Crackdown on the Possession of Illegal Firearms
Australia’s gun control laws were tightened by the Howard Government following the Port Arthur massacre in Tasmania in April 1996. During this mass shooting 35 people were killed and 23 others were wounded. The killer, Martin Bryant, was 28 years old at the time, he was convicted and is currently serving 35 life sentences concurrently without the possibility of parole.
More recently a steady rise in the number of shootings across Western Australia has led to a state-wide crack-down on illegal firearms. In the past 8 months or so, more than 1200 illegal firearms have been seized by the WA police. WA Police are stepping up their campaign by asking people to ‘dob’ in others who possess firearms without being a licence holder.
In Western Australia, firearms are governed primarily by the Firearms Act 1974.
The requirement for a firearms licence
Under the Firearms Act 1973, an owner must have their firearm registered and they must also must have a licence. Owners must be over the age of 18 to attain a license – although anyone of any age can use a firearm under the supervision of a licence holder.
It is a criminal offence to possess, purchase, sell or carry firearms without a licence and can result in tough penalties which include imprisonment for up to 14 years in circumstances where, at the time of the offence, the offender was selling 3 or more firearms without a licence or permit entitling the person to do so. Possessing, purchasing or carrying a firearm when a firearms license has expired is also an offence, punishable by a maximum fine of $2000.
Applications for a firearms licence are made to the Western Australian Police and a licence will only be granted if a person has a valid reason for possessing a firearm. That may include things like having a membership of a shooting club, participation in hunting or recreational shooting or ownership as part of a gun collection.
The Police Commissioner will not approve a license if it is not in the interests of public safety to do so, or the Commissioner deems that the applicant is not a fit and proper person.
In determining whether someone is a ‘fit and proper’ person, the Police Commissioner will take into account whether there is a history of violent offending, whether there are any restraining orders in place against the person, any recorded history of mental illness or any other matters which suggest the person may pose a threat to public safety.
Circumstances where a firearms licence may be revoked
When a restraining order is made against a person, whether the order is a temporary order or a final order, that person may be required to surrender their firearms licence and any firearms in their possession. The person who is subject to the VRO may also be precluded from applying for or attaining a licence, unless there is valid reason, for example, the person’s occupation requires them to have a firearms licence.
Under the Firearms Act, the Police Commissioner can revoke a licence in a number of circumstances. These include:
- The licence was issued in error
- The licence was obtained by fraud or deception
- The user committed an offence under the Firearms Act
- There is a potential risk to public safety of a person possessing a firearm and licence.
Storage of Licenced Firearms
Firearms are required to be stored in a locked cabinet or container. Failing to have and use adequate storage facilities and / or to comply with security requirements for the storage of a firearm is an offence. The first offence carries a maximum penalty of $2,000. A second or subsequent offence carries a penalty of fine of $4,000 or imprisonment for 12 months.
Gel Blasters – a ‘prohibited weapon’
Last year the Western Australian Government made gel blasters a ‘prohibited weapon’ under the Weapons Act WA 1999. This follows similar moves in other states. The rational behind the move is that gel blasters look a lot like real firearms and can be dangerous. At the time prohibition was made public, police said they had received 147 call outs to gel blaster-related incidents last year and that ‘tragedy was just waiting to happen.’
The penalty for possessing a gel blaster is up to three years in jail or a fine of up to $36,000.
Where to from here?
Many people in the US, which continues to experience mass shootings, in particular school shootings, along with several other countries admire Australia's tough gun control laws. However there are still critics of our existing laws, who say there are still too many gaps in the system which allow guns to be in the hands of criminals or mentally unstable people who do harm to others.
Refer to our article on New firearm laws to be introduced in WA for recent developments in WA’s firearm laws.
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PLEASE NOTE: The material in this blog post is for informational use only and should not be construed as legal advice. For answers to your questions regarding this or other topics, please contact a professional legal representative.