An Opinion by Rob McMillan
There needs to be accountability around how police issued a firearms licence to Brenton Tarrant – the Australian who is charged with, on March 15, 2019, the murder of 51 people, 40 counts of attempted murder and one terrorism charge in New Zealand’s deadliest peace time mass shooting.
When is the cop (or cops) responsible for granting a firearms licence to that mosque killer going to be charged with his criminal offences and drummed out of the force in disgrace?” And you can forget about any golden handshakes too.
But hen who am I to comment, apart from being a taxpayer and a New Zealand citizen?
Well for years I was an active competitor in “action” shooting in many parts of New Zealand with semi-automatic rifle, shotgun and pistol under the (correctly) quite pernickerty safety control of the Pistol Association.
I was never the top scorer but always among the first half dozen in a national contest. The top guys used optical sights and usually compensators to keep the muzzle steady whereas I always used a standard gun with open sights (my choice). I was one of the founders of the Haywards range in the Hutt Valley.
I worked full-time at Police National Headquarters in Molesworth Street for three or four years, wrote the Arms Code, wrote and produced the training film used for years during the testing of applicants for the firearms licence, was on the team that introduced firearms licensing in New Zealand and spent every opportunity to fire many of the firearms from the vast collection maintained by the police armourers as a resource against which any projectile used in a crime could be tested for identification. At that stage we used a range at the old Air Force base at Shelly Bay.
While on the firearms licensing set-up team I met every arms officer operating in the police throughout New Zealand at that time. Mostly they were old cops with a lot of experience in their work and they had a lot of useful information and advice to pass on. They were all brought together, several times, for discussions and instruction on how the licensing system would operate. The leader of our police team was Chief Inspector Alister McCallum.
Certainly never a policeman myself, I had known many police over the years while working on court and police rounds with newspapers in New Zealand and overseas.
In general I was impressed with the quality of New Zealand police and came to have a high regard for many I worked with or knew at Police National Headquarters.
However, I was not impressed by police in general regarding their knowledge, or use, of firearms. At least 50 per cent of the older cops were vociferous about what they blindly believed to be the essential nature of a register of every firearm. At that point (1983/84) New Zealand had had registration of every firearm for more than 50 years.
The register had been maintained by each of the 17 or so police districts and it was a hopeless mess.
Further, the register had never in all those years been responsible for identifying a single criminal user of a firearm.
There is another major problem with a register. It will be the frosty Friday when criminals queue up to have their firearms, however obtained, registered.
And it is a rare criminal (apart from Brenton Tarrant) who will bother to apply for a licence.
I note that Canada has given up on the firearms register they introduced in recent years at incredible expense, having discovered – surprise, surprise! – that it just did not work. The Canadians were calling it “a boondoggle,” which is probably not complimentary.
Besides those in New Zealand who agonised back in 1983 over not having a useless register of firearms most of the remainder of police members did not like firearms, were not regular shooters and I felt, many were unsafe with firearms, largely through lack of familiarity and practice.
An example – one of the diplomatic protection squad, for instance, loosed a pistol shot through the side of an aircraft he was boarding.
This is not to say all cops are hopeless with pistols because I know some who are excellent, although they are rare.
The use of rifles in built-up areas is really a no-no, even with special care, yet recently we have seen police, whose experience I would generally doubt very strongly, being armed with semi-automatic rifles in towns. Further, the use of a pistol really requires fairly constant practice to hit your mark accurately, consistently and with safety.
I would like to see work on the pistol range once a week before letting people loose with a pistol. Police get to fire on a pistol range fairly rarely. Once a year? Maybe.
The shambles police firearms licensing has become in recent years is disgraceful, besides being criminally dangerous when they licence and arm people like Brenton Tarrant who let loose in a couple of mosques in Christchurch.
I repeat the question that needs to be asked loudly, and repeatedly and answered, when is the cop (or cops) responsible for licensing that mosque killer going to be charged with his criminal offences and drummed out of the force in disgrace?
© Canada tried a gun registry and gave up, discovering like several other nations that attempting to identify every gun in the country is an expensive and ultimately unproductive exercise. Criminals, of course, don’t register their guns. A Canadian big game hunter pictured.