Military-Style Semi-Automatic

Military-Style Semi-Automatic

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Military-style semi-automatic (MSSA) is a term in New Zealand firearms law
Gun politics in New Zealand
About 230,000 licensed firearms owners own and use New Zealand's estimated 1.1 million firearms. Like in Australia, but unlike in the US and Canada, gun laws usually gain the support of both major parties before they are passed...

. The category was introduced after the 1990 Aramoana massacre
Aramoana massacre
The Aramoana massacre was a mass murder that occurred on 13 November 1990 in the small seaside township of Aramoana, New Zealand. Resident David Gray, a 33-year-old unemployed man, began indiscriminately shooting people in the township with a scoped semi-automatic rifle, after a verbal dispute with...

, in which firearms fitting this definition were used.

The statutory definition of an MSSA is laid out in the Arms Act
Arms Act (New Zealand)
The Arms Act 1983 is the primary statute controlling the possession and use of firearms in New Zealand.- Basic principles of the Act :The basic premise of the New Zealand arms control regime is the licensing of individuals as being fit and proper persons to possess firearms...

. This act, together with the Arms Regulations also specifies the controls over possession and use of MSSAs. The act is administered by the New Zealand Police
New Zealand Police
The New Zealand Police is the national police force of New Zealand, responsible for enforcing criminal law, enhancing public safety, maintaining order and keeping the peace throughout New Zealand...

, according to policies documented in the Police Arms Manual.

Technically, an MSSA is any "self-loading" (semi-automatic
Semi-automatic firearm
A semi-automatic, or self-loading firearm is a weapon which performs all steps necessary to prepare the weapon to fire again after firing—assuming cartridges remain in the weapon's feed device or magazine...

) firearm - other than pistol - with any of the following features:
  • Folding or telescopic butt
    Stock (firearm)
    A stock, also known as a buttstock or shoulder stock, is a part of a rifle or other firearm, to which the barrel and firing mechanism are attached, that is held against one's shoulder when firing the gun. Stocks are also found on crossbows though a crossbow stock is more properly referred to as a...

  • Bayonet lug
    Bayonet lug
    A bayonet lug is a standard feature on most military muskets, rifles, and shotguns, and on some civilian longarms. It is intended for attaching a bayonet, which is typically a long spike or thrusting knife...

  • Free-standing military-pattern pistol grip
    Pistol grip
    On a firearm or other tool, the pistol grip is that portion of the mechanism that is held by the hand and orients the hand in a forward, vertical orientation, similar to the position one would take with a conventional pistol such as the M1911....

  • Flash suppressor
    Flash suppressor
    A flash suppressor, also known as a flash guard, flash eliminator, flash hider, or flash cone, is a device attached to the muzzle of a rifle or other gun that reduces the visible signature of the burning gases that exit the muzzle. This reduces the chances that the shooter will be blinded in dark...

  • A magazine that holds (or looks like it could hold) more than 15 rounds of .22 rimfire or 7 rounds of any other cartridge

Possession or use of any MSSA requires a firearms licence
Firearms licence (New Zealand)
In New Zealand, a firearms licence is required by:* anyone wishing to possess or use firearms,* arms dealers, and their employees, and* anyone between 16 and 18 years wishing to use or possess air guns....

 with either a "C" or "E" endorsement. The "E" endorsement allows MSSAs to be used with live ammunition; while the "C" endorsement is used by museum curators, collectors, film/TV/theatre armourers, etc. MSSAs are often colloquially referred to as "E-cat" firearms for this reason.

To be granted either endorsement, the applicant must demonstrate to Police good cause for possessing MSSAs. The application must be supported by 2 referees who are current endorsement
holders, serving members of a firearms-related organisation, bona fide collectors or persons able to demonstrate a genuine long-term interest in firearms. The applicant must also demonstrate a higher standard of security for the storage of weapons than is required for ordinary firearms.

2009 reinterpretation

On 2 July 2009, the New Zealand Police issued a memorandum advising that the police had reviewed the criteria for classifying weapons as MSSAs; and in particular the interpretation of the phrase 'military pattern free-standing pistol grip' used in the legislation.

Under the new interpretation, many types of thumbhole stocks were now to be considered as pistol grips for the purposes of the Arms Act; any semi-automatic rifle with a grip having either the appearance or function of a military pattern free-standing pistol grip would be regarded by the police as an MSSA. Specifically, a semi-automatic rifle would henceforth be considered an MSSA if it had any of:
  • an obvious pistol grip below the trigger guard allowing a full-hand pistol grip, irrespective of whether or not the pistol grip was connected to the stock at the base;
  • any addition that connects the pistol grip to the stock or butt in an attempt to make it no longer free standing (such as adding a metal or plastic rod); or
  • a second grip forward of the trigger.

This reinterpretation had the effect of re-classifying as MSSAs many weapons previously considered to be sporting-configuration firearms - including the Heckler & Koch SL8 and USC, and the Dragunov sniper rifle. Transitional arrangements were made by the police to allow owners of such weapons to either register them, obtaining the necessary firearms endorsements if required, or dispose of them. The transitional period ended on 31 March 2010.

The reinterpreation has met with resistance from some firearm owners. The National Shooters Association of NZ (formed largely as a result of the reinterpretation) laid a complaint on 12 August 2009 with the Independent Police Conduct Authority regarding the advertising of the change. In addition, proceedings were lodged by the Association's president Richard Lincoln at the High Court in Palmerston North on 29 June 2009, aiming to have the revised interpretation overturned. As at August 2009, neither of these proceedings were concluded.

In a subsequent hearing for an injunction to protect the litigant, Justice McKenzie ruled that the Police did not have the power to re-classify any firearm and that their opinion on the extended definition of pistol grips was "inconsequential" and that was a matter for the Court to decide. He also stated that the Court would not be constrained by any other 'opinion'

On March 1, 2010 Justice Mallon J released a Reserved Decision upon the Judicial Review, stating that a Military Pattern Free-Standing Pistol grip was not what the Police HQ said it was and that the litigant's H&K SL8 firearm did not have a Military Pattern Free-Standing Pistol Grip.

The terms 'Military Pattern' and 'Free-Standing' were minutely examined by Her Honour and her finding recorded in the Reserved Decision.

The Police have ceased advertising their opinion and removed reference to the "Check Your Stock" campaign from their official website.

April 2011 Amendments

As of April 2011, an amendment to the MSSA section of the arms bill is being drafted. This bill aims to clarify the MSSA definition in regards to Airsoft and Paintball guns, as well as magazine capacities.

Amendment summary:
  • Define a new category, "restricted airguns", as Paintball and Airsoft pistols/rifles either imitating MSSA's, or capable of fully automatic fire.
  • Require an import permit for "restricted airguns".
  • Specifically exclude "restricted airguns" from the category "especially dangerous airguns", i.e. PCP rifles.
  • Allow the use of centerfire magazines with a capacity of 7 rounds that appear to be capable of holding up to 10 rounds.

Intended effect:
  • Fully automatic Airsoft and Paintball guns will be legal for import, purchase and use for any person (provided they are allowed to use an airgun in the first place). They will no longer be considered a MSSA rifle, will be legal to use in sport and will not require an E-category firearms license.
  • Cheaply available imatation firearms, such as plastic airsoft pistols, will no longer be widely available, reducing the number of armed offenders callouts.
  • Magazines and firearms designed to hold 10 rounds (an unofficial international standard, possibly influenced by restrictions in certain American states such as California) can be easily modified to comply with the 7-round A-category restriction by blocking the space required by the last 3 rounds (e.g. wielding a short piece of rod inside the bottom of a 10-round magazine).

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