Guns and the gangs – Govt responds with a package of crackdown measures after ACT championed a taxing approach

Buzz from the Beehive

Voters are bound to wonder about the Government’s determination to crack down on gangs when official data show more than one firearm offence a day, on average, has been committed by gang members since 2019.

This has happened on the Ardern government’s watch, in other words (although it would be helpful to have figures going further back to cover the period of National-led governments).

But before Point of Order had digested the data and the implications for law-and-order policy, Police Minister Chris Hipkins and Justice Minister Kiri Allan had popped up  to announce a package of measures to help reduce the harm caused by gangs and make communities safer.

The crackdown on gangs was posted on the Beehive website along with news of

  • Two sustainable manufacturing businesses in the Manawatu dipping into a government trough – the Regional Strategic Partnership Fund – and being rewarded to the tune of $1.75 million in one case and up to $2 million in the other.
  • New Zealand and Australia investing a further NZ$1.1 million between them in a new desalination plant to support Kiribati to maintain drinking water supplies. This is in addition to $1.19 million in drought support initiatives already rolled out in Kiribati by New Zealand.
  • New Zealand making “a significant contribution” to support the implementation of the Fiji Gender Action Programme to advance women’s empowerment and social protection. A $12.6 million contribution, to be specific.
  • The Thompsons Creek projects, part of the wider Manuherekia catchment programme in Central Otago, being granted $2.9 million in Jobs for Nature funding to help improve water quality and restore freshwater habitats.

All this will be carefully considered and essential spending, of course, because Finance Minister Grant Robertson is keeping a tight rein on fiscal policy. 

But let’s get back to law and order and the gangs.

“Recent brazen gang activities have been totally unacceptable and our communities deserve better,” Chris Hipkins said.

 Recent?  But the just-published firearms figures – which were highlighted in a  Stuff today – hark back several years.

They have been released by the Government in response to a written parliamentary question from the ACT Party on firearms offences committed by people on the police National Gang List.

The data shows that from January 1, 2019, to June 1, 2022, there were 1319 offences in 1247 days around the country.

An average of 390 firearm offences were committed by gang members each year since 2019, or 1.057 offences a day.

Between 2017 and 2021, there was a 20.1% increase to 392. By June 1, 2022, there had already been 183 firearm offences committed, which would see 2022 to be the highest year yet with 439 offences.

The Stuff article explains that a firearm offence is a singular charge, but where multiple offences could come from one event. They consist of a range of offences from failure to produce a licence, to firing the weapon, to unlawful sale of a pistol conversion kit at the most extreme end.

But fear not, dear reader.  The politicians are on the case.

ACT leader David Seymour is advocating the Inland Revenue Department (IRD) use its powers to investigate gang members.

He has drawn attention to the Taxation (Income Tax Rate and Other Amendments) Bill, enacted in December 2020 to empower tax officials to question individuals about the sources of all   their sources of wealth and whether they were using tax loopholes and trusts to avoid paying tax.

Seymour said ACT wanted to use those same powers to investigate gang members’ income and tax paid.

Gang members would  have to be able to (a) read a questionnaire, (b) write the answers, and (c) provide IRD with honest answers – just as we imagine they dutifully register their guns.

According to Stuff’s report on the ACT policy:

Broadcaster Rebecca Wright challenged Seymour about his plans on Newshub Nation on Saturday.

She asked whether the IRD sending a questionnaire to gang members about where their income came from would work, and if gang members would comply.

Seymour said they would have to comply because it was illegal not to, and they would be fined.

”And if they don’t pay those fines they eventually go to jail.”

The Government – which does not have the luxury of promising what it would do but must demonstrate that it is doing something – has come up with its own package of measures:

  • New targeted warrant and additional search powers to find and seize weapons from gang members during a gang conflict;
  • Expanding the range of offences where police can seize and impound cars, motorbikes and other vehicles;
  • Up to five years prison for a new offence of discharging a gun with intent to intimidate;
  • Police and other enforcement agencies able to seize cash over $10,000 when found in suspicious circumstances;
  • Watches, jewellery, precious metals and stones, motor vehicles and boats added to list of high value goods prohibited for sale for cash over a specified value;
  • Work underway to strengthen sector-wide approach to address youth crime and reduce offending.

Police Minister Chris Hipkins explained that  Police have asked for legislative changes that will give them more tools to crack down on violent offending and other criminal activities.

“We have listened, and will introduce a package of changes that target this activity as an omnibus Amendment Bill as soon as possible.

“These are practical and targeted measures that will help the Police do their job to keep communities safe. We are interested in real solutions, not empty slogans.”

But don’t get the idea an embarrassed government is belatedly responding to Opposition claims it is soft on law and order – or to a daily flow of media reports of incidents involving guns and violent crime.

“This work has been underway for some time and adds to the Government’s strong track record in combatting organised crime, gangs and drug use by providing Police and other enforcement agencies with more resources, support and targeted powers.

“These measures follow $562 million for law and order in this year’s Budget, work targeting and removing unlawful firearms off the streets, actually progressing firearm prohibition orders, and investment in 1800 more police and hundreds more officers focused on serious and organised crime.

‘We want to hit gangs and other offenders where it hurts – by taking their guns, cars and motorbikes and making it harder to launder money – while also responding to increasing incidents of intimidation and violence on our roads and streets and in our homes,” Chris Hipkins said.

There is work under way across agencies, too, to address the drivers of crime, including youth crime and ensure the problem is being tackled at both ends.

Justice Minister Kiri Allan said:

“We know people don’t become gang members overnight, and that the causes are complex and often inter-generational.

And:

“I will be looking closely at the youth justice system in particular to see how we can make changes that will improve both the lives of at-risk young people and public safety over the long term.”  

Here’s hoping the emphasis is on public safety and on the victims rather than the offenders.

Latest from the Beehive

More tools for Police to tackle gangs and intimidating behaviour

Police Minister Chris Hipkins and Justice Minister Kiri Allan today unveiled a package of measures to help reduce the harm caused by gangs and make communities safer.

Sustainable manufacturing businesses in Manawatū-Whanganui to receive Govt investment

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Drought assistance to Kiribati as drinking water supplies dry up

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The Thompsons Creek projects, part of the wider Manuherekia catchment programme in Central Otago, have been granted Jobs for Nature funding to help improve water quality and restore freshwater habitats

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