The family of a man who was shot several times and killed by a high-powered air rifle is welcoming a policy change that will see all those with such weapons requiring a firearms licence.

Police Minister Judith Collins announced yesterday that the Government would reclassify pre-charged pneumatic air rifles so that only people over 16 years old and who have a gun licence, or are supervised by someone with a licence, can own or possess them.

Currently anyone over 18 can buy an air rifle. People aged 16 and over with a firearms licence can also buy one.

Two people have been killed by air rifles in the past two years: Sergeant Don Wilkinson in September 2008, and Keith Kahi, who was killed this month near Botany Downs.

Mr Kahi's cousin Bruce told the Herald that he thought the change was a good idea. He said the current system was dangerous because of "the strength of the air rifles".

But he said it was hard to say if such a requirement would have prevented his cousin from being shot.

Ms Collins said the reclassification would not apply to older-style spring-loaded air guns or air guns powered by CO2 cartridges, BB or paintball guns.

She would seek Cabinet approval in the next few weeks, and the change could be in place by the end of the year.

"These high-powered air guns produce a projectile that travels almost as fast as a bullet and have similar killing power," Ms Collins said. "It is common sense for them to require a licence the way a firearm does."

The Deerstalkers Association welcomed the change and Police Association president Greg O'Connor said it was long overdue.

"At the moment, criminals know they can keep these guns at home and if police visit, they can't be charged. These changes will mean if they're found with one of these things, and they're unlicensed, then they can be charged," Mr O'Connor said.

But gunshop owner Ron Young told 3 News he did not think it would make a difference because most criminals did not have a firearms licence anyway.

A spokesman for Ms Collins said it was difficult to know how many air rifles there were in the country, but he understood there were about 30 FX Monsoons, a popular model.

Green MP Keith Locke agreed with tightening purchase rules, but said all firearms should be registered.

"Then when police turn up to an address they will then have a better idea of what guns might be inside. Gun registration would reduce the danger to police and make communities safer. The argument that some criminals wouldn't register their arms is a little spurious. Do these people also say we should abolish tax laws because some people dodge tax?"

But Ms Collins rejected this because it would not keep criminals from getting their hands on guns.

"Individual firearms were registered in New Zealand in the 1950s, but the system proved unworkable."

DEATHS FROM AIR RIFLES
Keith Kahi - Shot this month in Burswood, near Botany Downs.
Don Wilkinson - Shot by John Skinner in September 2008.