• The Listener
  • North & South
  • Noted
  • RNZ

Bill Ralston: The sooner the gun law passes the better

An assault rifle. Photo/Getty Images

Quick action to ban semi-automatics is essential to stymie NRA-backed firearms lobbyists.

I have had a lifelong fascination with guns. As a kid, I had a slug-gun and would follow my father and his old double-barrelled shotgun across endless paddocks as he shot pheasants. He would point out tiny quail for me as targets and, quite liking the little critters, I would deliberately miss.

“Never shoot anything you won’t eat,” was his mantra. I couldn’t eat a lovely quail, so I didn’t shoot straight. To be honest, I couldn’t kill anything. At dinnertime, not having shot the pheasant or duck on the table, I could eat them with no compunction, but I couldn’t have done so had I pulled the trigger.

Years ago, as a tourist in Vietnam at a slightly too realistic display at the Chu Chi tunnels near Ho Chi Minh City, I ecstatically emptied several magazines of an M16 at a target across a clearing. There was also an M60 machine gun, and I was disappointed that it was jammed and out of action, so I couldn’t blow another $100 on letting loose with that sucker.

Macro alias: ModuleRenderer

These days, I still occasionally do a clay target shoot on a friend’s farm.

As much as I love “bang bangs”, I have to concede I’m happy to see the Arms (Prohibited Firearms, Magazines and Parts) Amendment Bill go through Parliament as fast as it can. The events of the past month have shown there is no place for semi-automatics and large 30-shot magazines in this country. The AR15 used by the Christchurch killer is a civilian version of the M16 I used in Vietnam and there is no need for assault rifles of that kind in New Zealand. Their only function is to kill people in large numbers. Someone on radio recently was arguing that professional aerial deer hunters needed semi-automatics. I cannot see why. Use a bolt action and give the animals a chance.

You can see why the Government moved so quickly on the gun ban. As time moves on from the massacre, the sense of public outrage will decline and the pro-gun lobby will push back so they can hold on to their lethal toys.

If my social-media feed is anything to go by, the US National Rifle Association (NRA) appears to have already begun a disinformation campaign. It seems to feel that we are setting a bad example for Americans, who are wedded to guns. Their constitution guarantees them the right to carry firearms.

To repeat an old joke, I have always thought the Second Amendment to the US Constitution, written in the 18th century, simply gives them the right to carry a muzzle-loading flintlock musket and a cutlass rather than the murderous weaponry of the 21st century.

About a quarter of a million Kiwis have a firearms licence. It is estimated 1.8 people access the weapons covered by each licence, which means about 450,000 people are firearms users.

As only semi-automatics and pistols need to be registered with the police, we have no idea how many firearms are actually in the country. Estimates range from 750,000 to 1.5 million. That is a lot of firepower, and if you remove all the military-style semi-automatics, that still leaves plenty of guns for people to play with.

So far, just over 200 guns have been handed to the police. The new law should net many more. Whether it costs $200 million or $500 million to claw them back, it will be worth it.

This article was first published in the April 13, 2019 issue of the New Zealand Listener.