Tuesday, April 02, 2019

Doing what they promised

The government has introduced its Arms (Prohibited Firearms, Magazines, and Parts) Amendment Bill to enact the promise made last month to ban semi-automatic and military-style firearms. As many other commentators have noted, its a careful compromise rather than a full ban. But apart from a tight list of permitted users, military-style semi-automatics such as the Americans' beloved AR-15 will be prohibited. There's also much tighter regulation of collectors, who will be required to disable their weapons (apparently not the case at the moment). The bill generally delivers on what has been demanded by the public, and I look forward to its passage through the House. Given the current situation and the decades of delay, this seems to be a case where urgency is warranted, but I'm also glad there will be some time for select committee examination - because the bill needs it.

As introduced, the bill includes a Henry VIII clause, allowing a Minister to amend the definition of a semi-automatic firearm by regulation. This is the key definition in the bill, and while the government is probably thinking of using it to plug any loophole exposed and exploited by litigious gun-nuts, its a two-edged sword. To point out the obvious, it would also allow a future Minister in the pocket of the NRA to effectively undo this legislation and thwart the clear will of Parliament. It is also simply constitutionally inappropriate. New Zealand has a strong constitutional prohibition on such instruments except in exceptional circumstances: complex regulatory transitions, or a nation-shattering earthquake (and even then, we look at them very dubiously). There's a relatively obvious way of achieving the government's objective on this issue without doing such violence to our constitution (e.g. mirroring the existing s74A(d) and allow the Minister to define or describe features resulting in prohibition), and the government should do that.