The Police Minister has released a public discussion document on the much-talked-about Firearms Prohibition Orders which could see ‘high risk’ people banned from even visiting a property where licensed guns are kept.

The Government is testing the waters on Firearms Prohibition Orders, with a thorough public consultation aimed at gauging the public mood and navigating sticky human rights issues.

Firearms Prohibition Orders (FPOs) are a frequently mooted solution to gun crime,  seen as a way for police to crack down on gun-wielding gang members without imposing further regulations on law-abiding gun owners.

To date, attempts to introduce FPOs in New Zealand have failed, with a particular doozy during the 2017 election by then-Police Minister Paula Bennett who boldly told reporters she believed gang members had fewer human rights than other people.

Her proposed bill has been passed around National Party police spokespeople, and constantly pushed as a solution to gun crime, despite early advice from police that the Government should not adopt the bill because it raised anomalies in the current laws and did not go far enough in its protections.

Revisiting the possibility of FPOs has long been on the agenda of Police Minister Stuart Nash, but the work only ramped up following the Christchurch terror attack in March.

The first two rounds of gun law reforms have focused on removing the most dangerous weapons from circulation, and making sure only ‘fit and proper’ people are able to gain a firearms licence.

“FPOs would give police greater powers to investigate people whose behaviour cannot be regulated by a firearms licensing system.”

But the introduction of FPOs would potentially give police additional powers to go after people who had broken the law, or were believed to pose a specific safety risk.

“FPOs would give police greater powers to investigate people whose behaviour cannot be regulated by a firearms licensing system,” Nash said.

Rather than slapping down a pre-cooked bill, the minister has decided to put out some broad options in a public discussion document, asking for feedback on how the legislation should be designed.

This softly, softly approach speaks to the significant human rights implications. The Government wants to gauge the public mood on where the balance lies in limiting individuals’ rights in order to protect public safety.

These orders could give police powers to search properties and confiscate illegal firearms, as well as monitor conditions placed on people with a history of offending, and stop them from being around firearms.

“In practice this may mean a person subject to a FPO could not live in or visit a property where firearms are held, even if the firearm owner is licensed. They could not be in a vehicle which is carrying a firearm. They could not go hunting even under supervision. They could still associate with lawful gun owners, but not if a firearm is present,” Nash said.

These changes would constrain individual rights and could impact on freedom of association, freedom of movement, the right to be secure against unreasonable search, and the right to be presumed innocent.

There are also issues regarding likely inequities stemming from law changes.

Specifically, police said Māori men might be over-represented in the number of people subject to FPOs, because Māori men are over-represented in statistics for the type of offending which could make a person subject to a FPO. However, Māori women might benefit from the introduction of an FPO regime because they are more likely to be victims of violence, particularly family violence.

It is hard to know how many people could be subject to FPOs. Hundreds are issued in New South Wales each year, But it is possible that fewer than 20 FPOs could be issued in the first year of a regime in New Zealand, police said. At the other end, the toughest regime put forward as an option could see more than 1000 people being subject to an FPO.

The Government has introduced two rounds of gun law changes since the March 15 terrorist attack, and is looking at a third legislative change that would impact on who had access to firearms. Photo: Lynn Grieveson

The Government said the public feedback offered a way to fine-tune the proposal before any specific legislation was put forward.

“Any FPO regime would need to be carefully balanced to mitigate inequalities in the criminal justice system.”

Gun crime has increased in the country in recent years, with police attending 200 firearms events every month. In the 15 months to September, almost 1050 guns were reported stolen. In 2018, 771 guns were reported stolen, up from 440 in 2010.

Meanwhile, police have seized about 1600 firearms from gangs and other offenders since March.

It is important to note these orders would not just apply to known gang members and associates with a criminal history, if introduced, they could extend to other organised criminal groups, members of extremist ideological groups, and those with a history of violent offending or family harm.

While there has been general agreement that something needs to be done about rising gun crime, the reaction to FPOs may not be entirely positive.

There has been some unease over the current armed patrols pilot, where members of the Armed Offenders Squad patrolled certain suburbs, equipped with firearms. And more visible arming of police in the wake of the Christchurch attack has garnered a mixed reaction.

Jacinda Ardern said FPOs were about ensuring people that posed the most threat came nowhere near firearms. They offered “one more tool”, she said.

Consultation will run until January 13.

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