Police Minister Poto Williams has hit out at National’s “virtue-signalling” during a debate on gun law reform but she was criticised for saying she doesn’t expect criminals “to do anything lawful”.
Williams defended the Government’s record on firearms law reform in Parliament on Thursday following a recent shooting in Northland and the tragic death of police officer Constable Matthew Hunt in June.
“Can I say that any incident where the use of weapons is involved is distressing for the police and the community, and police are frontline workers who go above and beyond to keep our community safe. We need to support our officers so we can continue to support our communities.”
National’s police spokesperson Simeon Brown says Labour’s “soft on crime attitude” is putting the safety of New Zealanders and police officers at risk as gun violence is “rapidly spreading throughout the country”.
Last year, 402 people on the National Gang List were charged with a total of 711 firearms offences – a 54 percent increase in people charged compared with five years ago, RNZ reports.
“It’s got so bad that according to Police Association President Chris Cahill, front-line officers now feel compelled to wear anti-ballistic plate armour because they encounter firearms on a daily basis,” Brown says.
It comes after National leader Judith Collins claimed in a speech last week that police feel “disempowered and disrespected” and accused the Government of wanting to “give criminals a hug”.
Williams said in Parliament the Government is doing all it can.
“Already we have banned military-style semi-automatic weapons, magazines, and parts; taken 62,000 prohibited firearms out of circulation; and passed the Arms Legislation Bill, which National voted against. There is a great deal more to do and I intend to make further announcements in the New Year.
“I’m sick of National’s virtue signalling on law and order. Under them, police numbers fell. They are up: 2200 new constables, 1280 new full time-equivalents, 700 alone focused on organised crime. This Government delivers for police.”
The Government banned military-style semi-automatic weapons in the wake of the Christchurch terror attack. The Government also spent $150 million on a gun buyback scheme, which collected 62,000 prohibited firearms as of June.
Brown said National’s Firearms Prohibition Orders (FPOs) would give police greater powers to take firearms off violent criminals but the Government continues to refuse to support it.
“Last year then Police Minister Stuart Nash said he would take National’s FPOs to Cabinet. It’s been a year, how much longer will it take Cabinet to consider whether keeping New Zealanders and our police safe is a priority?”
Williams responded: “Unfortunately, National’s Bill is fundamentally flawed. It would only have targeted gang members with convictions. What about other dangerous, high-risk people who are not gang members? It left significant gaps and will not effectively deliver the public safety objectives that we seek.”
FPOs were to be included in the second tranche of gun law changes but they didn’t appear in the legislation that was passed in June. The second tranche included reduced lengths of firearms licences, harsher penalties, and plans to create a gun register.
ACT’s firearms spokesperson Nicole McKee thinks the gun register will be pointless. She asked Williams if she expects criminals committing gun violence to actually register their firearms.
“I don’t expect criminals to do anything lawful. My expectation is that lawful gun-owners will abide by the law, and the register,” Williams said. “The point of the register is to understand how many firearms there are in the community.”
McKee said Williams “appeared to have no real answers in the House today to the growing level of gun violence occurring on her watch”.
She said ACT would amend the law so that if police find illegal firearms at an unlawful, gang-run operation, their assets seize could be seized on the spot.
Williams said she has met with Diane Hunt, the mother of slain Constable Matthew Hunt, who delivered a petition signed by 39,000 people campaigning for urgent parole and sentencing reform.
“I have to say to her that I agree that this country needs to support and honour and acknowledge the work of our front-line police staff,” Williams told Parliament.
“I have full confidence that our select committee process will be robust and appropriate and I look forward to the recommendations from her petition.”