Licensed owners win gun fight against police

By JEFF TOLLAN - The Timaru Herald

Last updated 05:00 04/03/2010

A "victory for commonsense" has been reached in the High Court at Palmerston North after a gun owner took police to task over recent changes to firearm classifications.

Gun owners have been told since July last year if they own a semi-automatic firearm with a "military pattern, free-standing pistol grip" it is considered to be a military-style semi-automatic (MSSA) firearm.

Where licence holders previously needed an A endorsement to hold the weapons, under the July interpretation they need the harder-to-get E endorsement, which has stricter rules about how the weapons can be stored and where they can be used, and sets out more requirements for licence holders to get the endorsement.

Palmerston North resident Richard Lincoln challenged police over their meaning of a "military pattern free-standing pistol grip" in the Arms Act and, on Monday, Justice Mallon ruled the police interpretation incorrect.

Mr Lincoln's spokesman, Timaru firearm law consultant David Wood, welcomed the decision and said it was a victory for common sense and a win for licensed firearm holders.

Mr Lincoln's Heckler and Koch SL8 rifle was deemed to be a MSSA, but that was overturned on Monday.

"The grip is integrated with the stock and does not conform with military specifications," Justice Mallon said in the written findings, adding Mr Lincoln's weapon was not a MSSA and the police interpretation was wrong. "Military pattern free-standing pistol grip, as referred to in the Arms Act 1983, does not mean what is set out in the police communication, dated 2 July, 2009."

Mr Wood said for 16 years police had not taken any issue with all of the legitimate conversions that were made to change MSSAs into sporting configurations.

He added the "myth of Aramoana"– that David Gray murdered all 13 people with an MSSA – was "nonsense".

Gray's 1990 shooting spree led to a 1991 review of the Arms Act that saw MSSAs nearly banned before a number of amendments in 1992. One made a provision for MSSAs. Justice Mallon acknowledged that after seeing forensic evidence that only four of Gray's victims were killed by an MSSA.

Mr Wood said it showed a lack of understanding around the weapons by those trying to find solutions to problems. "The truth of the matter is [the police] know stuff all about [MSSAs]. It's regrettable."

He also question statements by the police that said they were trying to "crack down on dangerous weapons".

Mr Wood said any weapon was dangerous and that police needed to tidy up their own house before introducing measures that only targeted the good guys. He said an example was Napier gunman Jan Molenaar, who had an arsenal of weapons he acquired with a collector's gun licence, yet police failed to check up on him when they knew he had drug convictions.

Molenaar shot and killed a police officer and himself.