These baby tyrants boasting about the tyrannical disaster they wrought.
THE 15 MARCH ATTACKS:
AGILITY AND COLLABORATION IN THE POLICY RESPONSE
The 15 March Christchurch shootings saw immediate responses from individuals, families, communities, and organisations. It also saw the government act with unprecedented speed and bipartisan support to introduce new legislation prohibiting military style, semi-automatic weapons.
CARL BILLINGTON sat down with Jeremy Wood and Sheryl Pinckney of the New Zealand Police to learn more about what took place and what made it possible for the public sector to move with such remarkable speed.
• On Friday 15 March, the shooting took place.
• The alleged offender was apprehended 21 minutes after the
first call to the Police.
• By 9.00 p.m., the Police Minister and Prime Minister had been
• On Saturday, the Prime Minister promised in a press statement
“our gun laws will change”.
• On Thursday 21 March, the ban was announced, and all
affected firearms were categorised as Military Style SemiAutomatics.
• On Friday 12 April, the law was passed, 28 days after the event.
“Policy generally doesn’t get developed quite that fast, and
legislation very rarely gets drafted that quickly,” Jeremy Wood,
Director – Policy and Partnerships for New Zealand Police, explains.
“The need for firearm reform had been around for a long time, but
for various reasons, it had not progressed. That all changed on 15
March, and it very quickly became apparent that the PM had a very
strong motivation to act and to move quickly.”
A peek behind the scenes
“We put the call out on Friday for people in our group to be on
hand over the weekend to do whatever was needed to support the
POLICY GENERALLY DOESN’T GET
DEVELOPED QUITE THAT FAST.
“We were asked to prepare a Cabinet paper for Monday, indicating
what the policy options were towards banning the sorts of firearms
used in Christchurch and how you might implement that. Our team
began work on the paper on Saturday, and we had the first meeting
with the Prime Minister, the Police Minister, and other senior
ministers on Sunday morning to review things. On Monday, the
paper went to Cabinet,” Wood explains.
For Wood and the team, the definitions were a key issue: “There
are thousands of types of guns out there, and it’s difficult to define
them appropriately. It’s remarkably technical.
“Some types of firearms have become extremely modular: you
can buy them, take them apart, buy different parts, and put them
together in different combinations, creating a new, more lethal
firearm out of it.
“Not defining things in the right way could mean prohibiting
firearms that are legitimate, everyday tools or creating technical
loopholes that could be exploited,” Wood explains. “We had
excellent input from police armourers and other experts.
“In essence, the line the government was trying to achieve was to
define which firearms are fundamentally too dangerous, compared
with firearms generally, given all are inherently dangerous.”
Not everyone agrees that the right balance was found – and this
remains highly controversial.
The other challenge was anticipating how the market might
respond and forestalling the possibility of people stockpiling
firearms ahead of a prohibition.
“The team found a way to solve that immediate problem by
reclassifying the assault rifles and semi-automatic weapons the
government wanted to prohibit as Military Style Semi-Automatics.
Weapons with this classification already required a special licence
endorsement – known as an E-category endorsement.
“By 3.00 p.m. on Thursday 21 March, it was illegal to possess one
of these weapons if you didn’t have the endorsement, effectively
shutting off buying and selling of these firearms and avoiding the
risk of stockpiling. It was an innovative way to address the issue
until the prohibition came into effect. An amnesty was very quickly
put in place to avoid criminalising law-abiding citizens,” Wood
“Government was also aware that this was going to cost affected
people as they found themselves owning firearms that were now
prohibited. Ministers quickly recognised the need for a buy-back
Getting everyone up to speed
Firearms are everyday tools for some people, such as farmers. But
for others, firearms in New Zealand tend not to be that visible. In
that sense, it’s different from many other hobbies or sports.
“To build a good understanding of the kinds of firearms that caused
such a risk of public harm and their capability, we took some
firearms to Cabinet to show them first-hand,” Wood explains.
“We showed what these firearms were like and what you could do
with them. We demonstrated how you could adapt the weapons
and how quickly you could fire off multiple rounds.”
29 PUBLIC SECTOR December 2019
New Zealand has approximately 245,000 firearms licence
holders, about 500 dealer licences, and around 7,500 E-category
endorsements issued (prior to the law change). The total number
of firearms in New Zealand is estimated to be between 1.2–1.5
million. However, this is just an estimate. We don’t have a record or
a register of all firearms.
“Not many New Zealanders knew that these kinds of firearms were
around in the numbers they were, because they’re not particularly
visible to the general public. The attacks led to a common
question: ‘Why do we have these things here?’” Wood adds.
BY 3.00P.M. ON THURSDAY 21
MARCH, IT WAS ILLEGAL TO
POSSESS ONE OF THESE WEAPONS.
“The level of motivation from people within the Police and
across the public sector was huge – there was a sense of moral
outrage and deep sadness from the attack on 15 March that really
The drafting begins
Once Cabinet’s decision was announced, the next steps were
to draft the legislation, advise the select committee, read and
analyse around 13,500 public submissions, and develop the policy
settings for the buy-back scheme – all by the first week of April so
legislation could be introduced when parliament next sat.
Sheryl Pinckney explains: “The prohibition work was plenty by
itself, but we were also working on the policy settings for the buyback and progressing policy work on further changes to arms law.
When it became clear that we had those three relatively chunky
pieces of work tracking in parallel, we put out a call for help. The
response was amazing – public servants at their best, people just
wanting to make a real difference.
“We had people come in from the Ministries of Justice, Education,
Primary Industries, and Health and from Inland Revenue, LINZ,
and DOC. We also had PCO working really hard on drafting the
amendment, and later, Treasury and KPMG assisting with the buyback. We had over 120 people just doing submissions’ analysis,
with shifts going from seven in the morning through to 11 at night.
Everyone just pulled together and made it happen; it was really
phenomenal,” Pinckney adds.
“It meant we had to have additional computers set up with secure
access and everyone had to be Police vetted. Things that normally
take 20 days had to be done within an hour or two. One of the other
managers here took on this role, pretty much full time.
“Then, when everything was ready, the draft legislation was vetted
against the Bill of Rights Act by Crown Law. Normally it takes a
couple of weeks. They worked long hours and did it much quicker
“We had staff working on the policy settings and briefing ministers,
almost on a daily basis, including in the weekends, and ministers
were coming together to make significant decisions, often late at
night. This could only work with an iterative process – drafting,
briefing, and revising – and it required constant access to ministers,
which they were willing to give.”
So what can we learn?
“Even complex things can be managed quickly if you’ve got the
right level of motivation from a wide range of people.
“Having said that, I’m not sure you’d want to do it quite that fast
as a rule. The checks and balances that are in place in the process
are there for a reason. They do decrease the risk of error,” Pinckney
For Wood, the crisis also presented a number of unique
characteristics: “You’ve got a singular focus in a crisis. This made it
possible to take people off other work. Many other things came
to a halt – that isn’t possible in your normal environment.
“Trying to engage in a bit more dialogue with more than your
own minister would be a very valuable approach to retain. It
demonstrated what’s possible when you haven’t figured absolutely
everything out from a policy and design perspective yet,” Wood
IT SPOKE TO THAT CLASSIC SPIRIT
OF SERVICE – PEOPLE WANTED TO
CONTRIBUTE TO SOMETHING THEY
REALLY BELIEVED IN.
Pinckney adds: “Having ready access to a group of decisionmaking ministers was also critical. That’s fairly unusual, given how
busy they are, and would be harder to achieve outside of a crisis
“Another key thing was the level of humility and willingness to say,
‘We need a hand.’ We also had a lot of support from Australia – they
have 20 years’ experience ahead of us and sent representatives
from each state over to assist at key stages and share what worked
and what didn’t.”
For Wood, it was also an opportunity to break down the divide
between operational and policy aspects of the work: “They
can be quite split worlds. One advantage of being based in a
highly operational agency like Police is that you work together
throughout the process of developing policy. That approach was
essential to delivering legislation in the time we had. It met what
the government intended and could be effectively delivered on the
“The traditional approach is also to do most of the thinking before
you write something for a minister. In this case, being able to
iterate with ministers when we were dealing with something so
complex and contentious was incredibly valuable – we couldn’t
have done it without that level of engagement.”
Reflecting on the experience overall, Wood concludes: “It was a
unique experience. It was extremely technical but also extremely
visceral for people. They were tired but kept their focus and their
passion. It spoke to that classic spirit of service – people wanted to
contribute to something they really believed in. I can’t thank them
enough for the help they all gave us.
“It was fast but it was by no means simple. I don’t think it had
ever been done in this way or at this speed before. In terms of
the current context of state sector reforms seeking agile, crossgovernment collaboration and reinforcing the spirit of service, this
is probably the best example I’ve ever seen.”