EDITORIAL: Controls needed on air gun owners


Yesterday's hostage drama in Whangarei which ended with the Armed Offenders Squad shooting and killing the female intruder was another indication that weapons far are too easy to obtain in New Zealand.
The woman, who terrorised staff at a Whangarei store before losing her own life, was armed with an air rifle. Early today, information was yet to be obtained about the weapon and whether or not it was loaded, however it was chilling that the incident occurred so soon after a high-powered air rifle was used to shoot dead undercover policeman Don Wilkinson in South Auckland last month.
Police have just weeks ago expressed concerns about high-powered air rifles being brought into the country, and Police Commissioner Howard Broad has said he will review the Arms Act in the wake of the Auckland shooting.
The ridiculous situation is that air rifles in New Zealand do not need to be licensed and can be legally shipped into the country by people aged over 18.
The guns can easily be sold without a firearms licence to anybody over 18 and yet, at short range, can be lethal. These guns are marketed in the United States as "serious hunting guns". They are not harmless toys.
Powered by compressed air, they can fire a heavy .50 calibre lead slug at about 180 metres per second _ and are reportedly available on the market for as little as $70. This puts a dangerous weapon easily within reach of criminals and a concerted crackdown is needed for the safety of the New Zealand public.
Until the law is changed to make it more difficult for people to purchase airguns, police are asking dealers not to sell them.
This is a stop-gap measure that may have little success.

The two recent tragedies should be the catalyst for a speedy change of law so that air rifle owners require permits and background checks similar to those that apply for for firearms possession
On this, New Zealand is out of step with Australian law which already classifies air guns and BB guns as ``Category A' firearms, and requires owners to have licences.
The situation is simple: Air guns should be considered firearms and should therefore be subject to regulation.
This won't stop them from falling into the wrong hands but will at least reduce the numbers in easy circulation and aid the police in curbing gun violence.
Laura Franklin, editor

- BAY OF PLENTY TIMES

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