Airgun death sparks debate

Kevin Clements.
Kevin Clements.
A Dunedin professor says the loophole that lets people buy ''lethal'' air rifles should be closed following the death of a teenager, but a gun lobbyist rejects his calls.

Prof Kevin Clements, of the University of Otago's Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies, said air rifles should only be sold to gun licence holders.

Anyone 18 years of age or older can own and use an air gun and anyone under the age of 18 can use an air gun if supervised by a firearms licence holder, or someone aged 18 or older.

''They don't require the same type of registration and background checks as an ordinary rifle but they have the same lethality and they need to be treated like any other weapon,'' Prof Clements said.

The attitude that air rifles were considered suitable for children and needed to be critiqued, Prof Clements said.

He called for tighter controls after the death of undercover policeman Don Wilkinson, who was shot with a .22 calibre air rifle in 2008.

''There is really a need for a tightening up of this loophole or [more] people are going to be killed with these weapons.''

The public considered the death of the policeman an anomaly, but when Shaun Townsley (18) died after being shot by a .177-calibre air rifle in South Auckland on Saturday, it illustrated how lethal the weapons were, Prof Clements said.

Sports Industry Association spokesman Chris Ziesler (60) said he rejected Prof Clements' comments.

''When I was 14 years old, I got my first air rifle. My older brother had one and instructed me on its use and we grew up shooting our air rifles and tens of thousands of New Zealanders, of young Kiwis, have owned and used air rifles with no incident.''

The death of the teenager had allegedly involved alcohol so the law should not be changed because of a single incident, Mr Ziesler said.

''That would be an overreaction ... I can't quite follow the professor's idea that having a licence to buy an air gun would cure a problem that really doesn't exist.

"Changing the law would be a ''huge overreaction'', Mr Ziesler said.

Legislation had been passed so more powerful pneumatic air rifles, like the .22 calibre rifle used to shoot the undercover policeman, could only be owned and used by a gun licence holder, he said.

Bright sparks

This academic was asked for his opinion because he understands the nature and origins of conflict. Guns are used in conflict. I've never met the man, but his academic training would be transferable to other fields and even commercial practice. I agree that educational funding should be correctly targeted, but we can get a bit anti intellectual in NZ.

Peace studies

Just saying, don't you think this is a bit over the top ? We have a major educational stuff-up where kids are leaving school with little or no real value credits, equalling no job prospects, all blamed by educationalists on lack of funding. Instead we produce little-value stuff like this.  [abridged]

There are worse jobs

First you look at the peace, then have a go at the conflict. And his name's not Wayne.


Peace and conflict studies? That's his job? Jeez Wayne, gimme a break!


The type of high-powered air rifle used to kill Officer Don Wilkinson is one that does require a firearms licence to own and operate, contrary to what appears to be Prof Clements' understanding of the law.

A normal air rifle can be purchased and used by anyone over 18, but also by someone 16-18 years old who holds a firearms licence. 

I would suggest that the alleged use of alcohol in this incident was far more contributory and is of far greater concern. 


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