Kiwi Polemicist

September 13, 2008

Air rifles: we don’t need yet more regulations in New Zealand

In my earlier post I referred to the murder of an undercover policeman on a drugs case. The police think he may have been killed with an air rifle, and now the police and politicians are bleating on about regulating such air rifles¹. I’ll get back to that, but first a bit about the rifle that may or may not have been used to kill the policeman.

It’s an air rifle² firing a lead pellet, the sort of thing that farmers or people on a lifestyle block use to kill rats and rabbits. A gun dealer says that it only has lethal potential against people at point blank range, although it obviously can inflict nasty injuries (in that respect the use of them is no different to driving a car). They’re ideal for people who don’t want to go to the huge cost of gun cabinets and all the other regulatory nonsense, but do want some target practice and/or to kill small animals.

There are three reasons why there is no need to regulate³ these air rifles:

1) Criminals by definition ignore the law, so regulating air rifles isn’t going to make any difference to them: pistols are very heavily regulated, but the police found three of them near the scene of the murder.

2) in this article the gun dealer says that there are air rifles that are known to be capable of killing people. About them, the dealer says “They’re not sold in retail shops in New Zealand because we all have come to the same conclusion, and that is what use is there for these things here? These things are dangerous”. So, gun dealers won’t sell man-killer air rifles because they see no lawful purpose for them. Well, isn’t that amazing: the free market self-regulates without government interference.

3) the sort of people who would go to the bother of registering their air rifles are the sort of people least likely to use them for illegitimate purposes. When did you last see gang members and drug dealers queuing up to register their firearms?


1) regulating air rifles won’t keep them out of the hands of criminals

2) regulating air rifles is a solution looking for a problem, because the free market is already keeping man-killer air rifles out of shops

3) regulating air rifles will just make the ownership of them more difficult and expensive for those people who have a legitimate use of them and are least likely to misuse them.

I am reminded of the dog-chipping laws, which were a knee jerk reaction to dog attacks and increased ownership costs for everyone, whilst doing nothing to reduce the problem because the people most likely to own dangerous dogs don’t bother registering them.

If air rifles are regulated how will people protect themselves against the dangerous dogs that are still around?


1. a car was recently used to kill a policeman. Like air rifles, they are used for practical purposes and for fun, but the police don’t propose heavier regulation of the use of cars. Politicians – including the Police Commissioner – just like to be seen to be doing something (it’s called make-work).

2. “air rifle” is a generic term for a gun where the projectile is propelled by compressed gas. Firearms propel the projectile with explosives.

3. air rifles are already regulated, but the regulations are light: basically anyone over 18 can buy one without State interference. When I say “regulate” I am referring to putting them under the same regulations as firearms, which require a licence, gun cabinets, etc.


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