deeply.
The prime minister can snap her fingers and let the children, parents and grandparents of those who were at the mosques at the time of the shooting flood in to New Zealand, provide them with houses, benefits and healthcare, with no thought as to the cost to our country, yet she turns a blind eye while Kiwi women die for lack of a few thousand dollars for cutting-edge cancer drugs.
So, I’m unhappy. I’m grumpy at the government and disappointed at the opposition – who forgot their purpose is to oppose, or at the very least question. Saddened too with the police who used a tragedy to achieve a goal they couldn’t achieve through the courts or through the political system in more normal times.