Changes to the Arms Act 1983

Changes to the Arms Act 1983 impact on how Customs examines and processes firearms at the border.


As part of the Government’s response to the terrorist attack in Christchurch, most semi-automatic firearms became prohibited firearms on 12 April 2019. This amendment to the Arms Act 1983 replaces the Order in Council that was made on 21 March which restricted the possession of most semi-automatic firearms. These changes will impact on how Customs examines and processes firearms.

The following types of firearms, parts and magazines are now prohibited items:

  • Semi-automatic rifles over .22 calibre, that can take a detachable magazine
  • Semi-automatic rifles .22 calibre and under, with a magazine that holds more than 10 rounds
  • Semi-automatic or pump-action shotguns that can take a detachable magazine
  • Semi-automatic or pump-action shotguns with a tubular magazine that holds more than 5 rounds
  • Any part of any of the above firearms
  • Any shotgun magazine that can hold more than 5 rounds
  • Any rifle or shotgun magazine that can hold more than 10 rounds (whether detachable or not)
  • Any part that can be added to a firearm to make it fire with (or near to) semi-automatic or automatic action

The old MSSA features (such as free-standing pistol grip or a folding or telescopic butt) are no longer relevant. The term “MSSA” no longer has legal meaning.

These prohibited items can only be imported by a limited number of people who are exempt from the prohibition. They will require a permit to import these items. Permits will be dated 12 April 2019 or later. Any permits that were issued for these items before 12 April 2019 have been revoked and cannot be accepted.

There is no change to the law regarding:

  • Single shot firearms (e.g. bolt or lever action)
  • Semi-automatic rifles .22 calibre and under, provided the magazine holds 10 rounds or less
  • Pistols
  • Pistol magazines
  • Restricted weapons
  • Airguns
  • Ammunition (although it is expected there may be changes shortly)

Anything that attaches to a firearm now requires a permit to import. All queries on this should be directed to the Police by email.

There will be an amnesty period and a buy back programme so those holding newly prohibited firearms, magazines and parts can surrender these to Police. All queries on this should be directed to the Police.

It will now be an offence to possess a prohibited firearm, magazine or firearm part without authorisation.

Transitional arrangements

Since the Order in Council on 21 March, Customs has been withholding delivery of firearms and parts which were imported but could not be lawfully possessed by the importer.

Customs can continue to hold any goods that are now designated as prohibited items, and Customs officers may make arrangements with Police to take custody of these goods.  Note that importers are still liable for any duties on imported items.

All existing permits for goods that are newly prohibited and which arrive on or after 12 April have been revoked by the new legislation.  The goods affected by this revocation are forfeit to the Crown under section 176(1)(a) of the Customs and Excise Act 2018 and may be seized.

Permits to import often contain a range of items – it is possible only SOME of the lines on a permit have been revoked. Additonal care and checks are likely to be necessary as we work through this transitional period.

More information and guidance will be advised as it is developed.