Michael Dowling - COLFO Column Article May 2013

Dear Members

The AGM for the Council will be on the 25th May in Wellington, which will be our second meeting this year and the first meeting to include the new Strategy Subcommittee. The Subcommittee will conduct itself through email or teleconference and meet face to face once per year. It will assist the Council in identifying emerging issues and planning response to threats.

We will continue to have informal meetings with the police representatives, and have spoken twice with the secondment, Richard Smith, to the role of Manager Police Vetting and Firearms Licensing. We have also commenced informal meetings with other agencies to develop open communication.

In March I took a week of leave from work and attended the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) in New York. Previously we have sent letters to be read in the meetings but as this was the final meeting the Council felt it was important to attend.

Over the last year our attendance at the United Nations meetings have been as an New Zealand delegate, however this carries with it both some privilege and constraint.

As delegate a major privilege is we are allowed to remain in the closed sessions, NGOs are asked to leave, and it is worth noting that organisation like Oxfam and Amnesty International do the same thing. The majority of firearm users support groups including NRA and WFSA are forced to leave.

A major constraint is we are not allowed to speak to the meeting except in support of the official New Zealand position.

I wanted to share my observations of the treaty, a key benefit to the council is - in the meetings I was focused on the wording of the treaty for up to 15 hours a day. Therefore the council benefits from my understanding, gained from discussing each line and word in detail for a week with colleagues who have an understanding of the United Nations process. The meetings are intense and detailed, with at times veiled or overt displays of politics; I will share some of my observations.

I caution supporting international positions before we completely understanding the proposer’s position as we could support positions that do not exist in New Zealand. For instance one group asked for support of their right to self-defence, however on further investigation we found it was the right to carry a loaded concealed firearm that they were seeking to protect.

Our understanding is New Zealand will sign the Treaty as part of an official event in early June; however implementation is expected to take around two years.

The ATT will be an International agreement between 155 countries to set a common standard for regulating and improving regulation of the trade in conventional arms. While it is the transfer of firearms, ammunition and their accessories that concerns us, the Treaty also includes aircraft, ships, tanks, missiles, artillery and combat vehicles.

Here are some of the sections I came to understand as important to us.

In the preamble the Treaty states the factors affecting this agreement

“…the need to prevent and eradicate the illicit trade in conventional arms and prevent the diversion to the illicit market, or for unauthorised end use and end users, including in the commission of terrorist acts,”
“… the sovereign right of any state to regulate and control conventional arms exclusively within it’s territory, pursuant to its own legal or constitutional system,”
“…mindful of the legitimate trade and lawful ownership, and use of certain conventional arms for recreational, cultural, historical, and sporting activities, where such trade, ownership and use are permitted or protected by law,”

Then it states the Objects and Purpose –

The object of this Treaty is to:

  • Establish the highest possible common international standards for regulating or improving regulation of the international trade in conventional arms;
  • Prevent and eradicate the illicit trade in conventional arms and prevent their diversion;

For the purpose of:

  • Contributing to international and regional peace, security and stability;
  • Reducing human suffering;
  • Promoting cooperation, transparency and responsible action by States Parties in the international trade in conventional arms, thereby building confidence among State Parties.

When you consider the object and purpose, a reasonable person does not have any issue with the intent of the Treaty, however like most considered agreements that can misinterpreted or diverted by individuals or groups who wish to push a personal agenda. This can come from both extremes of an argument.

This is why it is important New Zealand firearm owners follow the development of international policy; understand how it may impact on us, who is promoting it and what their agenda is. its firearm owners travelling internationally or importing firearms from overseas, the detail is where we can be affected. As the Treaty is adopted there will be opportunity for agencies or businesses to price gouge or impose rules far in excess of the intent of the Treaty, we need to be vigilant, and we have already seen an example of this in New Zealand prior to the final discussion on the Treaty.