In New South Wales, the law treats all firearms offences extremely seriously. Even a minor infringement or “genuine oversight” can result in the loss of your licence and firearms. Most breaches result in the police issuing a Court Attendance Notice (CAN) requiring you to have to attend court.
When these matters proceed by way of CAN, they are difficult to defend due to the nature of the legislation and are rarely dealt with leniency by a Magistrate.
In relation to safe storage of a firearm, we have had a number of recent matters with successful results for the gun owners. However, such outcomes are rare, and the onus of proving mitigating circumstances, good character and why they should be permitted to hold a licence (fit and proper person) placed very heavy burden on the firearms owner.
It should be noted that, even after a successful court outcome, the police may apply to have a firearms licence suspended on character grounds. We do not agree with this practice, as it undermines the Court’s power and discretion, however, that is a discussion for another time.
In safe storage matters, we frequently see otherwise responsible firearms holders caught breaching the legislation due to complicity.
The reason these matters are taken so seriously by the police and courts is not necessarily because they consider the firearms holder to be of “bad character”, but that an unsecured firearm is an invitation for a thief or other nefarious character to obtain the firearm for criminal purposes. Even the smallest calibre firearm can wreak fear and havoc in the hands of somebody with bad intentions.
There is an additional issue of people with mental health issues and/or drug addictions obtaining firearms. The courts and the police, see such matters frequently and are often required to deal with the victims, including the firearms owners, who have had their weapons turned and used on them as a result of not being properly stored.
Awareness, prevention and deterrence is the ultimate aim of the legislation.
The Firearms Act 1996 sets out the responsibilities of an owner in relation to the requirements of safe storage. The different categories of licence require different levels of safe storage, which generally runs parallel to the type of firearm, use and calibre.
There is common ground amongst all licence types, being that any person who has in their possession a firearm must take “reasonable precautions” to ensure that the firearm:
- is kept safe
- is not lost or stolen
- does not come into possession of a person who is not authorised to possess the firearm.
Given the variety of licence types and standards required for those licenses, we strongly advise all firearms owners to log on to the “Police Firearms Storage” web site and become familiar with what is required in order to comply with the law.
Common pitfalls that we have noticed is:
- safes not being of the correct quality and size for the firearm, noting old file style lockers are not appropriate
- the safe not being correctly bolted to the floor. The Police will generally rock the safe as one of their first tests on inspection
- when responsible firearms owners are tired when they come back from a hunting or shooting trip and become complacent in relation to the storing of ammunition and the firearm, and/or the locks on the safe
- allowing others access to your safe and/or storing on a friends property (the owner is liable if incorrectly stored).
Firearms owners must remain diligent at all time when it comes to the storage of their firearms. If unsure, contact the police and ask for a preliminary inspection prior to storing your firearms.
If you have found yourself in breach of this law, please get legal advice immediately in relation to how you can reduce liability and/or potentially save your firearms license. Our criminal lawyers operate 24/7, 365 days a year and we offer a free first consultation.
This article was co-authored by Law Cadet Ben Goodhew.
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