The National Shooting Council has had a massive win in a self-defence case that affects the interests of all licensed shooters. A court case where a local hero found himself in hot water for defending his neighbour with what he thought was adequate and required force.
This is an amazing story of how the man, Ron Sterry, beat unfair gun charges and how the NT Magistrates Court issued an order trumping an automatic gun ban in NT.
On 27 April last year, experienced first aider, Ron, went to the aid of his Alice Springs neighbour who had been stabbed.
It was dark, the assailant was still on the loose in a town known as the stabbing capital of the world, and the emergency services had not yet arrived.
To ensure his own safety, Ron took one of his rifles, a Model 1917 Eddystone 30.06, and a bayonet with him.
He did what he could to help the neighbour (she survived) and remained until the emergency services turned up.
After initially being let go by police to return home, a second group of officers stopped him and took his gun off him.
They also seized his remaining firearms and came back the next day to get his ammunition.
It was clear that NTPol intended to make an example of Ron, however, their actions were severly flawed.
Ron had not yet been charged with any offences, his licence had not been suspended until some 3 months later, and police failed to give Ron any receipts for what they took off him.
Ron eventually faced five charges despite helping his neighbour. They were that he:
- Charge 1– Carried a loaded firearm in a public place;
- Charge 2– Carried a firearm exposed to view in a public place;
- Charge 3– Went armed in public; and
- Charge 4– Carried a controlled weapon (a bayonet) in public;
- Charge 5– Possessed a firearm (contrary to the genuine reason).
The problem we faced was two-fold. First, it was clear the police didn’t want to lose this fight, so we needed to understand how to fight all five charges. The second problem was how to help Ron get his guns back, if that was possible.
That’s because under section 10(2A) of the NTFirearms Act 1997, a finding of guilt on any of the offences would have resulted in Ron being disqualified from holding a firearms licence for 2 years.
It’s an unfair law that was written at the height of the political attacks on us.
To help Ron, many of you donated to our fund to help him use the best legal support we could find. For that, we used barristerMr Jon Bortoli, who came to us recommended by theNT Firearms Council. We also used the services of local solicitor,Luke Gardnerwho we are also grateful to.
POLICE BECOME DIFFICULT TO DEAL WITH
During this time Ron wanted his other seized guns that were unrelated to the charges transferred to a friendly dealer, as he was entitled to do under NT firearms law and as suggested to him by the NSC’s Vice President.
However the police resisted that idea. This resulted in Mr Bortoli having to write to the Chief Commissioner threatening more proceedings if this did not occur.
The police then allowed Ron to transfer all property unrelated to the charges. However, NTPol were determined to win their case against Ron and we understand they may have even flown in a Senior Prosecutor from Melbourne to run their court case for them all NT taxpayers’ expense.
The matter went to trial before Judge Birch in the Alice Springs Local Court on 19 October. After lengthy and careful deliberations by Ron and Jon, Ron entered not guilty pleas to all five charges.
At the trial, it was noted that Ron did not immediately load the firearm until after talking with the victim’s family. Even then, a round had not been chambered.
After the evidence was concluded, the prosecution withdrew Charges 2, 3 and 5 leaving Charges 1 and 4 remaining.
The decision was originally meant to be handed down 9 December but was deferred to 11 February. We took this as a positive sign that Judge Birch wanted to consider the matter properly.
The verdict on the remaining charges were:
- On Charge 1,Not guilty; and
- On Charge 4,Guilty.For this, Ron was placed on a 6 month good behaviour bond with a $500 penalty if he breached the bond. Importantly, no conviction was recorded.
His Honour found that Ron’s evidence raised a lawful excuse and that his actions were not ‘disproportionate’ or ‘unreasonable’ to have taken his firearm with him in the circumstances.
… AND HE’S GOT HIS GUNS BACK!
As you can imagine, Ron was happy with that outcome – but more good news was yet to come.
As you will recall, a finding of guilt of one of the offences could have disqualified Ron from holding a licence for a 2 year period.
After some discussion on a previous case,Burrarrwanga v Rigby,the Court issued an Order requiring the immediate return of Ron’s guns & licence, trumping the automatic disqualification.
If anything, this was the judiciary’s way of saying that the penalty was excessive. Here’s what the Court Order said: