There is considerable uncertainty in the minds of shooters about the circumstances under which children and adolescents can access and use firearms.
In my experience, this uncertainty, together with a low risk of being caught, and a belief that any regulation other than of the parental kind is not necessary, has fuelled folk lore, which has over time become to the popular mind at least, ‘the Law’.
In writing this I article I give a caveat. A lawyer relies on their experience when giving advice. I have never once, in all the years that I have represented shooters dealt with an application or appeal arising out of an application for a Minor’s Permit. This suggests that such permits are always easy to obtain – which I doubt, or else people are reluctant to spend money on appeals.
Therefore, the references here are to legislation and gleaned from research, not from experience. However, I have skills and knowledge that can argue such a case if called upon to do so.
I deal with a slow, steady trickle of matters where people who have firearms licences are caught allowing adolescents to shoot.
The few breaches that come before the Courts arise because:
- There has been an accident (which is very rare- I am not aware of such an incident)
- A photo has appeared on social media
- The mother of a child from a broken relationship reports it
- or a hoplophobic teacher does the same.
The last two are the most common means of report, and a photo in social media usually clinches things.
The area is one of polarised views: on the one hand there is the Samantha Lee prohibitionist argument, advanced on a Sunrise TV show a while back that ‘taking shooting ‘indoctrinates children’. A comment that, if correctly reported by the ABC I found curious, because it suggests that not taking them shooting, and teaching them to dislike guns, does not also indoctrinate them!
The contrary view is that of a practicing psychologist I know, who told me that years before Port Arthur, she asked a friend to take her son down to a back paddock and teach him to shoot on a visit to her family farm. The rationale being that if the young man knew he was allowed to use a firearm under supervision it would reduce the risk of him seeking illicit access and use, and would understand how to use one safely.
The former is the view of a zealot, and the latter, the view of a caring mother, realist and highly experienced clinical psychologist.
Below is a brief summary of the law across Australia as they stand at the time of publication.
Note some classes of permit or licence may exist in a jurisdiction, but Police may be reluctant to grant them.
In all states and territories there are supervision requirements that require supervision by a licence holder although there is in the case of Tasmania and also Western Australia additional conditions.
NEW SOUTH WALES: Only a person with a licence or permit (inc P650 which is in effect a form of temporary permit) can
access firearms. Minors between 12 & 18 can get a Minors Permit see s32, which authorises handling to receive instruction in the safe use of firearms or to participate in approved by the Commissioner. Firearms Act 1996 s 32.
S32 is clumsily constructed. One needs to interpret it in terms of what is lawful. The second wing of the section refers to competing in such events as are approved by the Commissioner’ and clearly references target shooting. The former part to training.
As Minors Training Permits are granted in respect to membership of Approved Hunting Clubs. The logical inference, although not stated in the legislation is that training in respect to the safe use of a firearm would extend beyond basic safety training so as to ensure that accidents do not happen between people, but to ensure that animals are safely killed, in a way that affords a clean death, avoids hunting accidents, ricochets and such like.
The NSW Game Management Unit issues ‘R’ licences to minors for hunting.
This however is my construction and may not be the construction applied by a regulator. There is no case law to guide my interpretation, and I strongly recommend that if effected and concerned you write to the Registry, and I accept no liability if I am wrong.
VICTORIA: Literature on the VICPOL website refers to Junior Firearms Licences for target shooting and does not refer to specifically to hunting. This creates some confusion.
Section 18(1) of the Act clearly refers to ‘sport or target shooting competition’. Sport in this context can only refer to hunting, as the word ‘or’ distinguishes it from ‘target shooting’. (see S18 and Schedule 2 Clause 14).
The Game Management Authority (‘GMA’) issues public land hunting licences to juveniles free of charge.
WESTERN AUSTRALIA: has no age restriction. S 8(n) of the Firearms Act 1973 exempts a person from needing a licence who is under the age of 18years and who is using a long arm (not handgun), under the supervision of, a person who is the holder of a licence or permit under this Act relating to that firearm, whilst on the licensee’s property.
Surprisingly, given WA Firearms laws generally, they are the least prescriptive, although they were reviewed in 1996 and changes were recommended.
AUSTRALIAN CAPITAL TERRITORY: Minors Permit. Must be a member of an approved club and aged 12-18. See Firearms Act 1996 s84 & s85.
NORTHERN TERRITORY: Firearms Act s28(a) and (b) Junior Licence authorising possess and use of an activity specified in the licence for the purposes of receiving instruction at an approved shooting range or competing in an approved event.
QUEENSLAND: Minors Licence for Cat A, B or H or cat M (cross bow) where it is lawful to physically possess or use at an approved range or for use in primary production on rural land. Weapons Act 1996 s10(2)(a)(ii), Reg 23 and 23A. Age 11-18.
TASMANIA: Has a system of a Minor’s Permit for 12-18-year old’s and the person supervising must have held a licence continuously for twelve months. A 12-13-year-old can hold a permit for range use under instruction and 14-17-year old can get a permit for range or field use under instruction.Firearms Act 1996 s68 and s70(1) and s70(2).
If you have any doubt in any situation, in any state or territory I suggest that you adopt the rule that the only circumstances
under which someone (including a Minor) can possess a firearm is subject to a licence or permit, as this is generally the case across Australia, (with the only exception being WA), and then ensure you are complying with the terms of the permit or licence.
Gun laws are applied strictly, and a breach could cost you your licence. Tragically, a lot of my work involves acting for good people who have been lazy or who have ‘assumed’, so please take care, and live by the maxim ‘if in doubt, check it out’.
To the extent that these laws exist, they are largely a compromise between people who want their children to access firearms and participate in a good wholesome outdoors activity that does not involve a screen on the one hand, versus a small number of very noisy, efficient, prominent activists.
Firearms laws are breached every day on thousands of rural properties across Australia, where it is impractical for a juvenile to join a gun club, and all the state has done is to criminalise what a father has done with his son ever since cave times in teaching him how to use a weapon safely.
The danger is, in imposing such unrealistic laws, the state is creating a situation that does not address the needs raised by the psychologist quoted above, and which also encourage parents tell their children not to discuss things with authority figures. This is not healthy regulation.
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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