You know how to store guns at home, and when travelling, but what do you do when you reach your holiday destination….
By Simon Munslow
I get amazed at the laziness that we Australians seem to accept as being part of the ‘she will be right’ attitude, particularly when we are on holiday.
Shooters understand that they need to adopt safe storage practices when at home, or when traveling in a vehicle, but when they get to their destination, if they are for example staying in a motel or camping, storage requirements for some seem to go out of the window- or tent flap as the case may be.
This is particularly the case when people are in remote spots. However, you would be surprised at the remoteness of the spots where some of my client’s get in trouble.
One particular area of concern is joint police / Ranger activity of the type one often sees on long weekends, but coming under notice does not just happen at those times.
I have acted for people who have literally been 90km from the nearest town and 5km into a 10,000 km property located in Western NSW, where they have never seen a living sole on the dozens of times that they have visited the property, who have suddenly come under notice for failure to adequately store firearms.
Expect increased drone use in years to come to lead to further arrests. If police are using a drone over a forest looking for drugs, they are hardly going to miss the opportunity to process a shooter found with an unsecure firearm.
We as a group, have a legal obligation to comply with storage requirements, and we owe compliance to other shooters, because if we fail to comply, the breach shows up on statistics which consequently are used against us.
The firearms legislation across Australia does not specifically refer to the situation where you are not at home and not traveling in a car, and I hear about a lot of breaches, for example, rifles left visible in campersor left propped up on a log unattended, or unsecured in unlocked shearers quarters while the occupant has gone for a stroll in the bush!
The owners are surprised when someone reports them or when a policeman, upon visiting the site, charges them or seizes the firearm and leaves a friendly note.
A very restrictive application of the law assumes, that if a firearm is not being repaired or used, or in transit it should be locked in a safe.
I did a matter some years ago for a fellow who was attending a competition clay shoot in Tasmania and police confiscated his shotgun from his motel room.
I was instructed that event organisers had inadequate storage organised for all competitors, and the police view was that he should have logged his firearm in at a local police station, and collected it each morning, and returned it after shooting.
Such a time line would not have worked, particularly seeing as event organisers had not made such arrangements in advance, the police station was some distance away, and in any event, police station exhibit rooms where firearms tend to be stored, tend not to be staffed on weekends.
I pointed out to Taspol that a conviction on these grounds could significantly effect tourism, because shooters would become unwilling to travel to Tasmania to compete in State or National events if it jeopardised their firearms licence.
Besides, what were the considerable number of deer hunters who visit Tasmania for the deer season to do? Perhaps pack a safe in tray of the ute and bolt it to the closest piece of old Tasmanian hardwood to their camp site? The Greens would love that.
The alternative of leaving the firearm with a small-town Tasmanian copper, would be equally unattractive, as most would resent being woken well before dawn by a knock on the police house adjoining a rural station by a shooter wanting to retrieve a deer rifle in time for a morning hunt.
My major argument was that my client was in Tasmania for the purpose of attending a competitive event, and that in that context, ‘use’ included acts necessary and ancillary to this such as conveying the firearm to the event and storage when not in use.
This is not a straightforward argument, but was easier because of the short nature of my client’s visit to Tasmania and his non-involvement in any other activities there.
I wrote to the Prosecutor, Tasmanian Attorney-General, Registrar, Minister of Tourism- anyone who would listen.
Fortunately, sanity was applied, and this matter was withdrawn before hearing.
However, the Taspol Registry site still states, consistent with the legislation which has not been changed, that if a firearm is not being used, maintained or conveyed it must be kept in a locked receptacle.
There are situations where it is not practical to access a gun safe, and Court’s understand and respect this, but the catch all provision of taking ‘all reasonable steps’ applies.
If there is a holiday home that you visit with regularly with a firearm that you own I would have considered that ‘all reasonable steps would include the installation of a gun safe (which I have done myself). Similarly, if I am ever lucky enough to acquire a shack at Miena in my retirement, a gun safe shall be installed even before the furniture truck arrives.
When away from home, firearms a should kept chained up when not in use or should also be rendered inoperable with operative parts being removed and divided.
I like to split a firearm so that part is in the vehicle and part in a motel room or tent with me, so that if I am robbed the thief is likely to get only one half of the firearm, which would be useless to them.
To this end, I have been known to go out to dinner with the bolt of a rifle or the butt half of a shotgun in a day pack.
Unfortunately, as circumstances differ, no formula can be provided.
The Victorian Police Firearms Registry website is silent on the scenario I am writing about, but invites a ‘common sense approach’. The NSW site also offers no guidance dealing with this scenario, and notes in terms of travel with a firearm that the Commissioner is of the view that all reasonable steps have been met for Cat AB firearms if Cat CD&H requirements are met. Well that is one interpretation of ‘common sense’.
Note ‘all reasonable steps’ requires reasonable action. It is not an absolute standard, so there is some capacity for legal ‘wiggling’ providing that you have sought to do the ‘right thing’.
If this does not convince you, reflect upon how would you feel if you lost your firearms licence, or if one of your prized firearms found its way into the ‘wrong’ hands or was melted down and shipped to China in a steel ingot or slab.
This area remains an area of difficulty for shooters and extreme caution is recommended.
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.
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