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Ayaan Naeem, 5, hugs Sergeant Stuart Martindale, at Memorial Park Cemetery in Christchurch. Photo: MARTIN HUNTER/CHRISTCHURCH STAR

President's Column: Police and public bond strengthened

We are now seven weeks on from the tragic events in Christchurch, and it is fair to say that the domestic and international response has been so focused on strength, healing and aroha that we have real positives to build on as a community.

A key and highly visible part of that community is Police staff who remain at the forefront of the aftermath, working extra hours and reassigned duties to reassure the public.

That care has met with an exceptional response from ordinary New Zealanders towards their police officers. I hope the public know how much this means to us all, from those deeply involved in this massive investigation through to those who have stood on guard for hours on end.

Within a month of the massacre, Parliament amended the Arms Act. The association has congratulated our politicians on their swift and decisive action, which has led to real change when it comes to access to certain firearms.

For years we have been warning that our previous firearm laws exposed Kiwis to the unacceptable risk of gun violence. Our credibility in taking that stance has been endorsed, but, sadly, it has taken the hideous actions of this one individual for politicians to say “enough”.

There is no comfort to be found in saying “We told you so”. However, no politician can truly say they were suprised that a criminal, through legal or illegal means, could access the weapons and ammunition used in the Christchurch attack.

The warnings have been stark. They were laid bare for the 2016 Select Committee Inquiry into the Possession of Illegal Firearms, and I have lost count of the number of times the association has repeated our arguments to politicians across the spectrum and through all media.

The association’s policy document prepared for the 2017 general election and delivered to all parties stated “possibly the most concerning issue facing policing in New Zealand in 2017 is the increasing availability of firearms to criminals”.

But now we need to look forward.

With the first of the arms amendment bills in law, we are already focusing on the next phase in which the Government has committed to addressing the issues of a firearm registry, the licensing regime, Police vetting, the “fit and proper person” test and firearm secure storage requirements. These have all been brought to our attention by members and, I assure you, we will continue to play a key role in the reform debate that is on its way.

I thank the vast majority of firearm owners who have accepted the necessity of the reforms, including those who have already (or intend to) handed in their now illegal weapons. Understandably, many will be disappointed that the firearms they enjoy using have been criminalised through no fault of their own. Yet, as I told the select committee, we are decades late on this front because, had the government of the day acted as it should have in the 1990s after Aramoana, today’s firearm owners would not have been affected now.

Reflecting on the days I spent in Christchurch following the tragedy, and later at the memorial service, I recognise the value of the response from the public to the victims and to Police staff.

For officers, it is a welcome reminder that even though we spend much of our time dealing with the grim side of society, the vast majority of New Zealanders are wonderful people who see police as part of their community and appreciate the difficult job you do.
Kia kaha.

Chris Cahill

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