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Applications for firearm licenses in Canterbury have soared in the past five years, and are expected to rise even further.
According to figures obtained by The Star, there are now 33,500 firearm licence holders in Canterbury, 16 per cent of the national total.
Since 2009, the number of new firearms applications filed in Canterbury has risen by 31 per cent.
Final figures have not yet been determined, but so far police say that in 2013 there were 1350 first-time applications filed for firearm licenses - up from 1220 in 2012.
They expect the 2013 number to increase when numbers are finally determined.
Of those applications, Canterbury police estimated that 99 per cent were accepted.
Police predict that could rise to 1650 applications per year by 2015.
Gun City owner David Tipple said there was a simple explanation for a boom in business.
"It's because there's more game to hunt," he said.
"Right across Canterbury, where there's a habitat, there's been an increase in deer and game and people want to pick up a gun and hunt."
Mr Tipple said pest-control was also a reason for more guns being sold.
He said semi-automatic rifles were customers' gun of choice.
"They're the biggest seller - the .22 long rifles. Most people are interested in the military-style semi-automatics."
Director of the University of Otago's NZ Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies Kevin Clements found the numbers "disturbing".
"That's deeply worrying because those guns are the same kind that Jan Molenaar used in 2009," he said.
"You don't need to use a semi-automatic rifle in hunting."
Prof Clements said semi-automatic weapons should not be available to the general public.
"Of course some people use them for recreational reasons, but semi-automatic guns have also become the criminal weapon of choice."
Said Mr Tipple: "Semi-automatics are necessary in hunting."
"If you're only going to get a fleeting glimpse at an animal on the run, you're going to want more than one shot."
"Plus, there's no recoil."
A Canterbury police spokesman said they did not have a view on the number of semi-automatic weapons being sold.
"All firearms owners are required to comply with the provisions of firearms legislation and licensing, regardless of the type of firearm."
The police firearms office would not provide information on how many guns were stolen in 2013.
- By Max Towle of the Christchurch Star