Wife of gun lobbyist tried to import 20 semi-automatics

An MR 223 rifle, as pictured on the website of Heckler and Koch, a German arms manufacturer....
An MR 223 rifle, as pictured on the website of Heckler and Koch, a German arms manufacturer. Photo: Supplied
A businesswoman and wife of the head of the largest pro-firearm lobby group attempted to import 20 military-style semi-automatic guns and 100 magazines of ammunition into New Zealand before a judge was required to stop the arms deal, a newly released court decision reveals.

It is the same type of firearm Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced a ban on this week, after the weapons were used to kill 50 people and wound dozens more in the March 15 terror attacks on two Christchurch mosques.

Legislation will be rushed through Parliament under urgency and the new law, Ardern expects, will be in place by April 11.

However, back in April 2017, New Zealanders were still able to import and buy military-style semi-automatic (MSSA) rifles if they had the correct licence.

Jennifer Clark was one such person - a licensed firearms dealer.

Along with her husband, Paul Clark, she owns NZ Ammunition Ltd, or NZ Ammo, which imports guns, ammunition, explosives and associated equipment and supplies.

Paul Clark was the chairman of the Council of Licenced Firearms Owners and a loud voice in a select committee inquiry over illegal guns. He also wanted the ear of influential politicians - including then Police Minister Paula Bennett - in the run-up to the 2017 general election.

The Police Association accused Bennett of bowing to the gun lobby after she rejected 20 recommendations for tighter gun laws.

NZ Ammo supplies other licensed dealers, retail outlets and government departments, including the New Zealand Defence Force and police. But it does not have a retail shop and does not sell MSSAs direct to the public.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced a ban on MSSAs after the Christchurch terror attacks....
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced a ban on MSSAs after the Christchurch terror attacks. Photo: NZ Herald
Despite this, the Commissioner of Police refused Jennifer Clark's application in April 2017 to import 20 MSSAs and 100 magazines from Heckler and Koch, a German arms manufacturer.

Included in the proposed cache were 12 MR 223 model rifles, eight MR 308 model rifles, and the 100 magazines for those rifles.

Heckler and Koch's website describes the MR 223's gas system as being "developed for military use" and able to fire a 30 round magazine.

After police turned away Clark's application she took the case to court, appealing the Commissioner's decision.

On Thursday, the same day Ardern announced the MSSA gun ban, the Wellington District Court publicly released its judgment in Clark's case.

Clark said in her application the "special reason" to import the MSSAs was for on-sale to other licensed dealers and E category firearms holders.

There are about 4500 E category licence holders, and about 400 licensed dealers, in New Zealand, the judgment states.

The Police Commissioner, through his delegate inspector, refused, arguing this did not constitute a special reason. "Special reason" is not defined in the Arms Act, but the provisions for MSSAs were added in 1992 following the Aramoana massacre.

However, the Police Operations Advisory Committee did approve a policy in July 2012 to define what could be included as a "special reason", such as participating in a shooting discipline or sport at an incorporated sports club event.

In an affidavit in support of Clark, Robert Andrews - a pest control contractor - said there was a demand for MSSAs amongst commercial and recreational hunters.

Paul Clark also provided an affidavit to the court, explaining why he and his wife need to have stock to sell. He said a minimum of 20 MSSAs needed to be imported to be economic.

A judge stopped the importation of 20 MSSAs, including eight MR 308 rifles, pictured. Photo:Supplied
A judge stopped the importation of 20 MSSAs, including eight MR 308 rifles, pictured. Photo:Supplied
An affidavit from Quentin Macleod further described seeing MSSAs displayed for sale at Gun City in Christchurch.

Clark's lawyer, Lisa Hansen, argued the affidavits proved there was a demand in New Zealand for MSSAs. She said MSSAs were an important and effective tool for use in pest control, and when they wore out, replacement parts and firearms were needed.

But when making his decision, Judge Bill Hastings said: "I do not think the Commissioner was wrong to exercise his discretion to refuse the application to import these MSSAs, nor am I convinced that the reason offered by Ms Clark is a 'special reason' why these 20 MSSAs should be allowed into New Zealand."

He said dealers, like anyone else, must satisfy police there are special reasons for allowing MSSAs into the country.

"That they have been vetted as fit and proper persons to hold a dealer's licence gives them no special or greater status to import MSSAs than anyone else," Judge Hastings said.

"To allow a dealer to import MSSAs simply because she is a licensed dealer and because they are required for on-sale to licensed dealers and E category firearms dealers, would circumvent any consideration of why the MSSAs should be allowed into the country."

The judge did, however, accept there was a demand for MSSAs amongst sport and recreational hunters and pest controllers, but said there was not enough evidence from the affidavits to satisfy Clark's MSSAs shipment.

After announcing the MSSA ban this week, which was met with bipartisan support, Ardern told media there would also be a gun buyback scheme.

There is now also an amnesty in place allowing people to hand MSSAs over to police.

On Monday, Cabinet will consider further measures to tighten firearms licensing and penalties, impose greater controls over a range of ammunition, as well as addressing a number of other issues relevant to special interest groups such as international sports shooters and professional pest controllers.

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