Outrage over allegation Christchurch shooter not vetted properly as more gun law changes proposed

The Government is proposing further changes to the second tranche of gun law changes, amid outrage over allegations the Christchurch shooter was wrongly granted a firearms license. 

The Council of Licenced Firearms Owners is outraged after Stuff was purportedly informed by sources inside police that Brenton Tarrant was given a firearm licence without going through the required procedures.

"Fifty-one people died and 250,000 New Zealanders had their way of life severely curtailed because of one mistake: Police failed to apply the existing licensing laws," said spokesperson Nicole McKee.

The Christchurch shooter was granted a New Zealand firearms license in 2017 despite police not interviewing a family member as required, instead, relying on two men who met Tarrant online, the report said. 

The revelation comes as Parliament votes on new changes to the second tranche of proposed gun law reforms, including the establishment of an independent entity to take over firearms licensing and administration.

ACT leader David Seymour said the allegations about police's failure to vet the Christchurch terrorist "completely vindicate ACT's position" that the Government is "scapegoating law-abiding firearms owners". 

"This report completely vindicates ACT's position that law-abiding firearms owners were never the problem. Our firearms laws were largely adequate, police simply failed to enforce them."

The second tranche of proposed gun law changes was unveiled almost a year ago and included the Government's intention to establish a firearms register, a tighter licensing system, and higher penalties. 

Police Minister Stuart Nash.
Police Minister Stuart Nash. Photo credit: Getty

It followed on from the Government banning military-style semi-automatic weapons and assault rifles after the Christchurch terror attack. That legislation was passed in April 2019, a month after it was introduced with near-unanimous support. 

But the second tranche has still not passed, and Police Minister Stuart Nash has proposed further amendments, following feedback gathered during the select committee process. 

"The Coalition Government has further agreed to establish an independent entity to take over firearms licensing and administration," Nash said. "The idea of an independent firearms authority was first proposed by Justice Sir Thomas Thorp in 1997."

He said the new entity to oversee firearms administration would require standalone legislation and a dedicated budget, and work is underway on the design and framework for such an agency. 

Nash said he will report back to Cabinet with options before the end of the year.

Other proposed changes include allowing owners and managers of agricultural businesses to apply to use prohibited firearms for pest control without having to establish a company to carry out the work, which is what was originally required. 

Nash said the change is in response to submissions from the farming community. 

The Christchurch terror attack shooting claimed 51 lives.
The Christchurch terror attack shooting claimed 51 lives. Photo credit: Getty

The legislation will also be amended so there will be more time to establish the firearms registry to acknowledge the need to design and set up a standalone entity to administer the licensing system.

It will come into force three years rather than two years after coming into force.

The requirement for a review of the law will be brought forward from five years to three years after it comes into force. The three-year review must include a review of the registry and the offences and penalties. 

The Government will also have new powers to temporarily extend owners and dealers' firearms licences in exceptional situations such as a natural disaster or pandemic, in the wake of COVID-19. 

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said on Tuesday New Zealand First "had a voice that made a difference" to the latest proposals. It's understood Labour and New Zealand First came to an agreement after the second tranche was held up. 

"Ultimately, for every piece of legislation throughout our term in Government, as a Coalition Government, we will work through issues where there are different perspectives," Ardern said. 

"It just so happens that some of these issues have been well-supported by both those who have submitted on the Bill on the case of pest eradication, and in the case of the authority, it's an idea that's been around for decades."

A Royal Commission of Inquiry into the Christchurch terror attack is due to report back on July 31, and Seymour says the second tranche should be put on hold until then. 

"It would be unconscionable to change the law without hearing the full story behind the Christchurch terrorist attacks."