Anti-firearm violence bill could disproportionately impact Māori, Law Society says

The issuance of firearms prohibition orders under the bill could breach the right to freedom of movement and association

Anti-firearm violence bill could disproportionately impact Māori, Law Society says

The New Zealand Law Society | Te Kāhui Ture o Aotearoa has raised concern that the Firearms Prohibition Orders Legislation Bill (Bill 106−1) could disproportionately impact the Māori community. 

In a submission presented before the Justice Select Committee, the Law Society stated that while the aim of the bill, a proposed law that aims to strengthen the government’s approach to combatting firearm violence, is commendable, issuing firearms prohibition orders (FPOs) could breach an individual’s freedom of movement and association since the bill fails to identify a “rational connection between the convictions to which the scheme applies and the objective of reducing the criminal use of firearms.”

“There is a potential for capturing those who are not likely to use firearms in this way, and it’s quite significant that those people’s rights have the potential to be infringed, and unfortunately this scheme in that regard is unjustified at present,” said Monique van Alphen Fyfe, who represented the Law Society along with Jeremy Finn.

She pointed out that pursuant to the bill, the standard conditions of an FPO prohibit an individual from “residing” at any premises where firearms are stored.  “Residing” has been defined as staying in such premises for at least 2 days, whether consecutive or not, in any 12-month period. 

“This has the capacity to materially affect the ability of Māori to visit whānau, attend events at marae, or to attend tangi without risking (potentially unknowingly) a breach of an FPO,” van Alphen Fyfe said.

Introduced last February, the bill allows judges to issue FPOs against individuals aged 18 years old and above who have been convicted of a specified offence under the Arms Act 1983, the Crimes Act 1961, the Terrorism Suppression Act 2002 or a qualifying offence as defined in section 86A of the Sentencing Act 2002. The FPOs would prohibit such individuals from possessing, accessing and using firearms or restricted weapons for 10 years after serving their sentence.

The bill also sets out a series of standard and special conditions for FPOs, as well as the corresponding penalties for breaching those conditions.

Finn pointed out that an FPO “can be made against any offender” convicted of a a qualifying offence as defined in section 86A of the Sentencing Act 2002, which includes several offences that do not generally involve the use of firearms. Thus, he recommended that discretion should be given to a sentencing judge where there is a risk of future use of firearms arising from the circumstances of the offending.

“A tailored solution at sentencing is a much more efficient and economic method,” he said.

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