Fear or prudence? You be the judge

Over the last few days I have become aware of people expressing concern that the Police are spreading alarmism over the Terror Alert level. As something that will be new to many New Zealanders, there is good reason for the Police exercising the prudence that they do.

New Zealand is lucky. Elevated states of alert have persisted in numerous other countries well beyond what could be considered a reasonable time frame. In France a State of Emergency was declared following the Paris attack on 13 November 2015, and lasted until 1 November 2017. It was extended several times with varying reasons ranging from protecting political rallies – France was due to have Presidential elections; Islamic State was expanding in Syria and Iraq, countries where French colonial influences have had a less than positive impact.

Other countries such as the United States have maintained consistently high alert levels for years, whilst insisting that there remained a clear and credible danger of an attack. In the case of larger countries, such as the United States, Britain or France with a more global influence and thus the ability to negatively impact across a wider area than New Zealand – intentionally or otherwise – the elevated state of alert that has existed for the last 17 years since the War on Terrorism began is probably not surprising

Sometimes no actual State of Emergency is declared, but one might just as well have been based on the rhetoric of officials responsible. Such was the case with Australian Minister for Immigration and Border Security, Peter Dutton whose pronouncements in the media, in the Australian Federal Parliament and elsewhere have bordered on the vitriolic.

New Zealand has not declared a State of Emergency. That can only be done by the Minister of Civil Defence, or a local Mayor. It can however raise its Terrorism Alert as necessary and has done so. The six levels of threat are graded at Negligible; Very Low; Low; Medium; High; Extreme. Currently the Terrorism Alert is graded HIGH, meaning there is a high likelihood of terrorism, violent criminal activity or violent protests.

The longer a country goes without an attack, but stays in an elevated level of warning, the potentially less trusting the people become of the authorities. If for example the authorities said that the warnings will be reviewed on a regular basis, and are then forgotten about,  the assumption will be that a permanently elevated state of alert is the new new. The authorities will start to run the risk of being perceived as “the boy who cried wolf”, and run the real danger of being ignored when something serious happens.

To have an elevated state of fear there must be a threat to order, to a country, to its people that is considered credible. To maintain that elevated state of fear the authorities need to appear in a public setting looking like they are anticipating trouble – which is what we currently see in Christchurch: Police officers with semi-automatic weapons; higher visibility with patrol cars on patrol more.

Whilst unheard of in New Zealand, it is not by any means unprecedented around the world, something a lot of New Zealanders are just starting to realize now. In other countries there are more intrusive measures being taken such as searches of peoples belongings, occasionally of their body. Search warrants are more likely to be executed against properties. High risk individuals might be arrested and the Police may seek to detain them until either required to release them or they charge the suspects.

Time will tell when the terrorism alert level is lowered in New Zealand. Whilst there is a risk above normal levels that another act of violence might be perpetrated, New Zealand Police are aware that it cannot stay elevated forever. And indeed, as was intoned just before the Christchurch attack, following an Armed Offenders Squad incident in Linwood, the Police said that they want to be able to go back to not needing to carry firearms on their staff. For these reasons, I have no concerns about the Terrorism Alert staying elevated for a bit longer yet.




Gun law passes third reading; to become law before end of week

The Arms (Prohibited Firearms, Magazines and Parts) Amendment Bill passed its third reading in Parliament yesterday. It will become law before the end of this week.

Now that this has cleared Parliament, we have a basic law that is at best only a temporary fix for a long term problem. Parliament will now need to start work on a much more comprehensive piece of legislation that will provide the long term solution needed to the lack of strength in New Zealand firearms law.

The law passed through the House of Representatives on Wednesday night 119-1. A.C.T. Leader and Member of Parliament for Epsom, David Seymour was the sole vote against the legislation.

Now the tough work begins.

A buy back scheme for those firearms that are banned under Section 5/2A now needs to be set up. When the firearm is handed back so must the ammunition, magazine and any parts that make it possible for the firearm to fired automatically or almost automatically. It does include silencers, telescopic sights, butts, carry bags, and so forth.

How will the Government be sure that all weapons have been handed back, since no register was kept of the arms in question in New Zealand? This will be difficult as people will not have necessarily kept the documentation acknowledging the purchase of the firearm. Whilst the vast majority of New Zealanders will probably acknowledge the need to ban such weapons and return any such guns that they own, there will be a small number other than the gangs who refuse steadfastly to return theirs.

How will the Government address the legitimate question of guns that are needed for shooting competitions, or will New Zealand be like the United Kingdom after the Dunblane massacre and no longer participate? National Member of Parliament Chris Bishop attempted to get provisions inserted yesterday to enable this, but also dealing with Firearm Prohibition Orders. He was out voted.

It would be a shame to no longer be able to participate in sports shooting competitions because the firearms used are no longer permitted. I do believe though that the threats made by some competitive shooters to leave the country were just sour grapes at the thought that firearms legislation might be tightening up.

I do confess that in hindsight the Government was right to introduce emergency legislation and push it through Parliament at speed. That said, much of the opposition might have been shut down if Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, Minister of Police Stuart Nash and National Party Leader Simon Bridges had made a joint announcement that a significantly longer and more open period for public submissions would follow. This joint appearance in a show of unity would have done much to ease concerns about how the process is being run, though I doubt it would have gotten A.C.T. Leader David Seymour on board.

Ms Ardern and her Caucus can bask in the light of their success tonight, but the real work is just beginning. Just as security and intelligence services are going to be grilled about what they knew and what they did or did not do, the Government should now expect a grilling on the more technical material that they left out of the Arms (Prohibited Firearms, Magazines and Parts)Amendment Act 2019.



The fine line between free speech and hate speech

Speech is one of the most artful modes of communication and also the most fundamental. It can happen in many different ways, through body language, through oral or visual actions or other medians. It is also, in the wake of the Christchurch terrorist attack, as we try to understand “hate speech” and separate it from “free speech”, a mode that is being subject down to a very personal level.

There is a fine line between free speech, which to me is the honest expression of ones opinion or ideas and hate speech. To me the latter is the overt and deliberate attempt to discriminate and/or degrade an ethnicity, nationality and so forth.

On the side of free speech there are those with sincerely held views that might come across as offensive and possibly discriminatory. I have met people who sincerely believe it is not proper for a man to be in a relationship with another man. They did not go so far as to suggest that those engaging in such conduct should be killed or otherwise persecuted, but their upbringing had taught them that it should be frowned upon.

Another example of an offensive, yet honestly held view was when I was at the New Zealand First Convention in 2010. A gentleman from Dunedin South during a general Q+A session stood up and commented that Muslims should be put on a plane and sent home. The general chorus of disgust shut him down promptly and he was not heard from again for the rest of the conference.

So, where does freedom of speech transition into hate speech? Where does a personal dislike of a particular grouping in society become a hatred?

In terms of graphic content such as video, photography and so forth, the line is blurred. But the slope is slippery and down hill in nature. In terms of personal behaviour, simple things such as crossing the street when someone of different skin colour comes towards you, refusing to visit certain stores because of the ethnicity of the owners/operators suggest intolerance. However, in terms of wording I believe on the freedom of speech side, certain key phrases or terms denote the boundary. For example a derogatory comment might be made out of disgust, or in the heat of a situation and not be intentional. However discriminatory and degrading comments about a subject are intended to hurt and cause harm. The latter two are low level hate speech. Where it becomes graphic and is used in conjunction with descriptions of harm, violence or destruction it becomes high level hate speech.

But the key is both are hate speech examples and if the commentator has achieved low level hate speech, then the commentator is capable of high level hate speech as well.

Lesser, yet deliberately provocative hate speech, that puts down a particular group with irrational and often ill founded claims – “they’ve come to take our jobs; our land our homes”; “they have diseases; they don’t know how to parent” – can be heard being used by some fringe politicians. Former Australian Minister of Immigration and Border Protection, Peter Dutton, has been frequently criticized for his views on asylum seekers and refugees, in particular those from Africa and the Middle East.

A good example of hate speech was the incitement of Hutu’s to kill Tutsi’s during the Rwandan genocide 25 years ago. To get Hutu militiamen into the frame of mind necessary to kill their Tutsi neighbours or any Tutsi’s they saw, radio stations would broadcast incendiary content particularly aimed at degrading Tutsi’s and encouraging their murder. 800,000 Tutsi’s were killed, often with machete’s and often in places of worship where they thought they might be safe in a bit more than 100 days.


Gun laws passed: Where to from here

For 48 hours earlier this week, Parliament and New Zealand were abuzz with the news that there would be short submission period on emergency legislation banning Military Style Semi-Automatics and Automatic weapons. The legislation which is working its way through Parliament, comes in the wake of the Christchurch terrorist attack on 15 March 2019.

On Friday with submissions closed, the Select Committee began the massive task of making sense of all of the submissions (more than 3,000 at the end of Wednesday). It will have to work fast because Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern indicated that the law will be passed in two to three weeks.

Ultimately now that the law has passed the submission stage, the expectation that Parliament will come back and address the concerns that it blithely skipped over during the 48 hour consultation period is very real. It is real for all of the right reasons:

  1. The speed, whilst being emergency legislation, was nonetheless very dangerous to the democratic principles on which this country was founded
  2. The speed of the legislation meant that many with technical knowledge and experience operating firearms have been sidelined because they could not get a submission in that 48 hour period
  3. The legislation will have a host of mistakes in it for lack of time to properly proof read, and make sure no unintended consequences exist based on ones interpretation
  4. A failure to address this now means that there is a higher probability of Parliament being made to repeal the legislation entirely later and possibly coming in with some sort of watered down law

There is, I have been told, by an Amnesty International New Zealand staff member, a second opportunity which will be more prolonged for the public to make submissions on the law. I assume that interpretation means that this is a stop gap measure and that as such it will expire when more robust legislation is implemented sometime from now.

This absolutely had better be the case. When I mention people with technical knowledge and experience, I am talking about those who regularly handle such weapons in places like shooting ranges, people who supply and repair gun cabinets, gun parts and guns themselves.

Legislation has a very precise wording and format that it must take when being drafted. It also has certain Parliamentary conventions to follow. Failure to do this I assume has the potential to render the legislation inoperable, which would no doubt delight some people and organizations. An example of the format can be found here.

In its current state the emergency law must have a sunset clause. It cannot be more than temporary whilst longer term legislation is put through Parliament.

I now wait, as I am sure many many other New Zealanders do too, to see what form this emergency legislation finishes its trip through Parliament in. I then expect that Parliament will start work on the longer term legislation so that certainty can be restored to our gun laws, whilst at the same time making New Zealand and New Zealanders, safer.

Parliamentary rush to pass firearms legislation bad for democracy

The shortness of this article is not a reflection on a crude effort, so much as what I am intending to say simply does not need any more space than that allowed here. It regards the Arms (Prohibited Firearms, Magazines and Parts) Amendment Bill which is before Parliament now and open to public submissions from New Zealanders until 1800 hours today.

I have a major problem with the manner in which this Bill of Parliament (BoP) is proceeding. But let me be very clear now. This is legislation that ultimately DOES need to pass through Parliament and be made law.

However the manner in which the B.o.P. is proceeding is reckless and will possibly wind up having to be substantially overhauled or thrown out and done from scratch a second time. Yes we might need it quickly – but not so quickly that technical knowledge about their maintenance and capacity is ignored by Parliamentarians who might have – for all we know – never picked up a gun in their life.

I suggest Parliament start again. The B.o.P. should have its reading and then be put out to the public of New Zealand for a full four working weeks, before being considered by the Select Committee for another two working weeks. Only at that point should it go back to Parliament.

We can still have this law sent to the Governor General for Royal Assent by Queens Birthday it Parliament follows my suggestion. It just means that it will be far more robust and likely to survive any court challenge or other legal attempt to take it down.