About that “protest” at NZ First’s 2019 Convention

Early on New Zealand First’s annual Convention, a hint of controversy arose which the media predictably pounced on.

Firearms enthusiasts had organized themselves to conduct a demonstration just opposite the Convention venue, the Rydges Latimer Hotel in Christchurch. A group of around 50 individuals convened at Latimer Square, bringing with them a couple of portaloos and had a barbecue.

These firearms enthusiasts were obviously disgruntled by the upcoming second tranche of firearms control legislation introduced by the Coalition Government, which NZ First is a part of. Historically, the Party has been among the most staunch supporter of their hobby in Parliament.

That changed when the white supremacist terrorist attack on the 15th of March in Christchurch occurred, which produced a glaring picture of how loose our firearms regulations were. The tragedy prompted the Labour-led Coalition Government to push for tighter restrictions on the use of these firearms, and being part of the Coalition NZ First had no choice but to agree to those changes.

New Zealand gun lobby New Zealand First Convention 2019
Gun enthusiasts flock near the venue of the New Zealand First Convention 2019. [Photo from the NZ First Facebook page]
With that context in mind, the media obviously expected those gun enthusiasts demonstrating to be an angry mob ready to rip apart NZ First. This was certainly the view Stuff.co.nz had in their report, while state-funded RadioNZ went even further and said that Party Leader Winston Peters was “forced” out of the Convention when he, along with members of the Caucus, approached the demonstrators.

The truth however, is much different than what the media had portrayed. Speaking as someone who was a delegate at the Convention myself, and had witnessed the individuals demonstrating and the moments before Winston and his team met with them, the narrative out in the public is far from the truth.

Contrary to an “angry mob”, the gun enthusiasts gathered barely qualified as “protesters”. None of the signs they were waving were disparaging of NZ First, with some of their signs even supportive of the Party.

Those signs include:

  • “Shane Jones – good on ya mate!” [in reference to a photo posted by Hon. Jones holding an AR-15 rifle]
  • “NZ First, we’ll lose this without your support” [Sign shows a photo of Hon. Ron Mark teaching his grandson how to fire a rifle]
  • Other signs showed just a photo of Shane Jones holding an AR-15 rifle

The majority of the signs they were waving were in opposition to the proposed second tranche of firearms legislation, which read:

  • “We are not safer with the bill” [in reference to the proposed legislation]
  • “We’re not Tarrant, #HeIsNotUs” [in reference to white supremacist terrorist shooter Brenton Tarrant, who perpetrated the March 15 atrocity]

By calling the group “protesters”, much more alluding to them as an “angry mob”, the media were already spreading inaccuracies to begin with. However, Jo Moir of RadioNZ arguably made the biggest fib of the entire news cycle when she claimed that Winston Peters was “forced” out of the Convention by these “protesters”.

The reality is, the demonstration occurred just opposite Bloody Mary’s – the in-house pub of the Rydges Latimer Hotel. Delegates of the Convention had their morning tea break in the pub, and therefore saw the individuals across the street in plain sight – that includes Peters himself.

While queuing up for the food table, I overheard Peters say to those seated with him at his table: “I am going to talk to those guys, who wants to come?” Present in that entourage were Defence Minister Ron Mark (who happens to be NZ First’s firearms spokesperson), Regional Development Minister Shane Jones (who is the so-called “Provincial Champion”, and NZ First chief-of-staff Jon Johanssen.

The group walked towards the demonstrators across the road, with NZ First’s senior whip Clayton Mitchell also joining them. This naturally excited the media present, with many of them rushing to join the NZ First team, expecting a ruckus to unfold.

Instead, what these professional story-tellers were treated to was a civil, calm conversation predominantly between Winston Peters and the firearms lobby. The spokesperson of the group by the name of Sam Kirchner spoke to the NZ First leader about his hobby community’s concerns surrounding the second tranche of firearms legislation, and made his case why the Party should oppose it.

Winston told them that there was still currently a submission process underway, and nothing was set in stone just yet. The Party Leader confirmed to them that NZ First will wait for those submissions, deliberate on what those submissions say, before finally coming to a final decision as a Party.

Of course, it wasn’t the response the group wanted to hear. The gun lobbyists certainly wanted Winston to make an iron-clad promise not to support the proposed bill.

However, there certainly was no “angry mob” that descended on our Party’s Convention and forced the Party Leader out of the venue, as claimed by Moir. Instead, what transpired was a group of individuals passionate about an issue exercising their democratic right to speak to their representatives about their concerns.

There were no pitchforks and torches, but signs displaying constructive opinions on a national issue. It was a manifestation of democracy itself, but that wouldn’t make a good headline wouldn’t it?