'You will hand them back': Winston Peters' warning to gangs over gun law reform

Winston Peters has issued a warning to gang members who say they won't be handing over their guns despite the Government's crackdown. 

The Deputy Prime Minister said on Monday that official legislation had been agreed upon by Cabinet to ban military-style semi-automatic weapons and assault rifles, among other gun law reforms.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced the gun law reforms over a week ago after it was revealed the alleged Christchurch gunman had legally purchased assault rifles using a standard A Category gun licence. 

The Arms (Prohibited Firearms, Magazines and Parts) Amendment Bill has marked September 30 as the date an amnesty period will end for owners to hand their weapons to police, and a Government buy-back scheme will be announced.  

The buy-back scheme will take into account the age and type of weapon, and the market value. It is estimated it will cost between $100 million and $200 million.

The challenge for the Government will be getting everyone to co-operate - particularly gangs - and that looks to be unlikely, with a Mongrel Mob leader telling Stuff members will not be complying with the law. 

"Will gangs get rid of their weapons? No. Because of who we are, we can't guarantee our own safety," Sonny Fatu, president of the Waikato branch of the Mongrel Mob, said. 

"The attacks between our organisations are gang-on-gang, they do not involve the non-gang members," Fatu said, adding that members of the estimated 1000 associates should be trusted not to harm innocent people. 

Winston Peters and Stuart Nash.
Winston Peters and Stuart Nash. Photo credit: Newshub

When asked how the Government would respond to gang members who refuse to hand over their weapons, Peters said the message will be clear: "You will be handing them back to the Government or some lawful authority.

"We don't plan to fail on this... the process will apply to them, the same for any law abiding citizen in this country who has an armament that is legal but is about to be made illegal."

Fatu admitted that members of the Mongrel Mob carry illegal firearms, and Peters was questioned on why the Government thinks gangs would comply with the new laws when they haven't in the past. 

"We intend to enforce the law and it's not a matter of cooperation - it's a matter of being obliged to conform with the law of this country or be operating illegally for which there will be consequences," Peters said. 

Police Minister Stuart Nash, who joined Peters at his post-Cabinet press conference on Monday, said the penalties for carrying illegal firearms have increased "substantially". 

Under the legislation, unlawful possession of a prohibited firearm in a public place would result in seven years imprisonment, and using a prohibited firearm to resist arrest would carry a penalty of 10 years in prison. 

"I found it abhorrent that you could have gang members in the media publicly saying that they were going to break the law. We take that very, very seriously," Nash said. 

The new legislation will have its first reading on Tuesday, and be referred to a Select Committee for public submissions. It will return to Parliament next week to pass through its remaining stages. 

It is intended to come into force on April 12, the day after the Royal Assent. 

The new gun laws will: 

  • Ban semi-automatic weapons and military style semi-automatics (MSSAs);
  • Ban parts, magazines and ammunition which can be used to assemble a prohibited firearm or convert a lower-powered firearm into a semi-automatic;
  • Ban pump action shotguns with more than a five shot capacity;
  • Ban semi-automatic shotguns with a capacity to hold a detachable magazine, or with an internal magazine capable of holding more than five cartridges;
  • Exempt some semi-automatic firearms, such as .22 calibres and shotguns, which have limited ammunition capacity
  • Create tougher penalties and introduce new offences;
  • Create new definitions of prohibited firearms, prohibited magazines, prohibited parts and prohibited ammunition;
  • Establish an amnesty for firearms owners who take steps to hand over unlawful weapons, parts, magazines and ammunition to Police by September 30, 2019