Owners of high-powered airguns will require a firearms licence within a matter of months, the Government announced today.

The move follows the deaths of undercover police officer Sergeant Don Wilkinson, who was shot and killed with an air rifle in 2008, and Auckland man Keith Kahi, who was shot and killed earlier this month.

The change 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.

Only firearms licence holders over 16 years of age, or people under the supervision of a licence holder, would be allowed to possess the firearms.

Police Minister Judith Collins said the change would make it harder for criminals to get their hands on firearms.

"These weapons are proving popular with violent criminals who can own and use them without having to undergo the rigorous background checks required for a firearms licence," she said.

"These high-powered air guns produce a projectile that travels almost as fast as a bullet, and have similar killing power.

"It is common sense for them to require a licence the way a firearm does."

The move would not penalise law-abiding people with legitimate uses for airguns, such as hunters, farmers and target shooters.

The changes would likely be implemented by an amendment to the Arms Order 1984, which would be faster than passing an amendment to the Arms Act.

Ms Collins said the changes could be implemented in about three months. She would seek formal approval from Cabinet in the next few weeks.

Police had been working on a range of policy options relating to public safety for the best part of a year, Ms Collins said.

They were 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.

This change was likely to require an amendment to the Arms Act and would take longer to implement.

New Zealand would not be changing the firearms licensing system to register individual firearms, Ms Collins said.

"There is little evidence to suggest it would help keep guns out of the hands of criminals and improve public safety."

However, Green Party police spokesman Keith Locke said a requirement to register all firearms would be another sensible step to take.

"Then when police turn up to an address they will then have a better idea of what guns might be inside," he said.

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."

- NZPA