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Science Deadline: This Week in Sci-Tech

Press Release – Science Media Centre

On Thursday, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced new legislation would be passed under urgency, banning all military style semi-automatics and assault rifles.Science Deadline: Urgent changes to gun law and questions around Facebook livestreaming
In this issue: Urgent changes to gun policies, questions about social media, and the NZ Conversation.

Issue 514, 22 Mar 2019

Gun policies set to change

The Government has announced urgent changes to gun policy within a week of last Friday’s tragedy.

Flowers outside Kilbirnie mosque, Mike Dickison, CC BY 4.0.

On Thursday, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced new legislation would be passed under urgency, banning all military style semi-automatics and assault rifles.

Speaking at a press conference, she said the most recent significant changes to gun laws came following the Aramoana shootings in 1990, which saw 10-year limits introduced for licence holders and the re-categorisation of military style semi-automatics.

“Those changes, however, did not go far enough.”

An amendment to the Arms Act to give effect to the ban will be introduced when Parliament sits in the first week of April and passed under urgency. Ardern said there would be a short Select Committee process, “so I encourage all those who wish to submit to start now”.

“My expectation is that the law will be in place by the end of the next two-week sitting session, which is by the 11th of April.”

In the meantime, an Order in Council came into effect at 3pm yesterday to prevent stockpiling. Those weapons that are being banned under the Bill have been reclassified as requiring an E endorsement on a firearms licence.

Police Commissioner Mike Bush said that meant those who had acquired the firearms legally with an A catergory licence will no longer be able to possess them.

“This means for many people, you will now be in unlawful possession of your firearm”.

There will be a grace period for firearms to be returned, but Ardern indicated that the draft legislation would look to increase the penalties for those who continue to possess these weapons “after a reasonable period”. Currently, the penalties range from fines of up to $4,000 and/or three years in prison.

University of Canterbury criminologist Dr Jarrod Gilbert said “past attempts to register firearms had been “seen as unworkable”, but technological changes could make this easier.

Though he said “political knee-jerk reactions after terrible events should be avoided”, in this instance recommendations had been around for a long time and were supported by the Police Association.

“The political will in the past has been absent.”

The SMC gathered expert reaction on New Zealand gun law throughout the week.

Quoted: RNZ

“This is how a heart breaks. This is how our world is torn apart. “

Islamic Women’s Council of New Zealand spokesperson Anjum Rahman detailing numerous attempts for Government to address rising levels of discrimination.

Reining in social media

Following last week’s shooting, questions have been aimed at social media companies over content shared on their platforms.

The alleged offender live-streamed the attack on Facebook and video later appeared on YouTube and other social media sites.

In a statement released today, Facebook said the video was viewed fewer than 200 times during the 17-minute live broadcast but was not reported by any of those viewers. Reports during livestreams are prioritised because “if there is real-world harm we have a better chance to alert first responders and try to get help on the ground,” the company said.

The first report was received 12 minutes after the broadcast ended but as the video was reported for reasons other than suicide, “as such it was handled according to different procedures”.

Within 24 hours, Facebook had removed 1.5 million versions of the video, 1.2 million of which were blocked at upload.

AUT’s head of the department of computer science Associate Professor David Parry said automatically spotting and removing offensive videos “is an extremely demanding task”.

“Although Facebook does employ human moderators there are probably less than 10,000 of them whereas the number of posts per day is in the billions.”

Swinburne University of Technology senior lecturer Dr Belinda Barnet said that while Facebook and Twitter had done a good job of removing ISIS material, “I don’t feel they’ve paid as much attention to right-wing extremism, and in many cases have promoted it”.

Dr Alistair Knott, from the University of Otago, said he believed “big tech companies should be required by law to devote sufficient resources to important tasks like this”. Public pressure wouldn’t suffice, “because they are such a monopoly”.

Kiwi telcos, including Spark, Vodafone and 2degrees, wrote an open letter to Google, Facebook and Twitter calling for change in the wake of the mosque shootings.

The SMC gathered expert reaction on live-streaming of traumatic events.

NZ Conversation’s own page

Readers on The Conversation can now navigate directly to a New Zealand pagefilled with exclusively NZ stories.

Former RNZ science journalist Veronika Meduna has been the New Zealand editor for the Conversation for two years and over the past week has published numerous articles following last week’s attack.

The dedicated New Zealand page went live yesterday. There is also a new New Zealand-focused newsletter.
Policy news & developments
Measles update: Almost 50 cases of measles have been confirmed this year, with almost two-thirds of the cases linked to the current outbreak in Canterbury.

Great Walk consultation: DOC is seeking public feedback on the conservation management strategy for the new Paparoa Great Walk, which will pass the site of Pike River Mine.

New mental health resources: In the aftermath of the tragic events in Christchurch, the Ministry of Health has developed resources in several languages to help people cope and support their children. To talk to a trained counsellor, text or call 1737.

Condolence book opened: A national condolence book for victims of the Christchurch mosques attack can be signed at the National Library on Molesworth Street, Wellington.


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