A coroner has warned that air rifles are deadly weapons and should be treated with the same respect as other firearms.

Coroner Gordon Matenga made the comments during an inquest into the death of 12-year-old Keegan MacPherson-Pirini, who was shot through the heart at his home on Pongakawa Bush Rd near Te Puke on November 5, 2014.

The inquest was held in Rotorua yesterday, with Mr Matenga reserving his findings until a later date.

However, he said Keegan's death was most probably a tragic accident.


"It does concern me that Keegan died as a result of what was most probably the accidental discharge of a slug gun - an air rifle - that many people in New Zealand would consider safe to use.

"This was a serious injury and it's important the proper message gets out ... that they can potentially die from the use of an air rifle."

The inquest heard that after returning from school, Keegan said he was going to a farm shed to use an air rifle his father had bought him about six months previously.

A short time later his grandmother Patricia Pirini heard the shed door slam and saw Keegan lying on the ground "wriggling around like he was in pain".

Keegan said to his grandmother "I have been shot", before family members called the police.

Keegan was flown to Tauranga Hospital then taken by ambulance to Waikato Hospital, where he died in the early hours of November 6.

A postmortem found he had been shot through the heart with a .177 calibre air rifle. The pellet had entered his chest between his ribs, travelled though his heart and was found lodged in his spine.

Detective Senior Sergeant Greg Turner of Tauranga CIB told the inquest the rifle's trigger could have caught on a foreign object and gone off.

"Perhaps Keegan was pulling the gun across the pool table toward him and it's caught on a foreign object, or any number of objects in the shed that it could have caught on."

When asked by Mr Matenga if he had any message for the public about the use of air rifles, Mr Turner said they should be treated like any other firearm - locked away when not in use, and anyone under 16 should always be supervised.

Keegan's maternal grandfather Duncan MacPherson questioned whether Keegan should have been allowed to use the air rifle without adult supervision and why his father, Jayson Pirini, was not charged with any offence regarding the shooting.

According to New Zealand law, anyone under the age of 16 is not allowed to use an air rifle without supervision.

Mr Turner said police did consider pressing charges against Jayson Pirini but after much discussion did not, instead issuing him with a pre-charge warning.

"It was my decision not to charge him. Clearly I'd seen the distress caused to Jayson by this incident. I considered the lesson had been learned."

Mr Turner said the air rifle was stored in Jayson Pirini's wardrobe and Keegan was allowed to shoot at targets without adult supervision.

In his statement, Keegan's paternal grandfather Francis Pirini said he and son Jayson had taught Keegan about firearm safety.

Jayson Pirini, his former partner Katrina Taikato, and his brother Blair Pirini did not appear at the inquest.

However, Mr Matenga excused them from proceedings as they had already made statements to police in 2014.