Another Spectrum

Personal ramblings and rants of a somewhat twisted mind


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Rule of law

In the wake of yesterday’s terrorist attack in a supermarket in Auckland, I’m seeing a lot if ignorance being expressed in online comments. And while most of the criticism is from right leaning, pro gun, anti immigration, pro Trump, American exceptionalism groups, I see see plenty of misinformation from all quarters being thrown about with abandon, including some from within Aotearoa New Zealand.

The fact of the matter is, that even a day later, some information is sketchy, and will take some time for all the facts to emerge. While the government has successfully appealed a court ordered prohibition on some information regarding the terrorist, the court has required that his family have the opportunity to review that decision. So there is at least a 24 hour delay in some information becoming public. The government does not have the right to do as it pleases, hence the title of this post.

The government, as is every person and legal entity in this country is bound by the rule of law, and thankfully, in this nation there are no exceptions. This post is an opinion piece, and given my own biases and lack of the full facts, it should be treated that way. I have no intention that my interpretation of the facts based on the limited information available to me at this moment should be viewed as The Truth™.

We now know that the individual in question was on a terrorist watch list and was under close 24 hour close surveillance and had been for many months since being released from prison. He was surveillance averse, paranoid even, so it was necessary to ensure that the surveillance was as invisible as possible. At times that took the resources of up to thirty undercover agents at any time to avoid detection by that person. Enter covid. Given the current Level 4 lockdown in Auckland and lack of crowded environments, tailing an individual who is surveillance averse must present a number of problems if the intent is to hide the fact that surveillance is indeed being carried out.

The individual travelled by train from his home, then walked to the supermarket while being monitored all the while. Under level 4 lockdown, supermarkets strictly limit the number of shoppers allowed inside, so any “spy” nearby would be readily apparent to the individual. Therefore there were times when they were not in his immediate vicinity or in the same aisle as the individual. It was on such an occasion that the individual took a carving knife from a shelf display and he started his very short terror attack.

The most frequent question raised online has been why was the individual allowed to roam free. To this I say look at the title of this post. As it currently stands, there is no law that prohibits thinking about or planning terrorist attacks. An act of terrorism needs to have occurred or be under way. The current laws on terrorism suppression was enacted in 2002 in wake of the 9/11 attack in the USA, and due to the haste (by NZ standards) in which it was drafted has proved to be deficient. The 2007 New Zealand police raids in the Ureweras is ample evidence of this.

The terrorist had spent time in prison for the illegal possession of a knife and for possessing objectionable material (I presume extreme ISIS publications). The authorities had applied to the court for detention under existing terrorist suppression laws and/or alternatively GPS monitoring. These were declined by the court, which described the inability to detain those who were thinking about or planning an attack as the “Achilles’ heel” of the existing suppression laws.

And here is where I fail to understand the logic of some comments. On the one hand some say that the individual in question should have been locked up and the key thrown away, or deported, while on the other hand the claiming that the government has not got the right to limit their right to carry firearms while out and about in the community. Again I point to the title of this post.

Balancing the freedom of expression against the internal security of a nation is never going to be easy, and what puzzles me is why so many on the right and left demand their right to freedom of expression for themselves while demanding the suppression of those holding opposite views. Arbitrarily detaining someone or deporting them must never be allowed to happen. Never. Why can’t the critics understand this?

My point is that freedoms depend on those in authority acting only in accordance with the law. We saw a less dramatic case in the previous Labour led government when the minister in charge of granting oil exploration licences granted such a licence even though the Green Party, of which she was a member, strongly opposed oil exploration. She was strongly criticised by the environmentalists, some demanding her resignation. As was explained at the time, irrespective of her personal wishes, she was required to grant licences where all the requirements of such a licence had been met. They were. So her hands were tied. Her personal wishes or those of her political party were irrelevant. End of story.

Back to terrorism. Among the findings of the commission set up to investigate the Christchurch Mosque shootings was a recommendation that laws relating to the suppression of terrorism be strengthened, and of course many promoters of civil liberties, freedom of expression of all political persuasions expressed their concern about any move that might limit our freedoms. Even our Human Rights Commission had much to say on this. That is as it should be.

After considerable discussion, proposed changes were then drafted. If the authorities are to be prevented from acting from malice, over enthusiasm, or unintentionally restricting our freedoms, while the law being “fit for purpose” then proposed legislation will require careful consideration, with every T crossed and I dotted before it is presented to Parliament. I’m not surprised that that the drafting took more than six months.

Earlier this year, the bill was presented to Parliament, and as is standard practice here in Aotearoa New Zealand, after the first reading the bill was referred to a Parliamentary select committee. The select committee process can take considerable time – typically six to nine months. Any person who has an interest in the bill has the right to present a written and/or oral submission. After all submissions have been presented, the committee reports the bill, its findings and any recommended amendments back to Parliament for a second reading.

New Zealand Parliamentary Select Committees are somewhat unusual in that their decisions are generally by consensus. It is not a place for partisanship. Occasionally a consensus can not be reached in which case dissenting views are also presented to Parliament. I appreciate such a practice would be unworkable in some jurisdictions (I’m looking of you, America). It requires good faith discussion and accepting that compromise is a necessary part of politics.

The Prime Minister has had discussions with the leader of the Opposition who has agreed to cooperate in having the bill passed into law by the end of the month – considerably faster than the time such bills usually take. I’ll take this moment to remind readers that laws tightening gun ownership after the Christchurch Mosque shootings was not as a result of a dictatorial government. That government was in fact a minority coalition and could not pass legislation as it saw fit. That particular legislation passed through parliament only with the support of opposition parties. It was passed into law with every member of Parliament, except one, supporting the bill.

Personally, I think this single terrorist act is insufficient reason to hasten the passage of the bill. Any haste increases the chance that something might miss scrutiny – either to restrict our freedoms or to render aspects of the legislation ineffective under the law. I would not like to see this legislation to do either. Time will tell if my unease is justified.

Finally I’ll comment on the oh so many claims that confiscating guns does not make us any safer and this single terrorist act is proof of that. Gun confiscation is a myth and I wish the American gun lobby would give up on spreading this misinformation. Prior to the tightening of the gun laws there were an estimated 1.5 million guns in legal ownership. The 34,000 guns handed in as a result of the law change is but a drop in the bucket, but it does mean that access to military style weapons is more difficult for everyone including criminal elements.

No piece of legislation can remove every danger. But it can reduce harm. It reduces the opportunity for those who wish to do harm to obtain the resources needed to carry it out. No one in Aotearoa New Zealand is permitted to carry weapons of any type in public places. Even the police are not routinely armed. No, it doesn’t mean that nobody will ever carry a weapon, but knowing the sanctions the courts can impose on anyone convicted of carrying weapons in public means that most will think twice before arming themselves.

I think it’s reasonable to assume that the number of antisocial, violent elements in our midst would not be significantly different in either the US or NZ, yet if the argument that more guns makes for a safer environment, then this nation should be a very dangerous place indead. It is not. The statistics bear this out. Everything from police shootings (per 10 million, NZ: 2.10, US: 28.54), to murders (per 100,000, NZ: 0.99, US: 5.35). Crime rates in the two countries is, unfortunately, similar (per 100,000, NZ: 42.2, US: 47.7), so it would appear that lack of opportunity presented by restrictions of carrying weapons does indeed reduce physical harm.

This is apparent when we observe that burglary rates in NZ are twice those in the US, yet violence or deaths occurring during burglaries are almost unknown. Most are self inflicted by the burglar in their haste to escape apprehension.

No nation has a perfect set of laws covering every possible situation. Nor will any nation ever achieve such a goal. In the full knowledge that law makers and governments are just as fallible thas everyone else, our greatest protection is not a formal document in the form of a constitution (Aotearoa New Zealand doesn’t have one anyway) but the observance of the rule of law.


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Update Aotearoa 19th June 2020

Call in the military
A Police shooting in Aotearoa
Gun registration in Aotearoa

Call in the military!

And we were doing so well!

It seems that Ministry of Health (MoH) staff managing the quarantine of incoming travellers have failed to follow the processes and procedures that have been laid down by their own organisation. Among their numerous guffaws was granting “compassionate leave” to two recent arrivals without first testing them for COVID-19. The pair traveled from Auckland to Wellington by car, a trip of approximately eight hours.

The day after their arrival in Wellington they were tested and the result two days later was positive. In the meantime they had come in contact directly and indirectly with more than 200 people, all of who must now be traced, and go into self isolation for two weeks.

This is just one of many errors, including allowing those in quarantine to take supervised walks outside the quarantine facilities where two metre distancing from the public was not observed, instances where new arrivals in quarantine were allowed to intermingle with those whose quarantine was about to expire, and the failure to perform the madatory two tests over the two weeks for all those in quarantine.

As a result of the very lacklustre performance of MoH staff, the Prime Minister has called in the defence force to manage the entire quarantine process. Given the number of anecdotal stories about poor quarantine management, I’m surprised that our defence forces weren’t called in weeks ago. This is an area of operation where the military should perform better than civil servants. Let’s hope so.

A Police shooting in Aotearoa

No, this isn’t a report of NZ police shooting a member of the public. It’s a report of members of the public shooting NZ police officers. This morning two police officers were shot while undertaking a routine traffic incident. One has since died. A passerby was run down and seriously injured by the offenders’ vehicle as they made their escape.

Such events are rare in Aotearoa New Zealand, and it does not alter my position on arming the police. Unfortunately, we will likely see some call for such action, as often happens after unfortunate events like this.

There’s a significant section of society that genuinely believes that the number of murders is increasing year by year, when the facts show a very different trend. In the 1970s there were 60 to 80 murders per year. In the last decade, that number is down to less than 40. Last year, 2019, is the outstanding exception where more people were murdered in the Christchurch mosque shooting than occurred throughout the rest of the year.

In the history of this nation, 33 police officers have been killed in the line of duty, The last occasion prior to today was eleven years ago. While that’s 33 too many, it’s about on par with the number of people killed by police, mainly after discharging a weapon at police or presenting a weapon with an apparent intent to use it.

Gun registration in Aotearoa

Yesterday, a significant change in gun laws passed its third and final reading in Parliament. Up until now there has been no system of firearms registration in this country, even for those weapons that became prohibited in the wake of the Christchurch mosque massacre. I was beginning to think that the legislation would not be passed into law before the General Elections in September due to differences of opinion between the parties that make up the governing coalition.

After some intense negotiation between Labour and NZ First, the government got the numbers to progress the reforms. In essence, some reforms have immediate effect, while some such as a firearms registry won’t come into effect until 2023.

Immediate changes

  • A Ministerial Arms Advisory group will be established
  • Reduced length of firearms licence from 10 years to 5 years
  • Offences and penalties that will include a two year jail sentence and $20,000 fine
  • More high-risk firearms are prohibited including short (pistol-length) semi-automatic rifles
  • Endorsements for pest control have a shorter duration and need to be renewed
  • More people involved in agricultural and similar businesses can obtain pest endorsements
  • Those who come to New Zealand who are issued a licence for up to a year will no longer be able to purchase and take ownership of a firearm in New Zealand

Changes over the next three years

  • In six months’ time anyone who sells ammunition will need a firearms licence
  • New rules will take effect in six months to determine who is “fit and proper” to possess firearms and who will be disqualified from holding a firearms licence
  • After one year, new rules governing a gun dealer’s licence. This is to recognise the range of dealer activities and associated risks of theft or misuse of firearms
  • In two years time, there will be new requirements for shooting clubs and ranges, which up till now have not been regulated by law
  • The establishment of an independent authority by 2023 to manage the licensing of firearms owners and the registration of firearms. Currently police are responsible for firearms licensing.

The legislation makes no change in our rights to gun ownership. As has always been the case here, there is no right to own guns. It’s a privilege, and more than ever, this legislation spells that such a privilege comes with responsibilities.


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Update Aotearoa – 11th April 2019

NZ’s environmental watchdog challenges climate policy on farm emissions and forestry offsets

The greenhouse gases methane and nitrous oxide, from burping and urinating livestock, account for about half of New Zealand’s total emissions. These agricultural emissions have been the elephant in the room of New Zealand climate policy for some time.

report released by the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment (PCE) this week suggests New Zealand should treat biological emissions differently from carbon dioxide emissions. It also says afforestation is a risky approach to combating climate change if planting trees is used to offset carbon emissions.

The report threatens to turn environmental policy and its principal policy tool, the New Zealand Emissions Trading Scheme (NZ ETS), on its head.

Read more…

New Zealand’s Pacific reset: strategic anxieties about rising China

China’s expanding influence is complicating strategic calculations throughout the Asia-Pacific region.

Small states, dependent on maintaining high levels of trade with China to secure their prosperity, are loathe to criticise or take actions that Beijing could find objectionable. This is creating a dilemma over how small states can protect their national interests at a time when China’s growing influence threatens the status quo.

New Zealand illustrates this dynamic. It watches China extend its influence into the microstates of the South Pacific, a region where New Zealand (and its ally Australia) have long enjoyed a position of prominent influence.

Read more…

New Zealand’s new gun law: What you need to know

Politicians have almost unanimously passed a ban on high-power guns in response to the Christchurch mosque attack.

So what will change, what won’t, and how did it happen?

ALMOST UNANIMOUSLY?

Of 120 members parliament, only one opposed the changes: the libertarian Act party’s sole MP, David Seymour. He argued the laws have been rushed through too quickly and without enough consultation.

By legislative standards, the process has moved at lightning speed. Lawmakers often mull bills for at least six months. Friday will mark four weeks since the March 15 terror attack that killed 50 people in Christchurch.

Read more…

Why A New Zealand Official Insists ‘Facebook Can’t Be Trusted’

Rachel Martin talks to New Zealand’s Privacy Commissioner John Edwards, who criticized Facebook after last month’s attacks on two mosques in Christchurch were live-streamed on Facebook.

Read more…

 


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I gave up my gun after the New Zealand mosque shootings. Why are Americans mad at me for it?

“I had always considered my weapon nothing more than a tool.”

“But no one sees gun ownership — much less semiautomatic rifle ownership — as an essential component of their identity.”

“Giving up some of our guns doesn’t mean giving up our liberty. The redcoats aren’t coming. The American idea — that it’s important to have the ability to kill someone on a whim – is just bizarre to us. In fact, when New Zealanders apply for gun licenses, we have to state our reasons for buying a firearm, and citing “home defense” is the fastest way to get denied — our laws explicitly state that self-defense is not sufficient reason to own a gun.”

The mindset of the American gun lobby is so entrenched, that they are incapable of understanding alternative points of view. That, in my mind, is what makes them so dangerous. The above quotes are taken from a guest commentary in The Denver Post. It’s the attitude that is similar to almost every gun owner in Aotearoa New Zealand. It’s worth reading to understand how people in two different English Speaking democracies view gun ownership.


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If your only tool is a hammer…

…everything looks like a nail.

If you’re not familiar with the phrase, then Wikipedia’s article Law of the instrument provides a good explanation.

Conversely, I would argue that if everything looks like a nail, the only tool you need is a hammer.

In the wake of the Christchurch shootings, the American pro gun lobby has waded into the gun control discussion currently underway in this country. Their arguments are largely irrelevant and unhelpful in the NZ context. They also tend to make claims that are either misleading or simply false.

Bearing arms is a God given right.

Perhaps in America, where 70% of the population are Christian and they have the right to bear arms written into their constitution. Here, Christians are a minority, a large minority, granted, but never the less, a minority. So God has little say in the matter. Most importantly, we have never had a “right” to bear arms. Any argument about the government taking away our rights rights is irrelevant. They can’t take away something we’ve never had.

In this country carrying any weapon in public is illegal. It doesn’t matter if it’s a gun, a knife, a toothpick crossbow, pepper spray, or even a screw driver. If you are carrying it as a weapon, regardless of whether you intend to use it defensively or offensively, you are breaking the law. If you get stopped by police while you’re driving, and they happen to see a baseball bat you keep for protection lying beside your car seat, expect to find yourself in trouble.

Controlling guns is a step on the road to totalitarianism and tyranny

Arguing that gun control diminishes or removes our right to own guns is akin to arguing that traffic regulations diminishes or removes our right to travel by motor vehicle. Some level of regulation and control is necessary to protect law abiding citizens from the idiots who either deliberately or accidentally endanger the lives of themselves and everyone else on the road.

In this country every car must undergo a mandatory safety inspection at regular intervals. The frequency depends on the age of the vehicle. If the car passes the inspection, it receives a WoF (Warrent of Fitness). It is illegal to drive or park a car on a public road unless there is a current WoF displayed on the top right corner of the windscreen (windshield). If everyone could be relied on to ensure their car was kept in a safe condition there would be no need for WoFs.

The same applies to driver licences. If everyone could be relied on to learn the road code and ensure they had the skills to drive safely, there would be no need to issue driver’s licences. Sadly the government must regulate to protect sensible car users.

How about piloting drones? In New Zealand, anyone can fly a drone. Neither drone pilot nor drone need to be licensed or registered subject to obeying a few simple safety rules. One rule is that drones must not be flown within 5 kilometers (3 miles) of an airport. There have been a number of near misses in recent years, one coming within metres of a passenger aircraft as it approached a airfield. Recently all flights in and out of the nation’s busiest airport were cancelled for hours because some idiot was incapable of learning and applying some simple safety rules.

It’s behaviour like that that may make licensing of drone pilots and registration of drones mandatory – licensing to ensure pilots understand the rules, and registration to be able to identify the owner of the drone. How is the licensing of gun owners and the registering of guns any different?

Even in the USA, weaponry is regulated. Are members of the public permitted to own machine guns, field guns, grenade launchers, or depleted uranium armour piercing projectiles and their launchers? How about rocket launchers, heat seeking anti-aircraft missiles? How about fully armed strike aircraft? As I understand it, the second amendment guarantees the right to bear arms. Does the pro gun lobby advocate that all forms of arms should be unregulated? I’m also led to believe that when the second amendment was written, the federal government did not have a standing army. The circumstances under which the amendment was drafted, were very different to those existing today.

Let’s face it, if the citizens of America were driven to rise against the government, how effective would the weapons they are permitted to own fare against the might of the American armed forces – the most powerful and sophisticated military force the world has known? If a truly despotic government came to power, why would it stop at conventional weapons to control the civilian population. The threat or use of a nuclear weapon on a random city is likely to result in complete surrender of any opposition, as would the threat of using a biological weapon such as anthrax on a civilian population. After all, it has the means. All it needs is the will.

I am convinced that if Kiwis were ever driven to rebel, we’d have a better chance of defeating the NZ military machine armed with only pitch forks and traditional Māori weapons than an American militia, armed with what Americans are currently allowed to own, would have against the the American Armed forces. The New Zealand air force has no strike capability at all – no fighters, no bombers. The entire air force comprises of  6 maritime patrol aircraft, 7 transport aircraft, an assortment of 15 helicopters, an assortment of 15 twin and single engine unarmed trainers and one vintage Tiger Moth. The army has no tanks, although it does have around a hundred light armoured vehicles. The entire weaponry of the NZ army can be found on Wikipedia.

I, and a great many other Kiwis would consider the arming of front-line police a greater threat than the removal of a few semiautomatic guns from private ownership.

More guns less crime

According to this article, while the number of guns in the USA has continued to climb, the gun ownership rate is decreasing. In other words, the number of people owning one or more guns is declining and the number of people not owning any gun is increasing. As the article points out:

It is merely the fact that a person owns a gun, not how many, that matters with regard to the crime debate. As gun ownership has not increased in tandem with the number of guns, it is not possible for the increase in guns to have contributed to the decrease in violent crime. The only effects that can stem from this surge in guns are deleterious. With hundreds of thousands of guns stolen every year, the stockpiling of weapons only increases the likelihood that they end up in the wrong hands. 

Think about this: in less than half an hour, one person with 2 semiautomatic rifles killed more people than all the murders committed in Aotearoa New Zealand in 2018. Not one murder in 2018 was committed with a semiautomatic.

There were 48 murders in New Zealand in 2018 – 1 murder per 7.6 days or 182.5 hours. The terrorist killed 50 people in less than half an hour. To put it in perspective, there were 17,284 reported murders in the USA in 2017. Imagine if someone took out 18,000 Americans in one hit. It would make 9/11 pale in comparison. What do you think America’s response would be?

In almost every case where a gun has been presented in the execution of a crime in NZ, the gun was either purchased legally, purchased illegally from a legal gun owner, or stolen from a legal gun owner. Making guns more difficult to obtain by making licensing more stringent and reducing the number of guns in circulation seem to me to be very practical measures in keeping guns out of the hands of criminals.

When everyone has a gun, people stop living in fear.

Fear of what? The last time I was in America was to attend a seminar.. I was the only Kiwi attendee. There were two Britons, one from Puerto Rico and around 12 from various American states. Early one evening, myself, one Brit and three Americans and the Puerto Rican  went into town for a meal. The street was quite busy and while were were looking for a suitable restaurant, three loud bangs were heard. I didn’t think anything of it, and nor did the Brit. Just as I realised that we were the only two standing, one of the Americans tugged on my trousers and yelled “Are you crazy? Get down unless you want to get shot!”

I have no idea what caused the noise. The cause is irrelevant. Clearly those on the street assumed it was gunfire and acted accordingly. It’s a reaction I’ve never seen in NZ. Will that be the reaction here now? I for one, hope not. In reality, not one loud unexpected bang that I’ve heard in the seventy years I’ve been on this planet has been caused by someone discharging a gun, let alone trying to shoot someone. There is no reason to assume the next loud bang with be from a gun either. Yet on that street, in America it was clear that a great many people were very afraid. Whether they were afraid of a gun or a person wielding a gun is of little relevance. They were afraid. I was not. One could argue that its America’s gun culture that creates an environment where a gun is the cause and solution to every problem.