I’m still finding it hard to make sense of the massacre in Christchurch. I’m battling with emotion and disbelief, the…
Discussions during the development of the gun control bill have taken us to the sanctuary of the mosques.
They have allowed us to witness the supreme effort of trauma surgeons in a hospital emergency department. We have caught a glimpse of family circles now with an empty chair, or two, in their household. We know there are many widows. There are children who have been to funerals of a sibling, a parent, a grandparent. There are elderly members of our community who never got a chance to say farewell to an old friend.
As well as the victims and the bereaved, we have walked through the worlds of the gun users and dealers.
Women have talked about their lives on farms, we have been taken through the landscape of a high country sheep station, introduced to the atmosphere on rifle ranges, and heard of the wildlife in the mountains and valleys frequented by recreational hunters.
The Police Association reminded us of the everyday reality for frontline cops, listening to instructions and warnings on the radio as they head to a callout, wearing body armour to enable them to walk into danger.
This legislation is just the first step of many to make our country safer. The all-of-government response is ongoing.
What else we are doing
Police are acutely aware of how vulnerable and frightened some communities still feel after the terror attack. They have established a special operation to reach out to these groups to provide reassurance and advice.
Police have made almost 2,000 visits to schools. They have made almost 1,400 visits to places of worship. These visits are mostly, but not exclusively, to our mosques. But I’m also aware of a visit made by police to a Chinese Christian Church, which normally has 150 people at its Sunday service.
Many had stopped coming because of fears and false rumours about threats. Police were able to reassure this congregation.
Fourteen police officers with specialist cultural knowledge and skills have been deployed to liaise with ethnic communities in Christchurch.
The diversity of our police force is growing as we rollout 1,800 extra officers which means that police are increasingly drawn from the communities they serve. They can speak the languages and know about faith and cultural practices.
Police have also made almost 150 visits to gun clubs. This is an important community for police. It is worth repeating the assurances given by government from the earliest days: There are good people in all of our communities who will find themselves in possession of banned firearms, parts and magazines. This is because we are changing the law, not because these people have done anything wrong.
The amnesty and buyback
That is why we have an amnesty and are putting in place a buyback scheme.
To date, more than 300 weapons have been handed over during the amnesty. More than 1,100 online forms have been completed for more weapons and parts to be handed over. There have been 1,900 phone calls to the dedicated police freephone 0800 311311. The amnesty runs to 30 September but there is provision to extend that date, by Order in Council, if necessary.
Alongside that amnesty, the buyback will now be structured within a statutory framework. The framework will provide certainty for all participants and create a transparent system for compensation.
Police have consulted extensively with Australian officials about their experience with almost 30 amnesties and buybacks since the 1990s.
We want to take the time to get it right to avoid some of the pitfalls and legal risks encountered across the Tasman.
With passage of the Arms Amendment Bill completed, we have begun work on an Arms Amendment No. 2 Bill, which we hope to see around June. That bill will address some long-debated questions around a gun register, the licensing regime, the system of police vetting, and the ‘fit and proper person’ test, storage requirements and penalties, amongst other matters.
I hope Parliament can again come together to work collaboratively on the next stage of reforms. We are driven by the need to ensure public safety is as strong as it can be, and by the memory of 50 men, women and children who were taken from their loved ones on 15 March.
I also want to acknowledge gratefully that in the weeks since the attacks we have asked a lot of our public servants, officials, and their families. They have made this country a safer and better place.
In marking ANZAC Day recently, we remembered those we have lost in war, the military and the civilians. We remembered those who have served our country, and who have worked to make it a safer place, where freedoms are protected.
The primary duty of government is to ensure the safety and wellbeing of its citizens; and to allow them the ability to go about their lives free from harm and free from the fear of harm.
Our freedoms also include making room for diversity, tolerance, and inclusion. This should mark who we are as New Zealanders.
My thoughts remain with our Muslim communities and the people of Christchurch.