A move to require people to be licensed to own high-powered air rifles is long overdue, says the Police Association.
Police Minister Judith Collins said yesterday that changes likely to be implemented through an amendment to the Arms Order 1984 could become law within a few months and would apply to pre-charged pneumatic air guns, but not older-style, spring-loaded airguns, guns powered by CO2 cartridges, BB guns or paintball guns.
The move follows the deaths of undercover police officer Sergeant Don Wilkinson, who was shot and killed with a high-powered air rifle in 2008, and Auckland man Keith Kahi, who was shot and killed earlier this month with the same sort of weapon.
Police Association president Greg O'Connor said legislation on the issue had been on the cards since 2005 and it was good to see it being dealt with specifically.
"The big thing about this is that criminals will have to think twice about having them lying around for protection, because if we now find them with (the guns), not only do we seize the gun, but we prosecute as well," he told NZPA.
Mr O'Connor said criminals were unlikely to have or get licences because of the stringent background checks required, and they would need to keep such weapons hidden rather than at their fingertips.
Green Party police spokesman Keith Locke said the move was a step forward, but a requirement to register all firearms would be another sensible step to take.
Ms Collins said it was not realistic to expect that the criminals likely to use guns illegally would register them.
Mr O'Connor said in an ideal world you would require the registration of all guns, "but what I would fear is that the cost of doing it would take much needed money away from other areas".
He said a "halfway point" might be to register every firearm sold from a certain date in the future, which would allow for a database to be built up over time.
Mr Locke said the argument that some criminals wouldn't register their firearms was spurious. "Do these people also say we should abolish tax laws because some people dodge tax?"
"In any case, several of those taking pot shots at police are mentally disordered people, not hardened criminals, and they may well have registered their guns at an earlier time."
Mr O'Connor said requiring licences for the air rifles shouldn't impact much on honest gun users, as such weapons were expensive and those buying them would generally already have firearms licences.
Police have been working on a range of policy options relating to public safety, including looking at tightening regulations around firearms sales so internet transactions and mail orders would go through an intermediary, such as a licensed dealer or police.
The review also looks at extending access to firearms for police, something the Police Association backs.