A gun dealer who has vowed to prosecute a TV journalist who bought a rifle from his shop without a firearms licence was accused of buying hundreds of guns with false identification in America a decade ago.

Gun City owner David Tipple, 60, this week said if police did not charge MediaWorks journalist Heather du Plessis-Allan at the end of its investigation into her sting, he would launch a private prosecution.

Records show the Christchurch millionaire has himself faced charges of illegally buying firearms, which were eventually dropped.

In 2002, Mr Tipple was arrested at Los Angeles airport after US Customs officials found 29 guns and 340 rounds of live ammunition in his baggage.

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He pleaded guilty and was convicted of failing to notify an airline in writing that he had firearms in his luggage.

Mr Tipple received the maximum sentence of 12 months in a New Mexico jail after violating his bail conditions by travelling to Japan and Frankfurt.

But just weeks before his release date in 2004, he was indicted on federal firearms charges for illegally buying 363 rifles and shotguns from a US gun dealer.

The indictment, seen by NZME News Service, alleged that he "knowingly made a false and fictitious" claim to Franklin's of Athens gun shop in Georgia that said he was a resident of the state.

The charges alleged that between August 2000 and August 2002 he illegally bought hundreds of mainly Ruger, Remington and Browning rifles, and Winchester and Beretta shotguns, a Colt pistol and many other brands of firearms.

The charges were eventually dropped and Mr Tipple was allowed to return to New Zealand.

In total, he spent 21 months in American jails.

"The county jails were hell, but the two prisons I spent five or six months in were not hell-holes. They were quite liveable," Mr Tipple said on his return to Christchurch.

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When contacted yesterday about his encounters with US law enforcement, Mr Tipple denied that they were "similar" to du Plessis-Allan's alleged offending.

"I don't think those two things are similar at all," he said before hanging up.

Prime Minister John Key last night welcomed moves by police to close a potential loophole in the gun buying rules, describing them as a "sensible step".

The new rules which came into effect on Thursday mean buyers have to take their purchase order into a police station and present their firearms licence to a police arms officer. Once police are satisfied, the form will then be passed to the dealer by police following verification.

"This will negate any need for dealers to cross check details - though police will be continuing to audit dealers on a regular basis to make sure the system is working appropriately," police told NZME News Service.