The Criminal Use of Firearms in New Zealand

DOI10.1177/000486589903200106
AuthorGreg Newbold
Publication Date01 April 1999
Date01 April 1999
The
Criminal Use
of
Firearms
in
New
Zealand
Greg
Newbold
University
of
Canterbury
E
arly in 1997 a survey was conducted on 5 I
New
Zealand prison
inmates
who
had been convicted
of
illegal possession
of
a firearm,
aggravated
robbery with a firearm and murder with a firearm. Respondents
were asked questions relating
to
their
acquisition and
usage
of
illegal
firearms in
order
to obtain information about patterns of firearms owner-
ship within the criminal community. Many of the results were similar
to
an
American
study
which
took
place in
the
mid-1980s
but
the
New
Zealanders differed from the Americans in being armed
less
frequently and
in being more restricted in
their
access
to
handguns.
Among the
New
Zealanders the most common, popular;
cheap
and
easily
acquired weapon
was the shotgun.
Shotguns
were used in more than half the crimes
for
which the respondents had been imprisoned and in seventy percent of
cases
the weapon had a sawn off butt
or
barrel.The next most common
weapons used were pistols and rifles.
Usage
of
military semi-automatics
was rare.This
research
confirms that there is a large pool of illegally-held
firearms in
New
Zealand and that firearms
of
almost any type can be
obtained relatively
easily
from within the criminal community.
In
the
early evening of 13 November 1990 David Gray, a 33
...
year old, semi
...
literate
recluse,
ran
amok
in
the
New Zealand seaside
settlement
of Aramoana.
Armed
with aNorinco 84(s) .223 assault rifle among
other
weapons, Gray
shot
and killed
thirteen
people, including apoliceman.
At
around 6.0Opm
the
following day, Gray
was killed by police (see OBrien, 1991).
The
Aramoana massacre signaled
the
commencement of active concern about
the
misuse of firearms in New Zealand. Fears
had
been growing since 1987,
when
massacres in Australia and
the
United
States attracted worldwide publicity. But it
was
the
Aramoana massacre which gave
the
issue its immediacy. As soon as news of
the
tragedy broke,
the
Minister of Police flew to
the
scene and announced
that
a
major review of firearms law would follow. In
October
1992, after considerable
debate, this finally
came
in
the
form of
an
amendment
to
the
Arms Act.
Although many
New
Zealanders believed
that
the
arms issue would die in
the
wake of
the
Arms
Amendment
Act,
it did not. Further incidents in New Zealand
Address
for
correspondence:
Greg
Newbold,
Senior
Lecturer,
Sociology
Department,
University
of
Canterbury,
PteBag4800,
Christchurch,
New
Zealand.
THE AUSTRALIAN
AND
NEW
ZEALAND JOURNAL OF CRIMINOLOGY
VOLUME
32
NUMBER
I 1999 PP.61-78
61
62
GREG
NEWBOLD
served to keep
the
matter
alive. In May 1992, while
the
Arms
Amendment
Bill was
still being debated, Brian Schlaepfer
shot
and
stabbed six family members to
death
in Paerata. In
june
1994, David Bain
shot
and
killed five of his family in Dunedin.
In july 1995,
Ron
Lewis
ran
amok
with
afirearm in Wainuiomata. In September
1995 in Invercargill, Eric Gellatley broke
into
a sports store, stole a
number
of
weapons and began firing wildly into
the
street. Less
than
two
months
later Barry
Radcliffe did
the
same in Whangarei. Finally, in April 1996 in Hastings, Terence
Thompson
killed constable
Glen
McKibbin in an apparently
random
shooting.
Further overseas shootings also impacted
on
public opinion in
New
Zealand. In
January 1996
on
Australia's
Gold
Coast,
Peter
May killed
three
adults
and
three
children in a domestic multiple homicide. In March 1996 in Dunblane, Scotland,
Thomas
Hamilton
slew 16 schoolchildren
and
their
schoolteacher
with
pistols,
and
on 28 April
Martyn
Bryant used a military semi-automatic to massacre 35 people at
Port Arthur, Tasmania.
In Australia
the
consequences were dramatic. There, in May 1996, automatic
and
semi-automatic
rifles,
and
semi-automatic
and
pump-action
shotguns, were
banned.
By
the
end
of
1997,
the
Australian
government
had
bought
back
and
destroyed 600,000 such weapons, at a cost to
the
state of some
$A300
million. In
Britain,
the
Dunblane
massacre led to a
Home
Affairs
Committee
inquiry and to a
move
by
the
Labour
opposition
to
ban
completely, all
centrefire
handguns.
In
November
1996
the
proposal was defeated in
the
House
of
Commons,
but
after
Labour came to power in 1997
the
matter
was resurrected. As a result, in January
1998 all handguns in Britain -centrefire as well as rimfire - were prohibited.
In
New
Zealand, calls for
another
review
of
gun laws
commenced
almost as
soon as news of
the
Port
Arthur
slayings broke. Initially, Police
Minister
John
Luxton
suggested
that
current
legislation was enough
(Dominion,
1May 1996).
However
statements
by
the
anti
gun lobby
and
a call from
the
Police
Complaints
Authority
created
pressure for
an
independent
inquiry
into
the
nation's
gun laws
(Appendices to the
Journals
of the House
of
Representatives
1996
G.51: 10).
The
police
minister
responded
and
in August 1996
announced
that
an investigation
would take place.
The
Review
of
Firearms
Control
was eventually
conducted
by
Sir
Thomas
Thorp,
a
retired
High
Court
Judge,
and
was
presented
on
30
June
1997.
While
the
report
was in progress
another
mass slaying occurred, giving
further urgency to
the
review.
On
8February
Stephen
Anderson
used his father's
single-barreled
shotgun
to kill six people at a holiday lodge at Raurimu, in
the
King Country.
Although
it was amok shootings
which
prompted
the
1997 firearms review,
the
investigation was
not
directed solely at these incidents. Rather,
the
objective of
the
review was to look at firearms usage in
New
Zealand overall,
and
to make recom
...
mendations
about
changes to existing law.
It
was known
that
Gray, Schlaepfer
and
Bain
were
all
licensed
firearms users.
It
was
known
that
Gellatley,
Radcliffe,
Thompson
and
Anderson
were not. Beyond this, information about
the
criminal
usage of firearms in New Zealand was scarce.
There
were
no
data to indicate how
many criminals who use firearms are licensed, whether those who do
not
have a
licence
have
ever applied for one, how frequently and for
what
purposes criminals
carry guns,
what
types of firearms are used and/or preferred in
the
commission of
THE AUSTRALIAN
AND
NEW
ZEALAND JOURNAL OF CRIMINOLOGY

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