MP wants to shut loophole in gun laws
A loophole in the law when it comes to sawn-off firearms is being targeted by Wairarapa MP Alastair Scott.
People found illegally possessing sawn-off shotguns face a lesser penalty than if the firearms were untampered with, and the National Party politician is now drawing up a members’ bill to change that.
Under New Zealand law, the maximum sentence for unlawful possession of any firearm is four years imprisonment.
But when a shotgun barrel has been shortened, the firearm becomes classified as a pistol, reducing the maximum penalty to three years behind bars.
Scott’s attempt to have the law changed was inspired by Masterton police officer Thomas Andrews.
Andrews says the sawn-off firearm is the weapon of choice for criminals, as he explains in his open letter, published in the April edition of Police News.
“I dealt with several cases involving sawn-off weapons during 2017 and this is a specific problem that should be urgently addressed.
“The sawn-off firearm is almost inevitably stolen, although this often can’t be proven due to the removal of identification numbers.”
Sawn-off firearms were easier for criminals to conceal, transport, and could be used in confined spaces and to intimidate, Andrews said.
“The vandalism inflicted on these weapons during this process destroys their accuracy and ensures they cannot be used for any lawful purpose, such as hunting or target shooting.”
He said the consequences for criminals using these weapons were too light in New Zealand compared with places where penalties were a lot harsher such as Britain, Ireland, and Australia.
Andrews said further offences, such as shortening or supplying a weapon, could be created.
“Parliament should introduce legislation that creates a clear distinction in respect of sawn-off weapons.”
On Monday, Scott said he agreed with Andrews in that being caught with a sawn-off weapon was not parallel to being caught with a pistol.
“They’re only altered for one purpose only, and that’s for aggravated criminal activity.”
Scott said he was now refining the bill to ensure it excluded people who may have altered weapons for legitimate purposes, such as pig hunting.
He hoped to have the bill inserted into the member’s bill ballot in the next couple of weeks.
Acting Area Commander Senior Sergeant Mike Sutton said firearms, regardless of whether they had been tampered with, posed a serious risk to the community and police.
He said there was always concern that firearms were being cut down with illegal intent.
“I’m yet to see evidence of a sawn-off shotgun used for any lawful purpose.”
Sutton said it would be good to address this issue.
Labour list MP Kieran McAnulty said he supported law innovations that made the community safer.
He said the points raised in Andrews’ letter were worthy of consideration and discussion.
“Rather than a private member’s bill, I think ideas should be canvassed with the relevant ministers in order to explore what work the government can do to address issues and improve the legislation.”
McAnulty said he was in talks with Justice Minister Andrew Little and Police Minister Stuart Nash on the issue.
“I do consider that exploring the ideas with ministers is potentially more effective than putting together a member’s bill which is left to chance in terms of whether it gets pulled from the ballot.”
This also ensured that changes were made after the bigger picture had been considered, he said.