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Can AR-15 owners avoid the gun ban with pump-action modifications? Not even police know


Gun owners are calling on police to clear up confusion over whether banned high powered assault rifles can be modified to comply with the new firearms law.

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Gun owners are calling on authorities to clear up the confusion over the high-powered firearms ban. Source: 1 NEWS

It comes as a New Zealand importer considers bringing in an AR-15 modification kit, known as the Animus, which can convert the gun from a semi-automatic weapon to pump-action. The AR-15 was the primary weapon system used during the Christchurch mosque attacks.

The converted pump-action AR-15 has a limited capacity and fires slowly, with every bullet pulled into the chamber manually by hand in a similar fashion to a shotgun. It was designed by an American company to comply with their own gun legislation.

There is room under the Government’s gun reform for modifications to make a prohibited firearm legal. However, police are yet to specify exactly how this should be carried out.

Police were unable to confirm whether the AR-15 modification kit was legal when contacted by 1 NEWS today. In a statement, they said they were ”currently looking into the feasibility of modifying these particular firearms”.

Christchurch gunsmith Andrew Bakker, who runs Phantom Gunsmiths, said it was technically possible to convert an AR-15 for a range of different uses, including a smaller .22 calibre and pump or bolt action.

“AR-15's are built so people can convert them to long-range rifles or specialty rifles — depending on what they want them for ⁠— straight out of the box. They have an upper and lower and you can swap parts in and out,” he said.

A representative for the Council of Licenced Firearm Owners, Nicole McKee, said owners were looking to modify where they could because the “true value” of their guns weren’t being met in the buy-back.

“People will be looking at other avenues of being able to retain their firearms in a legal configuration so they can continue to keep them, use them and not be out of pocket for handing them in,” she said.

“We are looking for a fair and reasonable approach to all of this and it's really important that the Government and police have a fair and reasonable approach.”

However, Nik Green of the reform advocacy group Gun Control NZ said the conversions aren’t permanent.  

“Guns are modular tools, you can take them apart, you can swap pieces in and out and what that means in practise is that a semi-automatic weapon that's been converted into a pump-action or a bolt action can easily be converted back again,” he said.

“We would discourage people from doing this. There are opportunities to bring in prohibited weapons, get compensation and buy totally compliant weapons through the buy-back scheme.”

The AR-15 is just one part of the discussion. Many want to convert their banned hunting and sporting rifles, but don't know how.

Gunsmith Andrew Bakker said he's received at least 50 inquiries.

“It's going to be your .22 bolt action rifles that have more than 10 shots, or antique lever action rifles that have more than 10 shots, they're the ones that I've been messaged about the most,” he said.

“Lots of these rifles are collectible, I know people who have got rifles who have come back from WW1 and WW2 that have got a historic significance, and they don't want to see them put through the shredder.”

The question now is whether, with all this confusion, gun owners will stay at home when the buy-back begins in Christchurch on Saturday.