The mysterious case of the door left open and the disappearing guns

There's no way to guarantee safety in an imperfect world, but you would hope to have confidence in the Police's ability to keep guns under lock and key. It seems not

Sometimes you have to pinch yourself to convince yourself what you're reading is real. My previous column was on the gun debate – it solicited a number of sensible comments. Then, as if eager to underline one of my points, Police fumbled.

I'd suggested that the firearms licensing system had by all appearances been run carelessly and the Police needed to up their game. Last week we saw a classic of why that is so.

Given Christchurch, security levels throughout the country had with much fanfare and hype been upped to the high threat level. Machine gun-armed police patrolled outside key events. They even had a police rifleman positioned at the door of Parliament. Any member of the public going in had to walk by this heavily armed young cop on their way into the Beehive. A number of ANZAC Day parades were cancelled, supposedly because the authorities could not guarantee security.

Yet despite all this elevated dramatic “nationwide enhanced security”, a thief – and as it turned out a person with a fair whack of “form” as they say – managed to walk in the door of the Palmerston North Police Station and steal 11 firearms, one of which was a newly banned firearm type.

The media reported that the “door had been left open”. A humble citizen is required to own and keep their firearms stored in a strong, steel, approved safe anchored to the wall by strong bolts, and woe-betide a citizen good or bad if they fail in that duty. They would be in big trouble. Fair enough actually – no reasonable person objects to being required to keep their dangerous equipment secure – but so must the authorities.

So when, in the wake of all the drama about “the country being on high alert” and with armed police everywhere, something like this Palmerston North incident occurs it has one reaching for a place to pinch – sadly it was real.

While on over the top statements, how often when some unwelcome or unexpected event occurs do we hear a solemn announcement of an official review or inquiry to ensure this whatever it was “never happens again”?

Unfortunately that defies reality. We cannot be 100% sure a terror event will never happen here again. No New Zealander in their right mind would ever want that – perish the thought – but the reality is that there are no absolute guarantees in this imperfect world. We can do the surveillance and the intelligence, we can do the licensing and the inspections, we can do the monitoring and the regulating, we can make profound statements and do all that. But when you have a pool of just under 5,000,000 people there will always be at the margin a few crazy total idiots, who somehow or other slip through the cracks.

I am more often than not wanded by airport security. I have had a hip replacement and the metal in my hip seems to set it off. I go through the routine – my belt buckle and my watch are inspected and my hip rubbed down and all that.

While standing there I watch some official viewing the x-ray – the outlines of bags with wires and all sorts of multi-coloured squiggles pass through. Every now and then someone’s bag is singled out for inspection and some official digs through the personal effects in a handbag or whatever. I seriously wonder how much of this is mere compliance with international commitments we are signed up to. I wonder how much is just pure theatre.

I fly frequently on regional flights that don’t go through this routine and I feel no less safe. It’s the reverse of that numbers point above. We could say 99.9% of people are innocently flying from point A to point B and never in a million years will be a problem, but they must be “inspected”.

If one wants to see unquestionably effective airport security try Tel Aviv Airport in Israel. They would have a genuine problem with terror attacks if they dropped their guard one iota. You get the distinct impression they worry little about checking bona-fide travellers there; they make sure they know who is getting on planes and anyone with “intent” better stay away.