Having someone else’s firearm may make you a gun trafficker, Tasmanian court rules

A ruling by Tasmania’s Court of Criminal Appeal has raised questions about whether a licensed shooter borrowing a rifle from another licensed shooter potentially counts as firearms trafficking, effectively meaning gun owners could be unwittingly committed a serious crime.

Attorney-General’s Reference No 1 of 2022 [2024] TASCCA 2 (27 February 2024) has ruled that, thanks to a quirk in the wording of Section 110A of Tasmania’s Firearms Act 1996, someone who is not the registered owner of a firearm may now face firearms trafficking charges for transporting that gun.

Shooters, Fishers and Farmers Party secretary Phillip Bigg said the ruling had created a situation where there appeared to be no discretion in the eyes of the courts on the situation — and it potentially meant the police themselves were breaking the law, too.

“My understanding is that by a strict interpretation of this ruling, every police officer in Tasmania carrying a firearm on duty is engaging in firearms trafficking, since their guns are registered to Tasmania Police and not the individual officer,” he said.

“You can bet the authorities will find a way to fix that up quickly, but I bet they won’t be in any hurry to do the same thing for all the other licensed, law-abiding shooters in Tasmania.

“This is the second time in a few months a major flaw with Tasmania’s Firearms Act has been exposed, and in both cases it’s been to the serious detriment of law-abiding citizens. 

“These constant attacks on shooters need to stop — we’re sick of being a political football.”

The case in question involved illegal firearms but the court’s ruling on the matter applies equally to registered firearms and licensed shooters.

They key wording of the Section 110A, which deals “unlawful trafficking in firearms”, as it applies to law-abiding firearm owners, seems to be: “a person is taken to traffic in firearms without lawful excuse if (a) the firearms are registrable firearms; and (b) … the person is not the registrant of the firearms; and … (iv) conveys the firearms from one place to another.”

In other words, a strict reading of the law seems to confirm that it is a criminal offence to move any firearms other than your own from one place to another, but its application may come down how the phrase “lawful excuse” fits in. 

Shooters Union Australia president Graham described the situation as “mind-boggling” and said it defied all logic.

“How on Earth could it not be legal for someone licensed to own particular types of firearm to borrow a compliant gun from another licensed person?” he said.

“This is going to cripple shooting clubs, as it will mean they can no longer lend club-registered firearms to licensed members for use at the range. 

“It will have a profound impact on hunting, as hunters wanting to borrow a suitable rifle to hunt game they don’t usually pursue will not be able to do so.

“Can you imagine if it was illegal to lend someone with a driver’s licence your car, and if you did, you’d both end up in jail? 

“That’s essentially what licensed gun owners in Tasmania are dealing with now when it comes to firearms, and it needs to be sorted out immediately.”

Note: This article was updated to clarify the fact that some doubt about the ruling’s effect on law-abiding shooters still exists.




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Royce Wilson

Royce is something rare in Australia: A journalist who really likes guns. He has been interested in firearms as long as he can remember, and is particularly interested in military and police firearms from the 19th Century to the present. In addition to historical and collectible firearms, he is also a keen video gamer and has written for several major newspapers and websites on that subject.