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Thursday, 25 April 2019 11:52 pm

Lawmakers slow to move on reforming airgun law

Sep 15th, 2008 | By | Category: Latest News, News

A piece of legislation that would make it more difficult to get powerful airguns has been sitting on Parliament’s legislation books for more than three years.

The Arms Amendment Bill (no.3) proposes a change to the definition of a firearm to include any airgun capable of producing more than 34 joules of muzzle energy.

It would mean the kind of airgun used to kill Sergeant Don Wilkinson in Manukau this week could not be obtained without a firearms licence.

For the last month, NewsWire has been investigating why the amendment – introduced in April, 2005 – is taking so long to become law, something that now has to wait until after the election.

NewsWire was alerted to the issue when a New Plymouth man told us how easy it was to get a high powered airgun (pictured).

He said he wanted a .177mm air rifle to shoot rabbits near his bach at Mokau and was surprised to find he could buy a weapon deadly enough to kill someone by simply walking into a sports shop and giving nothing more than his name and address.

“This thing looks like an AK47, it has a laser sight and it will put a slug through thick plywood,” he says. “How come I didn’t need a licence?”

He presumes the one used in the Manukau shooting was a .22 air rifle, even more lethal than the one he bought. Pistol versions of what he bought are now commonly used in armed robberies.

On the August 26, NewsWire asked Police Minister Annette King to comment on whether the proposed change in legislation should be made a priority, given the recent spate of airgun-assisted crime.

After no reply was received, NewsWire tried a second approach to the Minister. On September 2, her staff advised NewsWire to contact Police Commissioner Howard Broad, who has so far not responded.

The National party was asked for its policy, but said it does not have one. Police spokesman Chester Borrows does see airguns as a serious issue:  “It’s not just around muzzle velocity, it’s also around appearance.”

The Law and Order Select Committee, which has been considering the bill since 2005, is due to report back to the House on October 6, but since Parliament has had its last sitting in the present term, no legislative action can be taken until next year.

Police statistics indicate about a quarter of arms offences involve airguns. Between 2004-2006, 24% of the guns seized by police were airguns, both rifles and pistols.

In recent weeks, a dairy owner in Auckland was shot in the arm with an airgun, while another in Christchurch fired at people trying to rob him.

Under current firearms law, a person 18 years and over can own and operate an airgun without a firearms licence.  A person under 18 years must be under the immediate supervision of someone 18 years or older, or someone who has a firearms licence.

Lower production costs, technological enhancements (resulting in increased power and accuracy for airguns), the advent of online shopping, and several high profile airgun attacks, have led to an increase in dialogue about the issue.

The Mountain Safety Council has proposed import controls on airguns that imitate pistols, military style semi-automatics, and other restricted weapons.

There have been several suggestions by the Council of Licensed Firearm Owners (COLFO), including:

• import permits on unaccompanied airguns;
• a provision that internet sales can be carried out only by licensed firearms dealers;
• a firearms license required for any airgun more powerful than 35 joules;
• a requirement that arms dealers provide an airgun purchaser with a “basic rules” pamphlet.

An erosion of personal responsibility, coupled with powerful airguns for less money, is part of the problem, says COLFO chairman John Howat.

“In essence, production has been taken over by CNC [production lines controlled and operated by computers] and similar automatic machines in low cost countries,” he says.

“The quality of production, steel, seals, etc, has improved enormously while the price has dropped hugely.

“The real problem with airguns is that many people seem to have lost their sense of responsibility and there are many reasons for this.”

Police arms officer Inspector Joe Green says the changes proposed by COLFO would be useful to only a limited extent.

“This might work for those who sell/supply lawfully. Those outside the law would not be affected by it,” he says.

Online auction sites such as TradeMe have come under scrutiny recently in relation to the sale of firearms, and while a number of measures have been made to eradicate the illegal sale of firearms and airguns – such as restricting TradeMe to 18 years or over – TradeMe spokesman Dean Winter says the onus is on the individuals involved in the transaction.

“The seller still has obligations under law to ensure that the person is either over 18, or if they’re under 18, that they have a firearms licence,” he says.

“The reality is, there are over one million auctions going at any one time, and we’re not involved in the actual transaction. We can do as much as we can, but unfortunately there are still going to be people who commit offences, and we can’t be there to stop them.”

Mr Green agrees that responsibility lies with the honesty of buyers and sellers.

“Police and TradeMe do speak regularly, however it needs to be noted that TradeMe is really a ‘classified ad’ site, with no more responsibility than other advertisers,” he says. “The primary responsibility remains with the supplier (under the Arms Act).”

An airgun enthusiast – who did not wish to be named – is satisfied with the current legislation, but believes there need to be harsher penalties for those who disobey the rules, with more emphasis on clubs which help to create responsible airgun users.

Mr Howat also sees a positive role for gun clubs, which provide “training and mentoring” for emerging airgun users.

“[Clubs are] vital now the traditional family unit and accompanying community has been substantially destroyed and there has been a huge influx of immigrants who have no knowledge of our rules or customs.”

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  1. I dont believe airguns should be treated the same as firearms but eveyone who owns one or buys one should be registered. There needs to be a record of who owns them.

  2. Put it in the bag with no compulsory insurance for motorists; the give-way-to-the-right-turn-across-the-traffic stupidity; and driving licences for 15-year-olds.

  3. Great story. Deserves national headlines.

  4. exactly right jeremy, there needs to be some accountability to the owners, i have a few air guns and wouldn’t mind being registered, even paying a 1 off registration fee. at the moment the laws don’t acknowledge the presence of ‘soft air’ guns which are different again and just like paintball guns they aren’t actually weapons since they’re just designed for gaming purposes, it would be good to see them recognised and put in a seporate catergory.

  5. I think a sure fire way(no pun intended) would be to introduce an airgun licence.
    it would of course serve the purpose of asurig that purchasers and owners have no relavent violence or firearms related convitions without peneising the responsible users.
    It would of course have to be cheaper then i firearms licence and would include a basic right and wrongs, and safely handling techniques but most importantly a background check. it would also lead the way to advancing and removing the stigma behind the sport of airsoft( guns that fire 6mm plastic bbs at around between 200 and 500 fps)keeping in mind i believe the riffle used in this afwull crime was around the 2000fps mark and gunpowder based firearms are around 4000fps and bigger and more solid bullets to keep in mind perspective)airsoft currantly is semi suto only(by law) but with such legislation we could move to reintroduce(legally) full autos- for airsoft only.

  6. Guns – of any description – and me have never had a relationship! I read this article to become better informed and want to congratulate Charlotte Hilling for the quality of her writing and the manner in which she has presented all the necessary information and view points. The recent death of a policman is surely sending a huge alert about the necessity for reforming airgun law. This death indicates just how easy it is for those who have “lost their sense of responsibility” to act in ways that have fatal consequences.

  7. What about knives..should we also start knife licensing? many people die each year from knife attacks. What about dangerous dogs? What about screwdrivers?, and nail clippers? What about nylon haircombs, after all they could be forced into someones eye. And then there’s the pencils, pens, clothpegs and toilet tissue rolls that can suffocate if forced down a persons throat. It’s not the weapons we need to work on in today’s society, it’s the people, and in particular the children. We, as parents can’t just abdicate our responsibility to train them and guide them through the early formative stages of their lives, by allowing the idiot box(TV), and all its American sourced programs to dominate and form their values, attitudes and morals. When I was 14, I regularly hunted with a shotgun, and some of my friends with .22 rimfires, but we were careful, and respected them as being dangerous instruments, made sure each time we shot at a rabbit, it was a clear field of fire, with earthen back drops to prevent collateral injury etc. I, for one, don’t want to see our country go the route of the UK and Australia in our airgun hasn’t seemed to change a thing for those countries and the criminals don’t respect any amendments.

  8. Airsoft is the name of our game. me and my 3 brothers always play airsoft in closed quarter battles.”*

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