Call for national gun registry

Chris Cahill
Chris Cahill
A Balclutha incident in which a man tried to shoot at police with a stolen firearm has been highlighted by the Police Association in pushing for more rigorous gun control.

Association president Chris Cahill addressed the University of Otago's public health seminar yesterday and made a vehement argument for a nationwide firearm registry to be established.

''These weapons would be far more traceable than is the case now, and we would gradually build a more definitive picture of New Zealand's hidden arsenal,'' he said.

He said the association's beef was not with the majority of legitimate licensed firearms owners.

''It is with the firearms threats our members face during routine policing because criminals have easy access to firearms.

''We also question why so many firearms are imported every year.''

Among a plethora of serious firearms incidents dealt with by police, Mr Cahill pointed to one in South Otago that made few headlines at the time.

Ben James Dempsey (27) recently pleaded guilty in the Dunedin District Court to a slew of charges over the October 2 saga, the details of which can now be revealed.

It began in Victoria Park, Waimate, when a group of children were walking past the public toilets.

Dempsey was standing in the doorway exposing his genitalia and motioned at the children - some of whom were as young as 6 - to join him.

They all ran away and the defendant returned to his home, where he was confronted by a suspicious family member.

Dempsey told them he had not been at the park.

Once they had left the house, he used a knife to open the locked door of a relative's gun safe.

He removed a .22 calibre rifle and took 133 rounds of ammunition from a nearby shed.

After loading two 20-litre petrol containers into his red BMW, he set off south.

At 6pm he filled both drums with fuel and drove off without paying for it.

Dempsey had previously changed the registration plates of the vehicle, the court heard.

As a result of the theft, police were informed and a description of his vehicle was broadcast to all units in the Southern district.

By 7.20pm, Dempsey was spotted driving through Milton and police began a pursuit, at a distance.

However, the defendant noticed the following vehicle and loaded the rifle in preparation as he drove.

When Dempsey approached Balclutha, officers laid road spikes but the defendant evaded them and overtook traffic ahead of him at speed.

Travelling at more than 140kmh in the township, he turned into Barnego Rd and lost control, crashing into a ditch.

Dempsey put the barrel of the weapon to his head and pulled the trigger.

When it failed to fire, he tried again, producing the same result.

A police car pulled up 50m from the crash site as the defendant climbed on to the road.

He pointed the rifle at the officer and pulled the trigger.

Again, nothing.

With the officer reversing his car away at speed, Dempsey reloaded the firearm and successfully fired a shot into the roadside.

He walked towards armed police at the intersection with Gormack St, and put the weapon on the ground when instructed.

Dempsey later explained he knew he was in trouble for the earlier indecent exposure and ''just wanted to get away from everyone''.

Chillingly, he told officers he had considered committing ''suicide by cop'' as he approached them.

He will be sentenced in April.

Mr Cahill said yesterday the incident was not unusual.

An association survey last year showed 21% of frontline officers had been threatened by firearms in the previous year - a 38% increase from 2015.

The answer, Mr Cahill said, was not just to document firearm licensees but the individual weapons too.

''Put bluntly, criminals know that the current system which licenses the owner and not the firearm is easy to exploit, poorly policed and poorly monitored.

''As a result, there are too many firearms and too many of the wrong type in the wrong hands in New Zealand.''




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