Submission to the Arms Amendment Bill Select Committee-New Zealand Parliament.

Submission to the Select Committee on the 2019 Arms Amendment Bill.

Professor Kevin P Clements,
National Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies, University of Otago.

My name is Kevin P Clements, I am the Foundation Director and Professor of Peace and Conflict Studies at the University of Otago. I have been a strong advocate for tighter controls of Military Style Semi Automatic Weapons and Assault weapons ever since I returned to New Zealand from Australia in January 2009. Having seen how Prime Minister John Howard, after the Port Arthur Massacre, courageously and resolutely banned the ownership and use of such weapons in Australia, I have always had difficulty understanding why successive New Zealand Governments have lacked the political will to do the same. In particular,following the mass shootings at Aramoana and the extraordinarily prescient findings of Judge Thomas Thorp, (in his comprehensive review of New Zealand’s Gun Laws in 1997), it distresses me that it took the Christchurch massacre to galvanise the political will necessary to take action.
Although I deeply regret the circumstances that prompted this Amendment Bill, however, I warmly welcome the fact that, this time, Parliament has united across party divisions to back the banning of these weapons and the magazines and parts that enable lower capacity semi-automatic weapons to be turned into military style semi-automatics capable of generating mass murder. Banning this entire category of weapons is significant and will go a long way to ensuring that events such as the Christchurch massacres will not happen again. Removing the 24,584 MSSA’s and assault rifles that are owned by licensed owners, and therefore known to the Police, will be a major first step in reducing the total amount of lethal capacity in the community. Locating illegally held MSSA’s and assault rifles will be more problematic but hopefully there are enough provisions in this Bill and in existing law for the police to engage in search, discovery and retrieval of weapons held illegally by either licensed or unlicensed gun owners. It is important that this legislation reduces the exemptions for possessing such weapons.
Although the proposed legislation specifically exempts pistols ( In the Purpose of the Bill) I think that this needs to be reconsidered . Even though pistols are not likely to be used for mass murder on the Christchurch scale they are lethal and capable of killing significant numbers of people in close proximity. It is currently possible, for example to go to Gun City and buy a 50 round barrel magazine,attach it to a Glock pistol and have a weapon that is just as lethal as a semi automatic rifle. I think it is highly desirable that pistols continue to be restricted and as many as possible taken out of circulation as well.
Although it is not written into this amendment bill, if New Zealand had a Register of Weapons and who owned them the current Amnesty and Buy Back proposal would be much easier to implement and monitor. It should be relatively easy to identify owners with E category licenses but will be more problematic for A category license holders who have turned some of their current weapons into semi-automatics. In any event, because there are fewer such weapons here in NZ than there were in Australia, I do not expect that the cost of the New Zealand Buy Back programme will be anywhere near the cost of the Australian Programme. If my hunch is right it would be highly desirable for some of the savings from this programme to be expended on developing a NZ register of firearms and their owners.
It is disconcerting that those of us interested in this field are still working on Judge Thorp’s 1997 estimates of 700,000-1 million firearms . Current estimates of the total numbers of firearms in New Zealand’s civilian armoury range between 1.5 to 1.7 million or even 4 million if air rifles are included. If we are really going to get control over guns in New Zealand it is vital that we develop a comprehensive data base of the numbers and types of weapons that each licensed gun owner owns. Without this information we have no idea how many guns each licensed (or unlicensed) gun owner actually owns. With such a register the police ( or some designated independent authority) would be able to identify individuals who were amassing weapons and developing arsenals. The establishment of a comprehensive register to supplement the current firearms licencing system should also record the make, type, calibre and serial number of firearms including ownership and the transfer of ownership from point of sale.I know that this is something that is being foreshadowed as a second phase of this tightened gun control legislation but I would strongly urge the Committee and the House to couple these two agendas as soon as possible.
This tragic event also highlights the fact that we need to direct more attention to the supply side of the gun problem in New Zealand. There are very active gun retailers in New Zealand who import a wide variety of weapons to satisfy the interests and needs of the 248,000 licensed gun owners and others who are just interested in guns . There is a very thriving market for weapons in New Zealand. Gun City in Christchurch , for example, had a turnover of $20 million last year. The New Zealand Customs Service listed 69,621 shotguns and 171,787 rifles or a total of 241,408 firearms imported between 2008 to 2016. If air rifles are added, to this figure, the total number is 474,847 weapons imported during this 8 year period. If we keep importing weapons at the rate of nearly half a million every 8 years and we have an estimated 1.5 million weapons now New Zealand will have approximately 2.5 million weapons in civilian hands by 2035. This is a totally unacceptable number for a population of 4+ million and 248,000 licensed gun owners. I would hope, therefore, that there be some investigation on the Police capacity to do adequate checks on owners and dealer licenses and the appropriateness of the orders being made. I think it is also highly desirable that instead of gun licences being issued for a ten year period that they be issued for 5 years at a time and that more stringent reviews are put in place for their renewal.
For the record, I should like to add that my interest in tighter gun control is aimed at moving “easy lethality” from the hands of those who own weapons developed and intended for military use, i.e weapons that are primarily focused on homicidal capacity. I do not wish to restrict hunters, farmers or sporting rifle enthusiasts who have legitimate gun licenses and appropriate weapons for these purposes. The fact is, however, that reputable, peer-reviewed research studies show that easy access to weapons around the world does result in higher levels of homicide, suicide, hospitalisation and accidental death. New Zealand’s relatively low level of homicide by guns is because we are a small society with strong normative conventions and laws against murder. But as the Christchurch massacre demonstrated the availability of weapons is critical to those intent on mass murder. Our high suicide rates would also be reduced if guns were less readily available and accessible.
Finally, I would like to applaud the Government and Opposition Parties for finally implementing one of the central Thorp report recommendations. I hope that the amnesty and buy back is successful in eliminating these weapons from our shores . I also hope that we can make progress towards a register of all weapons in New Zealand and who owns them. This is critical to understanding what weapons are where and who might be plotting mayhem. Finally I very much hope that more attention might be directed towards the supply side of this problem with government attention being given to the stimulation of demand by gun importers and retailers with the result that we are expanding our civilian arsenal of weapons without detailed knowledge of where these weapons eventually end up.

Posted in #NZ Politics, Banning MSSA's and Assault Weapons, Christchurch Massacre, Gun Control Legislation in NZ, Gun Register, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Psychopathology and Politics: Attack Syria to divert attention at home.

Psychopathology and Politics: Attack Syria to divert attention at home.

Kevin P Clements

National Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies,

University of Otago

Donald J Trump poses major problems to world order. His administration is unraveling, he has no coherent foreign or domestic policy strategy and the Mueller enquiry is beginning to expose serious criminal activity on the part of the President and his close associates. As a consequence, Trump, is showing signs of personal as well as political unraveling. He is exhibiting classic symptoms of too many stress hormones in his body which is having a major impact on his hipppocampal and frontal lobe functioning. As a result, Trump is experiencing confusion, has difficulty concentrating, trouble learning new information, and is experiencing major problems with his decision-making. This was noted first in Michael Wolff’s book “Fire and Fury” and most recently in James Comey’s new book “A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies, and Leadership.”

Trump’s decision to launch a missile strike against Chemical Weapons’s facilities in Syria owes more to personal and cognitive stress than political or military calculation. It is a classic diversionary tactic aimed more at boosting popularity and deflecting attention from Trump’s domestic political woes rather than addressing ways of bringing the Syrian Civil War to a conclusion. It was an impulsive high risk strategy and the fig leaf of approval from Theresa May and Emmanuel Macron does little to give it either Alliance or United Nations legitimacy.


Without peace in Syria the prospect of dealing with Assad’s chemical weapons or his gross violations of human rights are very slim indeed. The US, UK and French interventions will impede a negotiated solution to the Syrian Civil War and they do little or nothing to deal with Bashar Assad’s gross violations of Human Rights and other mass atrocities which continue to this day. The message from yesterday’s strike against the chemical weapons plants is that Assad is free to keep killing his people by any non-chemical means.


President Trump   and his Secretary of Defence have said that the strike was to enforce international laws and norms regarding the use of chemical weapons. This justification seems hollow when no Trump administration officials have articulated how these strikes fit into a larger Syrian diplomatic and military strategy.


The risks of this military intervention remain high. The Russians, Syrians and the Iranians are now all united against the United States and its allies; we are witnessing the beginning of a new cold war and the prospects for negotiated solutions to the Civil War in Syria and peace in the Middle East seem even more remote now than before the strikes began.


This is a big challenge to the whole world. We are all affected by the behavior of a man who has demonstrated his singular unsuitability for any political office and whose actions have implications for global peace and stability.
How do those of us who are not American citizens, deal with   psychopathology at the heart of the US government? In the first place we must work with American individuals and organizations who are as worried about this action as we are.


There are some hopeful signs. Democratic Senator Tim Kaine, for example, called Trump’s decision “reckless” and “illegal”, and expressed concern that the action might embolden Mr Trump to bomb Iran or North Korea. Senators Chris Murphy and Bernie Sanders and Representatives Ro Khanna, Barbara Lee and Jerry Nadler, have called the attack “unconstitutional, illegal and destructive” and demanded congressional authority for any war making, and an investment in diplomacy instead of missile strikes. There was disquiet in the president’s own party, also, as Republican Congressman Thomas Massie called it “unconstitutional.”


Second , we need to focus on real solutions to alleviate the terrible suffering of the Syrian people. There are 3.2 million people within Syria in need of direct humanitarian assistance. There are millions more who remain as refugees in Turkey and other parts of Europe. Most importantly, we need to take the issues of chemical weapons and a negotiated peace in Syria back to the United Nations where it belongs.


Third, Americans and the rest of the world have to work out ways in which we can both monitor and resist the hawkish policies of Mike Pompeo ( about to be confirmed as the new Secretary of State) and John Bolton the new National Security Advisor. They will encourage Trump’s impulsiveness and desire to distract attention from domestic and personal issues with reckless foreign policy adventures that will do nothing to maintain American security or build global peace.

I hope that the American people mobilise to ensure that this illegal and unilateral decision to attack chemical weapons facilities is challenged and contained. But more importantly, I hope that more attention will be given in the US and the rest of the world to the development of rational Middle East and global foreign policy positions so that the unilateral use of force and co-ercive diplomacy is resisted .


I also hope that there are some wise heads in or near the White House who might suggest that the President take some time off to seek professional help for his serious personal pathology which, if left unchecked, will have negative consequences not only for his administration and the well being of America but the peace of the whole world.

Posted in Alternatives to Violence in the Middle East, Donald J Trump, Psychopathology and Politics, Syria, The UNited States | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

New Zealand evenly split

Mmm, its the morning after the election and it was not the result that I had predicted for Labour . The final result was National: 46% / 58 seats; Labour 35.8% / 45 seats; NZ First 7.5% / 9 seats; Greens 5.9% / 7 seats; ACT 0.5% / 1 seat. As you can see there is a small majority for Labour, Greens and New Zealand First which may get larger after Special Votes are counted. but the National Party will have first nibs on who they go into coalition with. I can’t believe that my compatriots were so nervous about the future that they decided to stick with a party that has failed to deliver on housing , the environment, poverty, education and health. Although I would have liked Labour to have been a tad more radical and bold they were operating within a constrained environment as well…. Oh dear, there is still a slim chance that Labour, the Greens and NZ First could stitch together a working coalition.If they don’t manage to do so Jacinda is the leader of Labour for the next 3 years and has a chance to utilise all her new team talent to begin thinking more deeply about a bright new future for the party and the country and to ensure that they are not put on the back foot by tax proposals etc. The Maori Party was decisively defeated by Labour who won all the Maori seats. The challenge will be how to satisfy all the multiple needs of the large Maori Caucus within Labour since there are few policy levers than can be pulled from the opposition benches. It was a stimulating election campaign. People were energised by politics in a way that I have not seen for a while. The polls in NZ, unlike in most other parts of the world ,were surprisingly accurate. The campaign itself was civil ,non violent and generally respectful. Bill English is a decent human being and has now committed himself to an eradication of child poverty and a new focus on the environment. So we have to keep him honest if he becomes PM. Jacinda Adern is a wonderful human being -with heaps of intelligence, social and political empathy and charisma. So all is not lost . The sun came up this morning as it always does. We are all still alive for which we can be grateful. I was shocked, yesterday, by the appalling conditions of many of the houses that I was sent to doornock at in South Dunedin. There are very deep chasms between rich and poor in Dunedin. I felt as though I was knocking on the doors of people who were living on the edge all the time. As one woman said to me” I am so overwhelmed by living that I have no energy to vote”. These are the people who will not be encouraged by last night’s election result. They are the voiceless, the impoverished, the battlers who are trapped in deep cycles of deprivation. Unless their needs are attended to the election will indeed be quite epiphenomonal.!

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Dear America


Dear America and Americans

There are only 9 days before Donald J Trump is inaugurated as the 45th President of the USA. This is a prospect that appalls most New Zealanders as it does millions of others all around the world.

We had no say and no vote in the election so can only watch this tragedy unfold   as mute bystanders.

Although we are separated from this event by 7,000 miles ( the distance between Wellington and Washington)   we “Kiwis “ have a deep sense of dread and foreboding about what is going to happen after the event.

I can’t remember a time when I have felt so uneasy about   a Presidential inauguration. The early signs do not augur well. Trump’s administration choices have been uniformly disastrous. The incoming President is more concerned with Celebrity Apprentice Ratings and his spat with Meryl Streep than with any policy dilemma. Like a mafia don he has surrounded himself with cronies and family rather than people who are knowledgeable about any of the big issues that are afflicting the US or the world.

He seems intent on destruction instead of construction, on chaos rather than stability, on hate politics rather than the politics of inclusion. His personal life, thin skin  and extreme narcissist personality make him temperamentally incapable for prudent, altruistic decision making.

His inauguration will confer legitimacy on someone who has forfeited the right to legitimacy. Someone who has not paid taxes in the last twenty years cannot expect others to do so. Someone who has never experienced war or been willing to listen to those who have should not be given the status of commander in chief. Someone who believes in the death penalty for political opponents and torture for the enemies of the United States should not be given any legitimacy. Someone who has to be persuaded of the benefits of intelligence has no intelligence.

So what do we do on the other side of the world? How can we sleep easy when the portents are all negative? What confidence do we have that American checks and balances will be able to check and balance this totally unpredictable maverick? What do we do when decades of nuanced diplomacy are undermined by off the cuff tweets or intemperate utterance? How do we protect those Trump wishes to make vulnerable and how do we resist all that which needs to be resisted?

We look forward to some answers so that our days are not blighted by the dark shadow of this appalling President in waiting !!

Posted in Dirty Politics, Dominatory Politics, Donald J Trump, Presidential Inauguration, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Civilised communities will be judged by how well they serve the interests of the weak and disabled-Reflections on the Sagamahira Tragedy.

I am deeply saddened and disturbed by Satoshi Uematsu’s murder of nineteen residents at a care centre for people with mental disabilities in the Japanese city of Sagamihara.
I am, with this, sending love and deepest condolences to the families of all those who lost their lives in this appalling tragedy.
What saddens and worries me particularly, however, is that Uematsu sent letters to politicians in February in which he threatened to kill hundreds of disabled people to advance his goal of “a world in which the severely disabled can be euthanised, with their guardians’ consent, if they are unable to live at home and be active in society.”

In addition to this being an indication of severe mental illness it also echoes Nazi and other eugenic programmes in the 1930s and 1940s in which the disabled were to be eliminated alongside Jews, Roma Gypsies, socialists, homosexuals etc.
The statement is, to some extent, a perverse extension of the xenophobic nationalism that is afflicting too many parts of the world at the moment. A purification of the race and a removal of disability or moral stain is a twisted extension of extreme patriotism.
These brutal killings have shocked Japan.Civilised nations will be judged not by how well they treat the powerful and the wealthy but by  how they treat the weakest and the poorest. Japan  has excellent facilities for aged and disabled care. But there are many like Uematsu  who feel shame at disability, failure,  and inadequacy. He pathologically acted on this  anxiety.

As our grandchildren said “There is far too much violence these days” This is absolutely true . Every day we wake to reports of a bomb here, mass murder there, barrel bombing in Syria, violence in Kashmir…. the list goes on… violence everywhere has to be delegitimised, condemned, prevented or transformed. And this needs to start with political leaders eschewing violent rhetoric, hate speech, and the creation of permissive environments within which murder is normalised.

Posted in Civilisation, Eugenics, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

Erdogan has Erred Again


Erdogan has Erred Again

Kevin P Clements

Military Coups  challenge the rule of law and basic democratic  rights. But Counter Coups (especially those led by someone as ruthless and oppressive as Erdogan)  are often  more damaging because they  generate  states of emergency ( which often last a long time)  and justify higher levels of state repression than the original coup. This seems to have been the  case in Turkey over the past three days.  Erdogan had already undermined  Turkish democracy before the coup  by repressing and bullying  his political opponents and  endeavouring to eliminate  Kurdish opposition  violently.

But it looks as though he  has taken his  “normal” repressive tactics  to even higher limits  with  his most recent moves.  Some 60,000 bureaucrats, soldiers, policemen, prosecutors and academic staff have come under the government’s spotlight, many of them facing detention or suspension over alleged links to the Gülenist movement and the coup plotters.

On the 21st July his government then  imposed a work travel ban on academics and called  Turkish academics abroad back to Turkey.  All  1,577 deans of public and private universities in Turkey submitted their resignations at the government’s urging. This came after 20,000 teachers and administrators were suspended from their jobs as a result of the coup, along with 6,000 soldiers and more than 2,700 judges and prosecutors, and dozens of senior generals accused of involvement in the coup.

The scale of the crackdown is unprecedented and Turkey , under Erdogan , is rapidly losing any right to become a member of the European Union and is forfeiting its claim to be a democracy.

In addition to  trying to close down academic  and official dissent, Erdogan and his followers wish to reintroduce the death penalty so that many political opponents can be eliminated permanently.

All of these actions  are creating ripe conditions for either a civil war in Turkey or an opening for  the conflicts in Syria and Iraq to spill over the borders.  These are extremely dangerous times and the global community must urge  prudence ;  the reactivation  and reopening of Universities and Schools;  the independence of the Turkish Judiciary and the reopening of   space for legitimate dissent. If these things don’t happen  soon  our worst Turkish nightmares might become a reality.

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Chilcot Vindicates the Global Peace Movement

 We were right! The one and half million people who marched against the war in Iraq in London in 2003 and the millions who did the same all around the world were right.

The people knew-and have been vindicated by Chilcot- that the UK went to war before peaceful options were exhausted and military action was “not the last resort”.

It was a war of discretion rather than necessity which all of us said at the time. The invasion was based on “flawed intelligence and assessments” that went unchallenged by an arrogant political elite that wanted to maintain Britain’s dwindling international power by a dependent relationship with the United States.

Chilcot says that the Threat posed by Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction were “presented with a certainty that was not justified” and Tony Blair’s assertions that his decision for action made “in good faith” sound as hollow now as his promises did then.

His assumption of “full responsibility for any mistakes” is 13 years too late.

The fact is that this war was a deliberate “act of military aggression launched on a false pretence”. We knew it at the time, we protested against it at the time, and we have all been vindicated by Chilcot.  It is now highly desirable that there be a post facto political impeachment process of Tony Blair  so that he  is never able to hold political office in the UK or anywhere else ever again.

The Chilcot  report, while a vindcation of  the Global Peace Movement , is not very helpful to the millions who have been displaced from their homes by this invasion, or the millions who have been killed , injured and tortured afterwards. It is they who are suffering the long term consequences.

The report took a long time to write but because of this it will be challenging for the warmongers to rebut.

It’s an argument for transparency, for consultation , for honesty and only going to war as an act of defence and as an act of absolutely last resort.

Getting rid of Sadam Hussein was no justification for the chaos that has followed. This is a moment for us all to reflect on the failure of violence, militarism and war and to look for 21st century solutions that involve none of these things.

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