It might have had something to do with the date – July 4, American Independence Day.
That was the day, half a world away from the United States, when New Zealand Police held an enactment for the media of how the Government-ordered gun amnesty and buy-back process would work at locations around the country.
That afternoon, the Police Association posted four photos from the event on its Facebook page.
Within half an hour, other FB groups, including Kiwi Gun Blog, had shared the post with several overseas gun rights groups, including in the US.
An hour later, the post, had reached about 3000 people and so began a barrage of inflammatory comments, almost all of them from overseas gun lobbyists who oppose the idea of governments taking firearms off people.
It was the online equivalent of calling in reinforcements – a cavalry of trolls pumped up with Independence Day rhetoric.
Many of the comments were automatically blocked because they included vulgar swearwords. Others were highly offensive to Police staff and these were removed by our page moderators.
Four hours later, the post had reached 32,000 people, had attracted more than 300 comments and been shared more than 100 times.
The association is not squeamish when it comes to robust debate on its FB page, but in the face of this orchestrated attack, which effectively shut our members out of commenting, a decision was made to remove the post.
Hijacking media outlets and commentators is a standard tactic employed by gun lobby groups, and our post, just before July 4 in the US, appeared to have created the perfect environment for extreme and rabid elements to unleash themselves.
Most of the posts were illiterate and incoherent and showed limited understanding of the New Zealand situation, and, from the tone of them, it appears they were straight out of America’s National Rifle Association handbook.
The tactics include sharing stories about people defending themselves from attack in their homes, highlighting how useful guns are for self-defence and shaming gun-control groups, governments and police (in one case on our FB page, by implying that New Zealand Police allowed the Christchurch mosque attacks to happen).
In an Al Jazeera story earlier this year, it was revealed how the NRA had sought to influence public opinion in Australia in relation to reactions to mass shootings. As part of an undercover reporting assignment, NRA representatives were asked how gun rights advocates should respond to deadly mass shootings.
The advice included:
“Smear gun-control groups. Shame them with statements such as, ‘How dare you stand on the graves of those children to put forward your political agenda’.”
(In New Zealand, the day after the March 15 mosque attacks, Kiwi Gun Blog posted on its FB page that Police Association President Chris “Cahill stands on the bodies to get to the cameras”.)
“We want to print up stories about people who were robbed, had their home invaded, were beaten or whatever… and that could have been helped had they had a gun.”
For social media, the NRA said, short videos highlighting the use of guns for self-defence were “hugely popular”.
“They’re good because they’re short and they kind of get you outraged. We call it like, ‘the outrage of the week’.”
The advice mirrors the comments, and shared videos, on our recent post. Here’s a small selection of those that are printable.
“One day there will be a Nuremberg style trial and all you tyrannical psychopaths who took part in this human rights atrocity [the gun amnesty and buy-back] will be hung.”
“I can’t wait for someone to shoot up your government buildings.”
“Fabricated numbers [referring to the reported number of firearms notified to Police ahead of the amnesty and buy-back], stand strong and make them pry it from your cold dead hands!”
“I’d wager there are more gun owners than police or even military in kiwiland. Take back what is yours.”
“Here… we’re celebrating our Independence today from the Crown who once tried to disarm us, free people do not ask permission to bear arms. Self-defence is the oldest and most basic Human Right. Your government is denying you all the tools to protect yourselves.”
“How about you go back to the Soviet Union, where you belong, boomer [In response to a comment from an association member].”
The association welcomes debate on a range of issues on its FB page, including firearms, and rarely deletes or moderates any comments, even the negative ones regularly posted by a dedicated cohort of extreme Kiwi gun lobbyists.
In this case, the decision to remove the post was made because it had been bombarded by overseas gun lobbyists, at the behest of the New Zealand gun lobby, preventing any meaningful engagement with our members.
Even before the events of March 15, the gun lobby’s keyboard warriors had been on a campaign of disinformation against the association.
Long before the law change that led to the firearms amnesty and buy-back, the association was advocating for action to get illegal firearms out of the hands of criminals in New Zealand.
Groups such as Kiwi Gun Blog were blatently attempting to skew that message about illegal weapons by saying it was an attack on legal gun owners.
The association has always been clear that its concerns are not with licensed firearms owners.
The social media behaviour of some of those owners now raises the question of whether they are, in fact, fit and proper persons to hold a licence.