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'Just take the guns off the gangs' - politicians press for stronger police response to gun violence

Today's police announcement that it's starting a nationwide crackdown on guns held by gangs and organised crime groups has been met with cynicism as well as support.

Two guns were seized by police during a search of two Northland properties. Source: New Zealand Police

Police Commissioner Andrew Coster made the announcement in a statement saying police will be aiming to investigate and disrupt the illegal supply of firearms which is "enabling firearms violence".

It includes the "illegal manufacture, modification and supply of firearms to gangs and organised crime groups," Coster said.

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Operation Tauwhiro will involve officers across New Zealand. Source: 1 NEWS

The long-term, nationally-coordinated operation will see each police district run their own "tailored initiative" alongside iwi and community groups to offer support that can help address the underlying causes of violence.

But the approach has been called ambiguous and even "soft" by several National politicians.

Former Prime Minister and MP for Tauranga, Simon Bridges said it was so soft, it would have little impact.

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The party’s justice spokesperson said the policy would ensure police have the resources to go after gangs. Source: 1 NEWS

"With this softly softly approach from our wokester commissioner, expect gang and gun violence to continue to worsen," he tweeted.

Bridges has been a long-time advocate of "going after gangs," at one point proposing a ‘gang unit’ that he said would "harass and disrupt gangs every day". 

Another National Party MP, Simeon Brown, told 1 NEWS "it's time police stopped talking about taking the guns off the gangs and take the guns off the gangs".

The Pakuranga MP said the worst mistake police made was stopping the Armed Response Trials.

"It gave them the tools to respond to incidents where specialist trained cops were able to tackle these operations," he said. 

"Obviously these gangs break the law, they do it for a living, so they are going to get their guns in all sorts of ways - but that’s why the police need to have the tools to go into properties and get the guns," he said.

"That’s essentially what they should be doing every day of the year, they don’t need a special operation to do that."

Over January, Brown kept a tally of gun-related incidents that reached the media. He says there was close to one firearm incident reported per day over the first month of 2021.

The Police Association has gone back a full year. 

"The association has been keeping note of the number of times stories involving firearms make it into our everyday media, and over the last year or so that has been at least once, and often more, a day," Association President, Chris Cahill says.

"This is extremely unnerving for communities throughout Aotearoa, and, coupled with the incidents involving shootings and firearms presentation that never make the headlines, but the association is aware of, the full picture is disturbing," he says. 

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The trial was criticised for taking place in areas where Māori are over-represented in police shootings. Source: 1 NEWS

"The association knows that most of the illicit firearms in New Zealand have been stolen from legitimate gun owners rather than being illegally imported, but there is also considerable evidence of licenced gun owners buying firearms and on-selling them on the black market.

"That is one of the most compelling reasons for a firearms registry which was provided for in last year’s Firearms Legislation Act," Cahill says.

While Operation Tauwhiro will be carried out across all 12 police districts over the next six months, Cahill says it has the association’s full support.

"We have been unrelenting in warning of the escalating dangers to officers and the community with the influx of gang members deported from Australia, the proliferation of illegal firearms, growing inter-gang tensions, and, underlying it all, the increasing availability of methamphetamine,"  Cahill says.

"We are also aware of a change in attitude when it comes to using firearms. Not so long ago, guns were prized possessions of gangs and were pretty much for intimidation and threat purposes. However, of late there has been a discernible shift to people being prepared to use their illegal firearms against each other, when it comes to gangs, against police officers, and against the public in standover tactics and armed burglaries."

This is backed up by the examples police has provided, including an episode in Tauranga where 96 rounds were fired into a gang leader’s house where children were inside watching television.

The ACT Party also weighed in today, saying it would prefer to see police having gang asset seizure powers.

“Police’s announcement that Operation Tauwhiro will target armed gangs is great news,” says ACT Firearms Reform spokesperson Nicole McKee, “but the action would be so much more meaningful if Police had the gang asset seizure powers ACT has been advocating for.”

 “For months it has been obvious to ACT that the gangs are out of control and that police haven’t been doing enough to curb their odious activities.

“We’ve been saying for some time the Government should pick up ACT’s policy to amend the Criminal Proceeds (Recovery) Act 2009 so that if police find illegal firearms at an unlawful, gang-run operation their assets can be seized.

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The key focus will be investigating and disrupting the illegal supply of firearms. Source: 1 NEWS

“As a rule ACT doesn’t favour urgency in Parliament, but rather than using the House’s time last week to rush through revoking communities’ rights to have a say on whether Maori wards are implemented, we would have supported a quick change to the law making it easier for the police to go after armed gangs," Mckee says.