Gun City owner David Tipple has found himself in the spotlight following the Christchurch mosque attacks, and his response offered little to suggest the gun lobby’s fervent opposition to tighter restrictions will change, Sam Sachdeva writes.

As the owner of what is advertised as “the world’s largest gun store”, it is unsurprising that David Tipple has become a focus of attention in the wake of the Christchurch mosque shootings.

In fact, Tipple’s Gun City has long courted controversy with the public.

In 2011, one of its Auckland shops offered a $1 “mystery firearm” as part of a Father’s Day promotion, with Tipple standing by the “genuine gift”.

“Picture this – some kid who can’t afford to buy his father a gun. But say he’s 18 or 20 and has his firearms licence, he can give that gift to his father,” Tipple told the NZ Herald.

In 2015, broadcast journalist Heather Du Plessis-Allan purchased a .22 rifle from a Gun City store via mail order, as part of a television segment on what she said was a “loophole” in New Zealand’s gun laws.

At the time, Tipple threatened to prosecute Du Plessis-Allan – but he himself spent nearly two years in United States prisons on a number of firearms-related charges.

In 2016 he was pulled over by New Zealand police speeding at nearly 180km/h – which led to just one of several convictions over the years for driving offences.

Last year, Tipple began to prepare a legal case against police after they clamped down on the importation of semi-automatic rifles like the AR15 – the type of gun used in the Christchurch attack.

Disgust, but no desire for gun debate

So it was unsurprising that Tipple enlisted Christchurch PR consultant David Lynch, who sat alongside his new client throughout the press conference.

Lynch said Tipple had come to him seeking advice on how to handle the “significant media interest”, out of a desire to respond in the most appropriate way – a claim that would later be severely tested.

Reading from a prepared statement, Tipple offered sympathies to the families and loved ones of victims, and expressed “dismay and disgust” at the terror attack.

“We cannot comprehend how such despicable actions could be inflicted on those at prayer in a place of worship.”

He promoted Gun City’s compliance with the law over the years, saying the company had been acknowledged by police as “an example of how dealers should operate”.

Then came confirmation that Gun City had sold the alleged gunman four “category-A” firearms, as well as ammunition, via an online mail-order process – although not the AR15 reportedly used by the shooter.

“We detected nothing extraordinary about the licence holder,” Tipple said.

He backed Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s “swift and decisive actions” and said the company would fully cooperate with police and the Government to help prevent another attack.

But then, an unsurprising line: “I’d like you to refrain from turning today’s conference into a gun debate.”

David Tipple faces the media. Photo: Sam Sachdeva.

It was a line he turned to again and again.

How did he feel about selling the types of guns that could allow a massacre like this to happen? “I think that’s a gun debate question.”

What was happening with his lawsuit against police? “That is not my department, and once again I’d rather not get into that debate.”

“I totally agree there should be a gun debate, but today is not the day – please respect me on this, I am going to leave if these are the only questions you have,” he offered at one point.

There were some answers, however.

Tipple said talk of panic buying was “a lie”, and that a number of people in fact wanted to sell their semi-automatic weapons following the attack; a claim that cuts against the word of gun experts who have not seen a flurry of sales like this since 1992, the last time law changes were mooted.

Tarrant had made his first purchase from Gun City in December 2017, a month after receiving his firearms licence, and bought his last items from them in March 2018.

“We monitor the number of firearms and the types of firearms that people buy from us, the types of accessories that people buy from us, and he was a brand new purchaser with a brand new licence – it was an ordinary sale,” Tipple said.

Having watched the video of the shooting, he was certain that Gun City had not sold the semi-automatic rifle used by the gunman in the attack.

“I saw the rifle and I know for sure where it came from, if it has a serial number that I expect, and it was not from any Gun City-affiliated store.”

He had not sold the extra-capacity magazines used either, but would not know whether the shotgun had come from a store until the police investigation had finished.

David Tipple said Gun City would change its advertising, but was defensive over any wide changes to gun laws. Photo: Sam Sachdeva.

Tipple offered some minor concessions.

A billboard of children shooting at targets and exclaiming that parents should “get the family outside” would be changed “in the immediate future”.

He would withdraw AR-15s from sale “if we are required to by law”, but ignored a question about whether he would do so proactively.

But he offered a preemptive defence against a crackdown on gun sales, a suggestion that changing too much would be letting the terrorists triumph.

“This man wrote in his manifesto that the purpose of using a firearm was to divide us. If we allow him to make changes in our ideology, in our behaviour, he’s won.”

“We are not a country of emotional responses – we are a country of laws,” Tipple said, a claim that felt discordant with the outpouring of emotion around New Zealand.

The gunman wanted New Zealand to “return to 15th century England, where we hang draw and quarter each other because we don’t have similar beliefs”, Tipple claimed.

Then came a retelling of a supposed anecdote out of the mouth of babes.

“I had a grandson comment to me, ‘Granddad, why do people think that guns are the problem? The guy was crazy’. He was six years old.”

The gunman wanted New Zealand to “return to 15th century England, where we hang draw and quarter each other because we don’t have similar beliefs”.

“Let’s move on together because together we’re a much stronger force than divided, and let’s not rip each other up because we have a different understanding or a different belief.”

Then it was off, through the scrum of cameras and onto Wellington, apparently for a bid to meet with Ardern.

With the Prime Minister promising that New Zealand’s gun laws will change, Tipple seems likely to face another tough audience.

Sam Sachdeva is Newsroom's national affairs editor, covering foreign affairs and trade, housing, and other issues of national significance.

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