Tim Ashton was one of the police officers who shot dead Aramoana gunman David Gray. The Christchurch mosque shooting has hardened his resolve to effect meaningful gun control reform.
Until 10 days ago the 1990 Aramoana tragedy in which 13 innocent people died was New Zealand’s worst mass shooting.
Tim Ashton was one of the police officers who helped end that terrible siege. Ashton spent 18 years in the Police, 10 of those in the Armed Offenders Squad and the Anti-Terrorist Squad, now known as the Special Tactics Group. He has been shot himself, and he and his wife recently lost their son Chris to a medical event.
All of these life experiences have combined to make him a vehement campaigner for gun control in New Zealand. After the massacre of 50 people in Christchurch on March 15 he will not rest until he sees reforms such as a ban on military-style semi-automatic weapons (MSSAs), a register of all firearms, and changes to laws governing carriage and possession of illegal firearms.
The Spinoff spoke to him yesterday.
The Spinoff: How did the Aramoana shooting change you?
Tim Ashton: It’s not just Aramoana. Since that time, there was the guy who picked up his kids, took them home, killed both of them then killed himself. Another guy borrowed an illegal weapon off his friend then blew his head off and then [killed] himself. Another guy shot himself as we were chasing him. What happens is all these things have an effect on people. Since then I’ve just realised more and more every day, in the last five years I’ve been trying to push this, that we’ve allowed a culture of uncontrolled firearms in New Zealand.
You were in the police a long time – how prevalent do you reckon military-style semi-automatic weapons are in New Zealand society?
[There are] thousands and thousands. They have no purpose at all but to kill, they don’t serve any purpose for the sporting firearm community. What we’ve done is we have allowed weapons to become, I’d say uncontrollable. The difference between a Category A and E (firearms licence) can just be a definition. We have had companies sell them, we’ve had them imported, and I would question why someone – and the police were in charge of importation – allowed .50 calibres to be imported into New Zealand. Somebody tell me what purpose that serves in private hands? What you’ll get told is there’s a culling purpose, you might be a goat culler. How many goat cullers do you know? So if there’s four in the South Island that have to have them, and they may be Department of Conservation, they may be licensed to.
There was a case in the North Island where three police officers were fired at with a military assault rifle – they’re only alive because he missed. The Napier siege. We’re having executions in New Zealand now.
This [Christchurch] instance is horrendous, the people involved in this will suffer for the rest of our lives. And we have to do something to make our country safer.
You were also shot yourself in the line of duty?
Because I was on the Special Tactics Group, we were the first to be deployed, so I was shot with a double-barrelled shotgun at close range. All police who join those specialist teams or anyone who puts on a blue suit does the same thing, I did nothing special.
So you’re putting in a submission on the government’s proposed gun law changes?
Yes, it will go in this Friday. I don’t pretend to be an academic who’s spent a great deal of my life studying this, but I am actively involved, I’ve had experience in the front line of what the effects of these weapons are and what’s happening in our society. Police are now armed regularly.
Prior to this everyone can truthfully say no political party had made any serious change. After Aramoana nothing happened. It was more than frustrating. Jacinda Ardern, I couldn’t speak highly enough of her, they acted immediately and with force, something nobody did before. If you look into the Inquiry into the Illegal Possession of Firearms in New Zealand, that was dated April 2017, that’s everything that should be done. No one has to reinvent the wheel.
How key is establishing a register of all firearms?
That’s major. It needs to be run by police. The police are going to say “we’ve got no money”, and yes it’ll take a few years to sort it, but we need to have a register of every firearm, purchased, owned, and where they go. They can’t be controlled if they can’t be registered.
At the moment with my Category A firearms licence I can go and buy 100 [guns], then I can take them home, I can sell 99 of them, and I have to view the firearms licence of the person I sell them to, which I presume is legit. Then what happens? You tell me, nothing. No one knows how many have been stolen, absolutely no-one. It’s an amazing situation. If you went to police today and asked how many Honda 50s had been stolen they can tell you.
You’re also calling for changes to legislation regarding the carriage and possession of illegal firearms?
At the moment the fisheries officer will stop me, I’ve got 10 under-sized paua, [and] they can take my car, my boat. But if I’ve got 10 kalashnikovs, oh that’s fine, we’ll lock you up for that.
The amnesty [on firearms] needs a set date which the government puts forward. After that date there are no excuses, you are in possession of an illegal weapon.
Should .22 rabbit-shooting rifles also be banned?
There will be a total review of the Arms Act after the initial legislation put through under urgency. I’m hoping they will look at semi-automatic weapons and what usage they have in the community as well. There may be a group who have legitimate use, the rural community, that needs to be looked at.
As horrendous as it sounds, if that person [the Christchurch shooter] had a .22, he would have had real difficulty carrying out that homicide.