Address to Nadi Seminar

United Nations Regional Seminar on Small Arms and Light Weapons for the South Pacific

Nadi, Republic of Fiji - 18-20 August 2004

Address by John Howat, COLFO Chairman

Thank you Mr Chairman, honoured delegates - organising staff.

Thank you very much for the opportunity to address this meeting – it is very greatly appreciated.

My name is John Howat. I am the Chairman of the New Zealand Council of Licensed Firearms Owners Incorporated, (COLFO). We are New Zealand’s largest voluntary firearms user organisation and on behalf of our members I acknowledge those who supported our request to attend. Our very special thanks to the Chairman and the staff of the Organising Committee, the staff of the New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, and the NZ Police.

I want to start by saying that responsible sporting users of firearms are on the same side as the Police and the Governments of their countries. Responsible firearms-users are against the criminal misuse of firearms, and they are against the illicit cross border trade and movement of firearms.

The vast majority of firearms held by civilians in the Pacific States cause no problems now - and will cause no problems in the future.

There is a catch phrase ‘firearms control’ – I want to let delegates know that it should not initiate a battle against all firearms any more than the words ‘flood control’ should initiate a battle against all water.

I and my organisation have studied the successes and failures of gun laws for over 35 years and in that time we have come to realise that laws that greatly inconvenience responsible users have very little effect on the misuse of firearms. That is not to suggest there should be no laws – there must be laws - those laws must be simple, they must be easily understood, and they must be respected by good people.

I believe that Pacific island states should study the very effective New Zealand gun laws and implement similar laws. Laws that work; that are respected; and that are not costly. Responsible New Zealand firearms owners and the New Zealand Police respect each others views and we work together to ensure good law.

There was a defining moment in New Zealand’s successful gun laws, and it happened in 1983 when our Government was replacing the registration of rifles with the license system which at that time applied only to shotguns.

A number of very knowledgeable people – in the firearms field - were gathered in a lecture room at the Police College and we were discussing the rules for future firearms license applications.

We thought up, and we dreamed up all sorts of hard requirements. One person would suggest an idea and another person would suggest how it could be made more difficult. This plus that. Each of us thought of all sorts of ways to make it hard to get a firearms license and we had almost finished when the Police Arms Officer who was sitting next to me stood up to speak. It was the first time he had spoken.

He was a Maori, he came from a small county town; he had more hair than I have but he was pretty grey. He didn’t have a lot of words - but his words held a great deal of meaning – and he said:

“Your ideas about tough gun licenses are very noble ideas. In my town there are a lot of good people who could never jump through your hoops. Some can’t read; some have no idea of sitting tests – they have very little schooling. They are good people; they are safe people; they are used to firearms and hunting. They won’t have your new license, but they will still have their guns. Is that the idea? Is that what you want from your laws?”

On the strength of that man’s wisdom the NZ Police changed their system and made the firearms application a learning process.

Rather than a process for defeating applicants it became a process for encouraging responsible law abiding people – to learn about the law and be looked after and treated fairly.

It has worked for us; it puts emphasis on the three legs that sustain effective gun laws. Those legs are simply:

  • > Enacting laws that have the respect of responsible, emphasis “responsible”, firearms users.
  • Licensing responsible people who understand and support those laws.  
  • Requiring adequate safe storage for firearms that are not in use.  
  • Having now been here for a day and a half listening to people talk, and listening to the problems that have been expressed, I feel that there is room for COLFO, in conjunction with the New Zealand Mountain Safety Council, to offer, through the Chair, our technical help and co-operation to any States in the Pacific who feel they could benefit from it.

We propose to offer a training programme for South Pacific States.

A programme that would deal with:

  • Firearm handling and safety issues.
  • Firearms storage issues.
  • Firearm care and maintenance

We will work with any representatives who would like to be involved. We cannot be sure that it will get off the ground but we hope it will. It is something that we can do to help the people up here.

You may contact us directly, or you may contact me through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, or through the NZ Police - Joe Green - and I am sure if necessary through the Chairman of the Organising committee.

I would like to thank everybody for their attention.

Thank you Mr Chairman.