What are the police-run gun confiscation events really like?
By Paul Taggart
An interesting WineNZ fact is that the most read story in the magazine since it was founded nearly quarter of a century ago, wasn’t about wine.
In the winter issue this year I wrote an opinion piece on the government’s rushed new gun laws, introduced following the tragedies in Christchurch in March. The article was viewed on the WineNZ website more than 20,000 times on the first day and the numbers just went up from there.
Confiscation of formerly legal firearms is now well underway and will continue until the end of the year. After that, the minister of police has gleefully vowed to start throwing licensed firearm owners in jail for five years.
Like most Kiwi gun owners I recognize Stuart Nash’s threats as political bluster, but there is a risk of a knock on the door and subsequent conviction for those who don’t comply with the new legislation, however poorly thought out and hastily implemented it was.
Therefore, like many others, I recently did what had to be done and handed in my semi-automatic Browning hunting rifle even though it, and I, have never been and never would have been a threat to anyone.
There have been calls from some gun folk to hold off handing in now-banned rifles and shotguns until closer to the December deadline, or until the opportunity exists to hand them in to gunshops, not to swaggering young policemen wielding their own semi-automatics at police-organized events, and I understand that thinking.
I opted for a police event at a Christchurch bowls club, mainly to see if the process was actually as awful as some have reported on social media.
The people running the sausage sizzle were pleasant community minded folk and were lovely. The civilians doing the processing were polite and professional. The guy dealing with me even expressed some empathy as he was aware my rifle was not a military style semi-automatic, which is what the confiscation legislation was actually aimed at. My gun just had the bad fortune to be caught up in poor legislation that was approved too quickly by low-wattage MPs.
For those of a technical bent, one small example of how silly some parts of the new law are can be read in the box on the opposite page.
What irks me even more than the obvious failings of the legislation is police arrogance and an unwillingness to admit there may be flaws with the way they operate.
An example of this – from another firearms-related incident – was evident after two police officers left their police car unlocked in Gore, with the ignition key and the gun safe’s key still inside the vehicle.
After a Benny Hill-style chase after a criminal around a house, the offender hopped in the patrol car and drove off, helping himself to a couple of police pistols for good measure.
The most hilarious part was the comment of deputy police commissioner Mike Clement after the incident. He said that police would be having meetings to see if leaving the keys in patrol cars was “best practice going forward”.
Seriously. They’ll be having meetings to see if it is a good idea to leave the keys to the ignition and the gun safe inside an unlocked car when it is unattended. How on earth did he make it past constable?
The police union shop steward was equally hopeless. Chris Cahill said, “it could have happened to any officer”.
Really – they are all that stupid?
Wouldn’t it be nice if a top cop would just deal with the incompetence and simply say – “We messed up, the officer who left the keys in the car has been sacked and he/she will have to pay the cost of flying all the extra staff in to Gore to try to find the missing pistols”.
How come the police is the only organisation in the country where the union still runs the business? It is as if the commissioner of police is drunk at the wheel. Sorry, asleep at the wheel.
But I digress. The civilian staff at the confiscation event were pleasant, the sausage sizzle people were sound, the only problem was – you’ve guessed it – the police.
I don’t know how long it takes for new recruits to develop the police mind set. I don’t mean the unusual language “Proceed in a northerly direction to a chair where you will be assisted by an officer of the female persuasion”.
It is the bad attitude. I made the mistake of taking a selfie on my phone to show my daughters I was doing the right thing turning in my rifle. There was no one else recognisable in the frame and I thought nothing of it.
I understand why there would be a ban on photography at these events, to protect gun owners’ privacy. However, the only gun owner in the picture was me – and I had my own permission to take the picture.
Next minute I was pounced on by a big, skinhead police officer, with my alleged offence being unauthorised photography.
When I explained I wasn’t committing an offence as I was entitled to take a picture in a public place – which the bowling club is – he came up with the suggestion he could expel me from the bowling club because the police (he should have said the taxpayer) was paying for the building for the day, so it was their property, or some such nonsense.
His wee brain then computed that I wasn’t allowed to leave with my rifle, which hadn’t been processed, so throwing me out might not be straightforward. So he settled for eyeballing me like a schoolyard bully, made a strange snorting noise from his nostrils, not dissimilar to my schnauzer when the next door neighbour’s cat slips past him, and stumped off to find someone else to try to frighten. Too much testosterone and too few brain cells, I suspected.
I did wonder at one stage during the mild confrontation if his Taser would be deployed, and wondered how my aging carcase would cope with 50,000 volts. Thankfully it didn’t come to that.
Why do they behave in that way? He wasn’t in the police drunk tank on a Saturday night. These were all civilised people who had been vetted to own firearms and were, therefore, among the most law-abiding folk in the land. A polite, “Hi, sorry but we don’t allow photography in here, thanks” would have resolved the issue.
It is all well and good for the police to pay for a sausage sizzle so they can pretend to be family friendly at these events, but if the police staff present are neanderthal idiots who think they’re constantly dealing with gang members or drug dealers, then there is little wonder not many people have been turning up to surrender their guns.
I wonder, too, if behaving like that, even with gangs and drug dealers, is the best way for the police to get results. The gang guys probably think as I did, “What a dick”.
After my experience at the confiscation day I’m now firmly of the view that the police are the wrong people to be administering firearms law. Like driving licensing, it needs to be in the hands of civilians – like the guys I dealt with when I actually surrendered my rifle. Smart, young and polite – everything the cop who dealt with me was not.
The difference ¾ of an inch makes
This is technical stuff for nerdy gun people, so please feel free to turn the page.
Sitting on the next table to me at the confiscation event was a young man with a pump-action shotgun. He’d been waiting a couple of hours to hand it in.
The duck gun could hold more than the new legal limit of five cartridges in its tubular magazine, so he assumed it was now illegal.
The police website clearly states a shotgun is now illegal if it has a “non-detachable tubular magazine capable of holding more than five rounds”.
After wandering out the back and doing some tests and taking some advice, a police officer made the ruling that even though the gun could accommodate more than the legal number of standard 2 ¾ inch shotgun shells in its tubular magazine, it was legal because it was also capable of firing three-inch and 3½ inch shells, and it wasn’t capable of accommodating more than five of the longest shells.
So, two virtually identical shotguns – each capable of holding the exact same number of standard 2 ¾ inch shotgun cartridges – the same shells from the same box with exactly the same amount of destructive power; but one gun is legal, the other illegal. The reason – because one says on the side of the gun in tiny print 3½ inch, the other 2 ¾ inch – although the 3½ inch-chambered shotgun works just as well with 2 ¾ inch shells as the 2 ¾ inch chambered gun.
It means that the new law is a bit of a joke. It was written too quickly by people with inadequate understanding of firearms and how they work. If the intent was to limit shotguns to five-round magazines – how come people are being sent home with shotguns capable of holding seven standard rounds in the magazine and one up the spout?
It was a waste of a Saturday morning for the guy sitting next to me, but he was able to head back to the farm in his ute and try to explain to his family why Jacinda didn’t crush his shotgun.
This isn’t the only example of alarmingly moronic quirks in the new legislation, it just happened to be the example that unfolded before my very eyes in Papanui a few weeks back.