A top cop says someone could end up dead if members of the public keep brandishing imitation firearms around police.
Hamilton city area commander Inspector Greg Nicholls said officers have come close to shooting three people in the past month after being confronted with fake weapons.
The latest incident took place in Dinsdale, suburban Hamilton, on Tuesday night when police responded to reports of a drunk man wandering the street carrying what turned out an air rifle, fitted with a scope.
Mr Nicholls said staff were sent to the scene "expecting the worst".
"They were able to resolve the situation but we had to present a firearm at this person to get him to submit to us," he said.
"It came down to a movement of the finger.
"When we turn up to deal with these situations in sometimes low light, where the information received is that the person is drunk, it places my staff in a very dangerous situation - so the message is that if you do this, things will happen."
On Saturday, police were called to a house near Hamilton Lake after a truck driver had a weapon pointed at him by a person in a car.
"When my staff attend an incident like this, their judgment is restricted," Mr Nicholls said.
"I know that if this gun was presented at me, I would be forced to use my tactical option, which would be the use of my firearm."
Police showed the Waikato Times several guns confiscated from people recently, both imitation guns and air rifles, which in some cases were hard to tell from the real thing.
They included replica semi-automatic pistols and revolvers, sawn-off shotguns and scoped air rifles.
Police said the weapons were impossible to tell from larger calibre guns in the often dark and confusing situations in which police found someone pointing a weapon at another person.
A member of the armed offenders squad who had faced many tense situations involving firearms said it was not worth the public taking risks with imitation weapons because police had to assume the worst.
"You don't have time to second-guess - if you do, you might end up dead," he said.
Anyone 18 years or older can own an airgun, which covers air rifles, air pistols, BB guns, soft air pellet guns and paintball guns.
Anyone under 18 years of age must hold a firearms licence or be under the immediate supervision of a firearms licence holder.
Mr Nicholls said parents must take responsibility for their children's actions when using airguns.
"Ninety-nine per cent of [people who use airguns] use weapons well, when used in the right situations and the right circumstances," he said.
Hunting and Fishing salesman Jesse Stark said there had been a surge in sales of airguns before Christmas.
"Most people were wanting them for pest control around the farm.
"But many parents came in buying them for their kids and when they do, they are given lots of advice about how to operate the firearm," he said.
Anyone buying an air gun from the store was asked to produce photo identification and to explain why they were buying the gun.
"If we didn't like the answer, they didn't get the gun - particularly those planning to shoot dogs and cats, which we see as completely inhumane," Mr Stark said.
Airguns at Hunting and Fishing can retail from $150 to $1000.
Airguns selling on Trade Me range from a $1 reserve for a Marui Hop-Up 6mm BB Gun to a buy-now price of $549 for a piston-driven air rifle.
Of more concern was the number of $2 stores selling imitation guns including BB guns and rifles that, if brandished in low light, could fool many experienced firearms users.
Inquiries at several budget stores around the Waikato revealed that BB guns were selling from between $2 and $30.
Mr Nicholls said many people viewed airguns as a toy - "which of course, they are not, particularly when they are being used inappropriately or in conjunction with alcohol".
"Police are not going to second guess, and nor should they, so our message to the public is that they need to think really really carefully - right down to teenagers with BB guns than can cause situations to escalate."
- Waikato Times