(Originally published in the CFJ in March 2020.)
first, demonize ‘scary looking’ firearms, and
then, use that fear to justify a “buy back” of legal guns.
Both Justin and Jacinda believe waving a red herring around will divert public attention away from the government’s failure to confront either terrorism or gang crime. New Zealand and Canada both capitalized on shootings that shocked the public by ordering “buy backs” of “assault-style” rifles. But will firearms owners cooperate?
Trudeau wants your guns
In his Mandate letter to Public Safety Minister Bill Blair, Prime Minister Trudeau gave the highest priority to confiscating “military-style assault rifles” in a “buy back.” Despite the claims these firearms pose a threat, the newly prohibited firearms had been legally purchased and never misused.
New Zealand offers clues about how gun grabs work in Commonwealth countries such as Canada. The first question to ask about a firearms “buy back,” in Canada or New Zealand, is how many legal owners will refuse to surrender their lawfully purchased firearms?
In Christchurch, New Zealand, a racist environmentalist murdered of 51 people at two mosques in March 2019. The socialist government, in a knee-jerk reaction, blamed “military-style semi-automatic” firearms, immediately passing an order-in-council to confiscate 13,500 semi-automatic firearms that had been required to be registered in the 1990s. Not satisfied, her government followed up her OIC by passing legislation prohibiting and confiscating between 170,000 – 240,000 semi-automatic and pump-action firearms. This bill received wide support in parliament, including the main opposition party, National. Only one MP representing ACT (Association of Consumers and Taxpayers) opposed the “buy back”.
Scary-looking firearms are the modern scapegoat. Did you think modern urbanites were any different than rural peasants hundreds of years ago? In Medieval Europe, Christian mobs sporadically went on rampages and murdered innocent Jews. In the early 20th Century, Canadian mobs repeatedly rioted through Vancouver’s Chinatown ransacking shops and attacking whoever they found. It’s a story as old as humanity: a community, panicking before some existential threat (disease epidemic, eclipse, terror attack), decides the gods demand a sacrifice. The local culture defines what the sacrifice will be: maybe a young goat or a bull, possibly a virgin, or perhaps a visible minority. Here and now, it’s semi-automatic firearms.
Never let a crisis go to waste
Jacinda Ardern was not satisfied with simply banning semi-automatic firearms, she also promised to radically overhaul the firearms laws as well as launching a Royal Commission of Inquiry into the attack. In September, without waiting for the Royal Commission to report its findings, she introduced another bill, the Arms Legislation Bill, that is currently going through the New Zealand Parliament. This bill tightens regulations on importing firearms, firearms dealers, mandated universal firearms registration, among other restrictions. Public opposition to the proposed changes has increased to the extent that the National Party joined ACT in voting against the new bill at first reading. The Arms Legislation is on the verge of becoming law.
How successful was the New Zealand “buy back”?
After the deadline expired in December, the New Zealand Police announced the final numbers of surrendered firearms. While the Police have claimed success, critics disagree, noting that there is no agreement about how many guns were to be prohibited, primarily because many of the banned firearms had never been registered.
Banned “military style semi-automatic” firearms (including some pump-action rifles and shotguns) fall into two categories: Class A, which includes a wide range of un-registered rifles and shotguns, and Class E, firearms which had been classified as “military-style semi-automatic” rifles back in 2011 and registered. The “buy back” of E-category firearms with 64% handed in, could be called a qualified success. However, 28% of owners are challenging the confiscation in one way or another, and another 8% are apparently refusing to comply. This diverts police resources from other duties.
|Registered||Handed in||In process||Police to follow up|
The success of the “buy back” of the un-registered firearms is more difficult to assess because estimates of the total vary widely, partly due to the difficulty in precisely identifying which “semi-automatic” or pump-action rifles and shotguns are prohibited. The National Party estimated there are 240,000 such firearms, while other estimates put the number at 170,000 or 185,000.
|Firearms collected||Total possessed|
These low percentages make it difficult to claim success whatever the true totals are. Important police resources are being diverted from vital duties because over two-thirds of owners are unwilling to readily surrender their lawfully purchased firearms. Since the definition of a “military style semi-automatic” firearm is vague, it is difficult to know how many of the firearms collected are centre-fire MSSAs and how many are not. One estimate is that only 63% of the firearms handed in were centre-fire MSSAs, and estimated the compliance rate to be 13% – 17%.
The lack of compliance is surprising because New Zealand’s sizeable firearms community has long supported restrictive gun laws similar to legislation in Australia and Canada. There are 248,000 licenced firearms owners (6%) out of a population 15 years or older of 3.9 million who own an estimated 1.5 million firearms. This is comparable to Canada, where 7% of the adult population have a firearms licence. Like Canada, New Zealand is starkly divided between urban and rural areas. Auckland has one-third of the total national population and its surrounding region has over one-half of the national population. Over one-quarter of which is foreign born.
Will Canadians surrender their guns?
Will Canadians cooperate with the coming “buy back” by willingly surrendering firearms that they purchased legally and have used in a safe and legal manner since they bought them? As in New Zealand, refusal will be difficult for owners of registered firearms. The police have their names and addresses.
Owners of banned firearms can legally appeal the confiscation order. They may well lose the appeal, but such action would delay the eventual forfeiture of the newly prohibited firearm. If a large number of owners appeal, or simply refuse to comply, the costs of enforcing confiscation will swell. Such opposition may dissuade the government.
Court costs for a single case are estimated at between $12,000 – $16,000, including lost wages for those involved, the cost of lawyers, court personnel, judge, sheriff, and clerks. Estimates for compliance with the recent New Zealand confiscation range from 21% to 64%. If similar percentages of Canadians refuse to comply, enforcement costs for could range between $840 million and $1.9 billion.
However, the names of owners of semi-automatic firearms that are “non restricted” will be difficult to identify. The police would need to comb through sales records of a large number of retailers. Of course, by the time the police track down the original purchaser, he or she may have lost the firearm or sold it, and private sales do not have to be recorded.
There may be time to stop this massive gun grab. In contrast with the lightning response of Ardern’s New Zealand socialists, Trudeau’s Liberals are moving quite slowly. The Canadian shootings Trudeau is attempting to exploit are not as horrifying as the mosque murders in New Zealand. Now that the election is over, Trudeau’s Liberals may decide it is expedient to abandon this red herring and focus on global warming instead of scary-looking semi-automatic firearms.