How many firearms does a shooter need? How many can a shooter have? This is a serious question amongst the less enlightened who favour over regulation or firearms prohibition as it is a live issue under the National Firearms Agreement.
Most Australian Registries seek to avoid the question of how many guns a shooter can have when dealing with Category A & B firearms largely because it would involve immense political pain for little or no law enforcement gain, and could trigger the need for another expensive buy back.
However the issue remains a live one.
A year or so ago, a fellow who resided in the ACT contacted me who wanted a .338 Winchester as a Sambar rifle. He owned a .308, and the Registrar in his wisdom thought this ‘adequate’. Well from a Taylor’s tables point of view it is, and many Sambar are taken every year with this excellent round which I am not knocking.
However, shots at Sambar often are not text book shots, as the shooter’s breath after a hill climb is often laboured, the shot is often made off hand, and taken as a snap shot at a moving animal, which often is partially obscured by bush. To further complicate matters, light is often poor and the shot angles steeply downwards.
In such a situation one is excused for preferring to have a bit of a margin. I gave the fellow a photocopy of relevant pages from Mason’s ‘Secrets of Sambar’ and Pearce’s ‘Walking them up’, where both of these experts view the .338 Winchester as ‘ideal ‘and the .308 as ‘adequate’.
I told him to see the Registrar and advise him that the point of using a large chambering like the .338 Winchester was its ability to destroy three systems simultaneously – destroying mobility by smashing through shoulder bone and tissue, before proceeding to destroy heart and also respiratory systems, whereas hitting a deer with lesser chambering may not acquire such a result, and can lead to a shooter needing to track an animal in the poor light of an evening, with the risk that a shooter could get lost in the bush or fall and injure himself, leading to Police involvement.
I assume he got his licence as I heard no more.
Following this matter, an appeal to the ACT Administrative Tribunal (ACAT) handed down
Q v Registrar of Firearms (Administrative Review) 2015 ACAT 84 which dealt specifically with the question of how many firearms a shooter could own.
The Tribunal was a very strong one, being presided over by Senior Member R Orr QC. A former Attorney General’s lawyer, who had a reputation for producing well-reasoned, and well researched advices, and which led to him being made a Queens Counsel.
Q, whose details were suppressed, held 33 shooters licence permits and 46 collectors permits. His interest primarily was in the field of firearms of the old west, and he shot in the SSAA western match discipline.
Q had security that equalled that required for a gun shop in the Australian Capital Territory, and exceeded the requirements in some respects.
The Deputy Registrar knocked back subsequent Permits to Acquire and advised Q that he owned 77 firearms (this was incorrect, as it was agreed at hearing that he owned 79) that he had not established good reason for acquiring the firearms and that it was not in the public interest for him to own more.
The Decision started by summarising the intentions of the Act, which are to confirm firearms possession as a privilege and not a right, to impose strict controls on firearms possession, promote safe and responsible storage.
The Act goes on at S5(2) to require each person who possesses a firearm to establish genuine reason.
Police questioned the adequacy of the genuine reasons, which were consistent with his genuine reason of target shooting and collecting, and they also raised an argument centred on firearms proliferation and his collection representing a ‘honey pot’ for thieves.
As with the Acts elsewhere, The ACT Firearms Act does not define ‘good reason’. Dictionary meanings were therefore considered and applied. The Macquarie Dictionary defines good as ‘genuine, sound, valid’ and reason for ‘a ground or cause, a belief action or fact’. Similar definitions were quoted from the Oxford Dictionary.
‘A consideration of whether the grounds or cause for seeking to acquire a firearm is genuine, but also whether the reason is sound, valid and appropriate in the context of the Firearms Act. This will require consideration of the factual circumstances of the particular licence-holder, such as the class of licence held, the type of firearms already in possession and proposed to be acquired, and storage and security issues. The factual matters must be considered with reference to the underlying principles set out in section 5 of the Firearms Act’ (at 34).
The Tribunal did not agree that the number of existing permits and firearms a shooter possessed is irrelevant to the grant of further permits. It can be relevant subject to whether the licensee has a good reason for ownership.
In terms of a collector’s licence, the Tribunal considered how a firearm would fit in with a collection as important. A collection of examples of a particular type of firearm would not necessarily need two identical firearms, unless the collection was a collection of identical exemplars (38)
More generally, the fact that the licensee already possessed a firearm must raise a question of whether a further firearm is required. The fact a licensee has well above the average number of permits may be relevant in assessing their good reason for further permits and firearms. But if there is a reason for acquisition the fact that the current number of firearms is high, or above average does not of itself undercut that reason’. (39)
However, and importantly, if the number of firearms possessed and proposed additions in the particular circumstances of a particular case poses a risk to public safety, this could well lead to the conclusion that the reason for acquisition, although genuinely held and consistent with the licence, is not sound, valid or appropriate. (40)
The test for good reason for acquisition may in practice become more difficult to satisfy as the number of firearms already in the licensee’s possession increases, this is generally not because of any express or implied limit, but a consequence of public safety considerations being relevant to whether there is good reason’ (41)
In a colloquial sense, there will not be good reason if the acquisition poses a threat to public safety. (42).
The Tribunal then proceeded to consider Audrey v Commissioner of Police (2006) NSWADT 146 while the Tribunal could never be totally satisfied that a person would not pose a risk to public safety given access to a firearm ‘the Tribunal must be satisfied that there is virtually no risk,. But that the risk must be real and not speculative Yaghi v Commissioner of Police (2001) NSWADT 91 (50).
There is no clear cut number of firearms that a person may have, and it depends upon the type of shooting undertaken.
A rabbit / fox hunter could need a .22 Rim fire for short range work, a .17 HMR or Magnum for slightly longer shots, a varmint rifle such as a .220, .223 or .22/250 and possibly a heavier windy day varminter such as a .243, a lighter weight ‘walk about’ varmint rifle may also be needed if he hunts on foot.
If into shot gunning, subject to where the shooting is, and its frequency, one may need a field weight shotgun, or in hilly country an ultralight, or even possibly if you shoot a lot a heavier ‘sporting’ model.
A similar list could be drawn up for any other type of hunting such as pig hunting, and the various types of deer hunting.
I have always considered that a hunter could justify at least two rifles that perform the same role on the basis that one is a ‘backup’. The rationale being that most Australian hunters travel some considerable distance to hunt, and are often in a location where it is not possible to check the zero of a firearm, and most firearms today generally lack back up sights that could save the hunt.
Most hunters also hunt without the benefit of a professional hunter or guide, so there is no possibility of saving a hunt by borrowing a ‘loan gun’.
It all comes down to the question of having a ‘genuine need’ and having the public safety angle well covered, of course, with the proviso that the more firearms you have, the more closely your ‘genuine need’ may be scrutinised.
While this case deals with the ACT legislation, the framework is similar to that under all of the state and territory acts giving effect to the National Firearms Agreement, in that they all in effect make ownership a privilege conditional upon public safety, and establish a genuine reason / special need test.
As no Tribunal decision is a binding authority, Q would not bind a Tribunal anywhere in Australia, however, as indicated, it is a well-reasoned decision from a highly respected Tribunal, and I believe that the approach adopted would therefore be influential upon any Eastern State Tribunal charged with a decision under an act implementing the National Firearms Agreement.
I note in passing that both of the ACT cases listed above occurred prior to the current Deputy Registrar joining the Registry.
National Firearms Lawyer
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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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