Arms Code Section 3: Understanding firearms
3a) Firearm types
Military-style semi-automatics (MSSAs)
Types of actions
3b) Where and when you may use firearms
.22 Rimfire rifles
Military-style semi-automatics (MSSAs)
The Arms Act 1983 defines a firearm as anything from which any shot, bullet, missile or other projectile can
be discharged by force of explosive. (See the definition of ‘firearm’ at the beginning of this manual for a full
definition.) When you are choosing a firearm, remember that no single firearm, and no single type of ammunition, will suit all purposes.
The Arms Act 1983 also controls airguns.
An airgun is any air rifle, pistol or weapon that has a gas or compressed air firing mechanism. Under the Arms Act 1983, ‘airgun’ includes air rifles, air pistols, BB guns, soft air pellet guns and paintball guns.
Some more powerful airguns are defined in the Arms Act 1983 as ‘firearms’; check the Arms Act or with your Arms Officer.
Special message to parents
Some parents worry when their child expresses an interest in airguns. But owning an airgun and using it under your supervision can be a positive step in developing safe firearm routines. An air rifle is preferable to an air pistol. It is an ideal first gun which a young person can learn to handle responsibly and safely. The NZMSC offers a free firearm safety lecture. Contact your local Police Arms Officer for details.
For a beginner a .177 calibre air rifle is inexpensive and will provide plenty of cheap, safe practice. The Police have published a free pamphlet on this called Beginning with air guns. Other types of airgun are available, including ‘soft’ airguns that fire a plastic pellet at fairly low velocity. Soft airguns are usually made to look like real pistols or military firearms – they are not toys and like all airguns are controlled by the Arms Act. You should never use an airgun in situations where it might be mistaken for a real firearm.
Who may use airguns
Anyone 18 years of age or older can possess and use an airgun.
Anyone under 18 years of age may use an airgun if:
- They hold a New Zealand Firearms Licence* or they are under the ‘immediate supervision’ of a firearms licence holder or a person 18 years of age or older.
- Anyone under 16 years of age must always be under the ‘immediate supervision’ of a firearms licence holder or a person 18 years of age or older.
* Note: You must be 16 years of age or older to apply for a New Zealand Firearms Licence.
‘Immediate supervision’ means that the licensed or older person is within reach and in control of the person using the airgun. The person providing the supervision must be able to take control of the airgun. They cannot be in possession or control of another firearm or airgun. On a range or paintball field: the rules in place, fenced field and supervision of umpires, referees or Range Officer go toward immediate
Young airgun owners
If you are 16 or 17 you can see the Arms Officer at a Police station about getting a firearms licence. The Arms Officer will give you a free copy of the Arms Code for you to study. You will be asked to give the names of 2 people, one a close relative. The Police will ask these people if you are a suitable person to use and possess firearms.
You will also be asked to attend a firearms safety lecture run by the NZMSC. Next, you sit a written test and are issued a certificate when you pass. The results of your test will be passed on to the Arms Officer. If the Arms Officer considers you a fit and proper person you will be issued with a firearms licence.
You can be arrested and fined and/or imprisoned:
- If you possess or carry an airgun without a lawful purpose.
- If you carelessly use an airgun.
- For firing an airgun in a way that may endanger, annoy or frighten anyone or harm property.
- For unlawfully pointing an airgun at someone.
- If you sell or supply an airgun to an unlicensed person under 18. This could happen if an adult buys an airgun as a gift for a child.
Fully automatic airguns
If you own fully automatic airguns you must by law have a firearms licence with a Restricted Weapons endorsement. Although the guns are air powered, their firing mechanism means they are restricted weapons. As well as the correct endorsement you will need to have secure storage facilities for your fully automatic airgun.
Safe storage of airguns
An airgun can cause serious injury if used incorrectly. When you are not using your airgun, it should be locked away in a safe place inaccessible to children.
A pistol is any firearm that is designed or adapted to be held and fired with one hand, and includes any firearm that is less than 762 mm in length.
If you wish to possess a pistol you are required by law to hold an endorsement on your firearms licence. You are required to either belong to a Pistol Club recognised by the Commissioner of Police (B endorsement), or, be a bona fide collector (C endorsement). Pistols can only be fired on an
approved Pistol Club range. You need to obtain a special permit, known as a ‘permit to procure’, from the Police so you can buy a pistol.
The Arms Officer will check the security of your firearms storage at home before you will be allowed to keep the pistol there. You will only be permitted to take the pistol from home to the Pistol Club range or to a gunsmith or dealer.
An antique firearm is any firearm which is held in the possession of any person, solely as an antique (but not as a copy or replica of an antique) and which is not designed for, and is not capable of firing rimfire or centrefire cartridge ammunition. (Section 2, Arms Act 1983)
Antique firearms should not be fired. This can be dangerous especially if it is in poor condition. An antique firearm is normally only suitable as a collector’s item, an heirloom, a display, or kept because of its special significance. Black powder shooters usually fire replicas of the original firearms. The replicas are working models made of suitable materials and can be fired safely with the correct ammunition. Loading and firing a black powder firearm is complex and requires a lot of care. These firearms can be as lethal as a modern firearm.
A rifle normally fires a single bullet and, in NZ, rifles generally range in calibre from .17 to .45. All are used for target shooting.
- The .17 and .22 rimfire is suitable for small game such as rabbits, hares and possums.
- The centrefire .22 is suitable for hunting goats and wallaby.
- The .243 is about the smallest calibre that should be used for deer hunting.
- Some cartridges are not suitable for hunting pigs and deer but the following are used on bigger game: the .308 Winchester (7.62 Nato), 7.62 x 39 .270 Winchester, 30.06, .303 British, 6.5 x 55, 7mm and 8 mm Mauser and the 30.30 Winchester.
Police strongly recommend that you join a sport-shooting club where you can get information and advice from experienced firearms users. Ask your Police Arms Officer or NZMSC instructor for suitable clubs in your area.
Shotguns are used for clay target shooting and to hunt small animals such as rabbits. They are the only firearms allowed for hunting game birds on the wing. There are about 200 pellets in a 12-gauge cartridge that spread out when they leave the muzzle. At 30 metres they will strike in a circular pattern nearly a metre across.
In hunting, the bigger and stronger the game, the more powerful the cartridge must be to kill the game humanely. Shotgun cartridges are loaded with different sizes of shot:
- 7, 8 and 9 for smaller birds
- 4, 5 and 6 for rabbit and duck
- 3 and 2 for swan and geese
- buckshot, or a single solid slug, for pigs and deer at close range.
The size of the shot for clay target shooting depends on the competition.
Military-style semi-automatic (MSSA) firearms
Are firearms that require an endorsement on your firearms licence (E endorsement) and are subject to special security conditions. Only an E endorsed person may have or use an MSSA and it is an offence for anyone without this endorsement to fire one, even under supervision. Only persons 18 years of age or older can have an endorsement for one of these firearms. A permit to procure the MSSA must be obtained from an Arms Officer before taking possession of it. MSSAs require greater storage security than for standard sporting firearms.
An MSSA is a self-loading rifle or shotgun with one or more of the following features:
- Folding or telescopic butt
- Magazine that holds, or has appearance of holding, more than 15 cartridges for .22 rimfire
- Magazine that holds, or has appearance of holding, more than 7 cartridges for others
- Bayonet lug
- Military pattern free standing pistol grip
- Flash suppresser
You need a permit from the Police to obtain one of these firearms.
Types of actions
All cartridge firing firearms used for target shooting or hunting have the following things in common: the cartridge is fed into the chamber; it is locked there by the action; the action is cocked; it is fired; it is unlocked; and the empty cartridge case is extracted and ejected.
The bolt action is one of the simplest and most trouble-free firearm actions. Starting from the unloaded condition, the action is unlocked by lifting the bolt handle and pulling it back. A cartridge is fed into the chamber by pushing the bolt forward. The bolt handle is then turned downwards, locking the bolt and cartridge in place. A firing pin is usually cocked by movement of the bolt or bolt handle, and when the trigger is squeezed the pin is released, firing the cartridge. The empty cartridge case is then ejected by lifting the bolt handle again and pulling the bolt back.
The lever action works on the same basic principle, except that a lever is pushed down to unlock the bolt and move it backwards. This movement also cocks the action. When the lever is pulled upwards again it feeds a cartridge into the chamber and locks, ready to be fired by the trigger. After the cartridge is fired the empty case is ejected by once more pushing the lever down. A pump action is again similar. A pump slide is pulled backwards to open the action and cock it. When the slide is pushed forward the action feeds a fresh cartridge, locks, and is ready to fire.
A semi-automatic also known as a self loading action, operates in the same way as the above firearms. However, ejection and loading is carried out automatically by the force of either the recoil or by gas pressure. Because of the automatic reloading, a cartridge is ready to be fired each time the trigger is squeezed.
The most common shotguns found in New Zealand are the break- open variety in which the barrel or barrels hinge downwards. There are over-and-under, side-by-side and single barrel shotguns. Some shotguns are semi-automatic or pump action.
Before you do any shooting, whether with a firearm or airgun, you need to know when and where it can be safely and lawfully used.
You should take steps to ensure that your shooting does not endanger property or frighten, annoy or put neighbours at risk. Telling your neighbours about what you are doing is always a good first step.
The permission of the land owner is required before shooting anywhere. A permit is necessary before hunting on any land managed by the Department of Conservation (DOC), which includes conservation and national parks
.22 Rimfire rifles
A .22 rimfire rifle has been the traditional first rifle of many New Zealanders. It is regarded as a safe and inexpensive firearm for a young person. This rifle can be just as deadly as any other firearm and must be handled with respect and care.
There are only two places in which a .22 rimfire rifle can be used. One is at a rifle range, either indoor or outdoor. The only other place is on private property, with the owner’s permission. The .22 rimfire rifle is not generally permitted on any land managed by DOC, which inc