There are I find several aspects to this problem:
– Complacency by shooters
– A one size fits all approach to law making that does not consider the particular needs of farmers under some circumstances, which may lead to the law being flaunted.
– Excessively complex regulation, with Police ‘ratcheting up’ interpretation beyond the intent of Parliament.
Most shooters who undertake a Firearms Safety Awareness Course obtain Cat AB licence as their first licence category, and like most people undertaking courses, they do not remember everything. Typically, however they recall the basic requirement that ‘I have got to purchase a safe and if its weight’s less than 150 kg bolt it into place’.
Sadly, in my experience, everything else is lost to their memory, and few shooters read further into the rules, or spend much time dwelling upon the question of whether they have taken all reasonable steps to ensure that their firearms are secure.
Even if they do, and download the NSW Police brochure on Category AB storage they shall probably be left feeling somewhat confused, because the brochure shows a photograph of a Brownbuit type storage cabinet of a type that would NOT be approved by most Police in NSW and which Police prosecute people for using!
I believe this confused state results from the disconnect between Police / Registry demands and the legislation. S 40 of the Firearms Act 1996 refers to a ‘locked receptacle’ that may be wood for Cat AB and irrespective of weight, a ‘locked steel safe’ is the requirement for Cat CDH.
Curiously, the current Police requirement for a ‘safe’ for Cat AB in NSW is not supported by the law, and indeed, the requirement is that a receptacle may be made of wood, it simply must not be ‘easily penetrable’.
The reason for this is that the intent of Parliament which was, in the case of Cat A & B firearms, to stop easy access to firearms by children and those not approved to access the firearms. It was never intended that it create a significant bar against theft.
Those with licences for higher classes of licence also often lack significant knowledge of storage laws with the result that storage compliance may be patchy.
This is a concern because I do not think that a lot of shooters realise how serious a breach can be.
For example, I recently handled an NSW matter where a person had not stored a pistol held on a Collectors licence appropriately. As a result, the pistol became, by virtue of a breach of licence conditions under s 20(b)(e) and s39 of the Firearms Act, and Clause 36(6) of the Firearms Regulations, an Unauthorised firearm by virtue of 7((2)(b) of the Act.
Section 7 deals with the unauthorised use of prohibited weapons or pistols which must be possessed and used strictly in accordance with their authorised purpose and use or draconian penalties are attracted. As a result, a middle-aged female client, with no record was potentially facing 15-year gaol!
I was able to avoid a conviction, but it nevertheless this cost my client a considerable amount of sleep, and I am sure that the process had a marked aging effect.
While on the topic of the Police Registry Level 1 storage document, I note that it calls for the use of 90 mm masonry anchor of 10 mm diameter. This requirement fails to consider that house bricks are generally hollow and that a more practical anchor would be a dyna-bolt, as this would open out in the brick cavity. Use of a 90mm masonry anchor has the risk of actually damaging and weakening the brick, and in a previous home of ours it damaged the facade of the brick with the result that some bits of brick had to be stuck back into place with silicone.
The brochure has however seen some update in recent times, and refers to Regulation 38 of the Firearms Regulations 2017.
Many shooters who installed storage some time ago (or even now, in reliance upon their memory of what the rules provide) could be in breach of this Regulation, which provides:
38(1) The holder of a licence must not store a firearm on land that is used wholly or partly for residential purposes unless:
(a) residential premises on the land are the principal place of residence of a person (whether or not that person is the licensee), or
(b) a person is residing at residential premises on the land when the firearm is stored there (whether or not that person is the licensee).
(2) The holder of a licence who stores a firearm on land used wholly or partly for residential purposes must not store the firearm in a building or other structure that is separate from residential premises on the land unless that separate building or other structure is in such proximity to the residential premises that it is easily observed from the residential premises.
Thus, safes must now be located in a principal place of residence, and not an outbuilding, unless the outbuilding is in such close proximity that it can be observed from the primary residence.
Thus, leaving firearms in holiday homes and properties is no longer permitted unless it is a principal residence even if you remove operative parts such as bolts from firearms and take them home with you.
Sadly, I note that most shooters are not aware of s39 of the NSW Act requires that they take all reasonable precautions to ensure a firearms safekeeping and that it is not stolen or lost or come into possession of a person who is not authorised to possess it. This section is independent of the requirement for a ‘safe’.
Indeed, if you have a licensed safe, and store, in proximity with it, tools that can be used to break into the safe, such as an angle grinder, oxy gear and similar, you could face prosecution.
If you move, I suggest you invite the Local Police Licensing Sergeant to audit your storage.
Many shooters would view this as an intrusion. On one level it is, but it also provides you with a level of protection that can help avoid problems down the track. The Local Sergeant would also note you are a shooter who wishes to do the ‘right thing’ and this could also assist you.
I note additionally that I have previously written favourably about the self-assessment tool on the NSW Registry website. I suggest you complete it.
One area where shooters often come to grief is where they own a large number of firearms in a number of different categories.
I suggest that in this situation, shooters put a dab of nail polish or coloured sticker on a stock so as to ‘colour code’ storage requirements. If firearms are all placed in a safe the same way, and the sticker or mark is in the same location on all firearms, an inadvertent act, such as placing a Cat C semi-automatic .22 into an AB safe can be easily spotted.
The other solution is to adopt the highest standard of required storage in respect to all firearms.
Stay safe and out of trouble.
National Firearms Lawyer
P: (02) 6299 9690
M: 0427 280 962
Simon Munslow is a lawyer who has a lifelong interest in shooting, having acquired his first firearm at the age of nine, and has had an active interest in firearms law since writing a thesis on the topic over thirty years ago at University.
Simon Munslow practices extensively in Firearms Law matters throughout Australia.
He is a regular contributor to the Australian Sporting Shooter magazine’s website on Firearms law matters, has published articles on firearms reviews and firearms law, and occasionally is asked to comment in the broader media on firearms matters.
This article is written for general information only and does not constitute advice.
He can assist you with:
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• Applications for prohibited weapons
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