David Seymour: Why I oppose the gun reforms

OPINION: It's only human in times of crisis to seek strong leadership and decisive action. George W Bush stood on the rubble of the World Trade Centre on 9/11 and said, "I can hear you, the rest of the world can hear you, and the people who knocked these buildings down will hear all of us soon." 

People in Iraq and Afghanistan are still hearing the aftermath of the invasions that followed.

Perhaps the reason that our Prime Minister has been feted around the world is that she chose a different leadership style. 

Especially when world politics is dominated by divisive demagogues, her style of recognising the common humanity of all New Zealanders attracted well-deserved praise. 

However, the Government's approach to gun legislation has been diametrically opposed to that leadership style.

By banning all semi-automatic weapons, the Prime Minister made legal owners of such weapons pay a cost for something they had not done. 

They are not bad people, and most accept the need for change. They could have been welcomed as part of the solution but legislating in nine days with scant regard for the usual process of public input and parliamentary scrutiny sent a message of contempt.

At the very time we should have been celebrating the institution that represents our free society, we instead discarded it.

Citizens have a right to elect a Parliament to hold the Government to account. It is not enough that the MPs agree to vote for legislation, they must also consult the public and have time to assess a Government's proposals and consider alternatives. 

That's democracy at its best.

Trying to make complex legislation in nine days is madness. If it was effective, we would rush all legislation, but it is not. 

Normally a law is referred to a select committee for six months of scrutiny instead of only seven days. 

The Government has effectively told the public, 'we've got this, don't bother'. Rushed procedure is problematic in itself, but it also leads to practical problems.

Right now, there's no reason to be confident the ban will make it harder for determined bad people to access dangerous weapons. 

If a significant number of weapons are not handed in, we risk creating a larger black market of dangerous weapons without any regulatory oversight. 

That may be a more dangerous world than we had on March 15. 

Amazingly, the Government didn't think to ask how successful a gun buyback scheme might be, and its officials told Parliament they didn't know the answer.

The best evidence is from Australia, where it is estimated that between 40 and 80 percent of semi-automatic weapons were actually handed in. 

The variation is because, like here, they weren't sure how many existed in the first place. Almost by definition, it was the good people who handed their weapons in. That may be why rigorous analysis shows the 1996 ban did not accelerate the decline in Australian gun deaths that began after a peak in 1986.

A second consequence of the rushed process is that other alternatives were not considered. What of licensing? It is clear that the rules are inadequate, people with the lowest level A-Category licence meant for less dangerous weapons could acquire dangerous weapons and ammunition through loopholes in definitions with no record keeping of transactions and no further vetting other than the need to renew a licence every ten years (made an online process by the Prime Minister last December). 

Upgrading the licensing regime was not considered. 

Owners of semi-automatic pistols will be unaffected by the changes. Their licensing regime requires owners to be conscientious devotees of their sport. 

They must attend at least 12 meetings per year with other club members, and each club has a close relationship with Police. It is generally regarded as successful. Bringing more gun types into a regime such as this is an example of a constructive approach that was not considered.

The final problem is one of goodwill. 

Law-abiding gun owners are needed as allies in creating a safer country. 

A proper process might have brought them around the table for a collaborative approach to the real goal of making us all safer. 

That approach would have been more respectful of our democratic traditions, more effective at reaching its goals, and more conducive to goodwill. 

By treating all people with greater dignity, it would have been much less Bush and more Ardern as a leadership style. Alas.

David Seymour is leader of the ACT Party.