Shock waves from the Port Arthur massacre have provoked a call for blanket gun registration in New Zealand.
Gun ownership in New Zealand is 60% greater per capita than in Australia but gun control law there has for years been more stringent than in Tasmania.
In NZ, 250,000 licensed sporting shooters own an estimated 1.1 million firearms among a population of 3.6 million - enough for one weapon in each home and sufficient to outgun the combined arsenals of the police and armed forces by a ratio of 30 to 1.
A study of all NZ firearm homicides during the years 1992-94 showed 29 homicidal shootings left 40 victims and nine perpetrators dead.
Of the perpetrators, 97% were men.
Of the victims, 21 (52.5%) were shot and killed by a licensed sporting shooter and in each of those killings all the licensed shooters were known to the victim.
The man who made the study, Auckland firearm injury prevention researcher and policy analyst Philip Alpers said the Port Arthur massacre had promped a call fro total gun registration from NZ's only gun control lobby group, Gunsafe.
When the NZ Police Complaints Authority on Wednesday presented its long-held case for a full select committee into NZ firearms control, the massacre gave it significant impetus.
There are some important parallels between the shape the Tasmanian gun issue has taken since the Port Arthur massacre and the NZ gun control experience, says the police reporter with The Dominion newspaper in Wellington, Chris Daniels.
Mr Daniels said NZ's 1990 Aramoana massacre, in which 13 people were shot by a gunman with a semi-automatic weapon, was a major catalyst for the strengthening of that country's gun laws.
"Almost immediately after the massacre, the laws were tightened and there was very little dissent to that call for change," he said.
In 1992, the NZ government introduced the Arms Amendment Act, creating a new gun licence category - the "E" endorsement-class licence for owners of all military-style semi-automatic guns (MSSAs), which by the late 1980s were recognised as the multiple killer's "weapon of choice".
However, in 1989 the NZ government had already banned importation of one variety of MSSA - the AR-15 - after police became concerned at the ease with which it could be converted to fully-automatic fire by the simple addition of a cheap mail-order kit widely advertised as "a machine-gun to fit every wallet".
Mr Alpers said that in early 1990 AR-15s were selling through NZ gun magazines for $1250 but later the same year the same model was advertised for sale at $3950 to $5995 each, reflecting their sudden increased desirability after the police ban.
Under the 1992 NZ Arms Amendment Act, MSSAs must be individually registered, as must pistols, revolvers and fully-automatic firearms.
There is no requirement to register "sporting guns" (shotguns and rifles) in NZ.
But the Act made all NZ gun licensing more stringent, requiring all licences to be renewed every 10 years, whereas previously licences had been held for life.
It also made photo identification a compulsory part of licensing, required that all guns be locked up and that to obtain or keep a licence gun owners must undergo professional gun safety training.
The Act also requires licence-issuing officers to confidentially interview two character referees of anyone applying for an A-class licence (shotguns and rifles only).
Those applying for an E-endorsement must provide more than two referees and in all cases the first referee has to be the applicant's marital or de facto partner, if one exists.
From this July, new NZ legislation will mean that as soon as a domestic protection order has been issued, police will have to seize all firearms belonging to anyone in the household concerned.
"A domestic protection order may be issued enev where someone simply fears the possibility of violence and immediately it is issued, any firearm belonging to anyone in the household will be removed by police," Mr Alpers said.
While acknowledging the potential for an applicant to apply pressure to his or her marital partner before an obligatory referee interview, Mr Alpers said the interview requirement had been applauded by social workers and women's groups.
"They're saying 'At last we are actually being asked: do we beleive this person is fit to hold a gun?'," he said.
While granting the distinct possibility that any second referee nominated by an applicant was favourably biased, Mr Alpers made the obvservation that "those who are dangerous tend to be loners".
Despite NZ's comparitive gun law stringency, this week's call for a complete review of the NZ legislation reflects serious shortcomings.
Mr Alpers said that in drawing up the 1992 control legislation the NZ government had created a "colossal loophole" which meant owners of certain types of MSSAs could convert or "sporterise" their guns so they were no longer classified as MSSAs. But they could be reconverted to their original MSSA form in about two minutes.
While converted, they were not classified as MSSAs, so owners were effectively immune from the law applying to MSSA owners (those with and E-endorsement licence).
"Owners were permitted to convert or sporterise weapons at home, thus avoiding the inconvenience of declaring them to police, buying a gun safe and undergoing stricter police vetting [the obligations of holding and E-endorsement]," Mr Alpers said. "It is an embarrassment for police. More than half the MSSAs in NZ were never declared and police now have no idea who owns them."
In its recommendation for an independant inquiry of firearms control in NZ, the Police Complaints Authority noted its expectation that "no aspect of gun availability and control be excluded".
The recommendation also suggested a report written by Alpers, entitled "Locking Up Guns", could be a valuable starting point for the proposed inquiry.
One of the principal conclusions of "Locking Up Guns" is that insuficient attention is paid by gun owners and parents to taking proper precautions with the storage of guns in homes, on farms and in vehicles.
The emphasis of Mr Alpers' report is that guns should be securely locked away.
This week he also asserted that to allow the comparitively low-powered .22 "bunny gun" to escape future restrictions on semi-automatic weapons would be to "exempt on eof the most common agents of gun death and injury."
"The .22-calibre bunny gun is often used in mass shootings (defined internationally as a shooting in which fiver or more homicides are committed in one event)," he said.
"A .22-calibre rifle was the main weapon used in four mass shootings in Australia and New Zealand.
"In these killings alone, 27 people died. Although mass killings grab the headlines, the great majority of firearm homicide victims die in family violence shootings, gun suicides and accidents. In these, the .22 rifle is one of the most common weapons.
"In a recent survey of police files covering every gun homicide in New Zealand during 1992-94, eight of the total of 40 victims were killed with a semi-automatic .22 rimfire rifle; a further five were killed with a single-action .22 rifle.
"To be effective, any attempt to restrict the availability of semi-automatic weapons must include the most common weapon of them all, the .22-calibre rimfire rabbit rifle."
Mr Alpers himself is a licensed shooter who beleives there is "a legitimate place for guns on farms, in pest control and in sport".
He says he "rejects the dismissive label 'anti-gun', much as Mothers Against Drunk Driving might protest if tagged as anti-car".
[image: "Ambulance officers help a victim of the Aramoana massacre: a major catalyst for the strengthening of that country's gun laws." (15.5x13) ]