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High powered weapons back in the firing line

A member of the Wairarapa Pistol and Shooting Sports Club [WPSSC] has appeared in front of a Parliamentary Select Committee, speaking in favour of a petition to allow gun club members to own banned semi-automatic rifles for competition.

The weapons were banned shortly after the March 15 terror attacks in Christchurch in 2019.

Phillip Dunlop, who has competed at two International Practical Shooting Confederation [IPSC] world championships, told the committee, “allowing international competitors access to firearms of this type will have no effect on the risk to our society.”

The petition was brought by Niru Wijesundara and attracted 677 signatures. It asks lawmakers to change the Arms Act to allow competitive shooters to own these weapons, and has drawn submissions in opposition from the Federation of Islamic Associations of New Zealand and New Zealand Police.

In oral submissions to the committee, Jeremy Wood, director of policy and partnerships at New Zealand Police, said the proposal would introduce “unacceptable risk to New Zealand. It could provide greater access to high capacity, semi-automatic, centre-fire firearms and large capacity magazines that could become more widely available.”

Speaking to Midweek after his appearance, Dunlop said the police’s concern – “that we are opening this big Pandora’s box, and everyone will go and get AR15s tomorrow and we’ll be back where we started” – was unfounded.

The risks of allowing serious competition shooters controlled access to certain semi-automatic firearms could be mitigated, he said.

“Realistically, if there were to be some liberalisation of the rules, the constraints are going to be severe.”

Measures suggested to the committee by Dunlop and others in favour of the Wijesundara’s petition, including the Council of Licensed Firearms Owners, ranged from spot checks of licence-holders, six monthly police inspections, a “cooling-off” period between someone applying and being granted the appropriate endorsement, and the requirement for attendance at a minimum number of events per year to justify holding a licence.

Dunlop explained that since the ban, the service rifle competition at his club and the rifle component of IPSC competitions in New Zealand have stopped, and his ability to compete on the international circuit has also been curtailed because he cannot access the necessary firearms.

“We’ve struggled a wee bit because our gear is so non-competitive as a result of the changes.”

While the WPSSC did not initiate the petition, Dunlop welcomed the opportunity to “have some reasonable conversation” about what he acknowledged was a very sensitive and emotive topic, particularly since the Christchurch attacks.

“I think what the country has been through was absolutely horrific, and a conservative approach to any firearms legislation is entirely justified,” he said.

“But, if there were some option for serious competition shooters to access those firearms, I would confidently say they would pose no further risk to society than we are currently comfortable with.”

The Select Committee will report to the government, which then has 90 days to decide how to respond to the committee’s recommendations.

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