Mark McGowan
WA Premier Mark McGowan: his government is considered to be anti-shooting. (Image: JPez1997/Wikimedia)

Pain expected from WA’s secretive and ‘insidious’ overhaul of gun laws

Western Australia is rewriting its gun laws in a chaotic, flawed and insidious manner with no transparency, and shooters fear the country’s worst firearms legislation is only going to get worse. 

And shooters say they are scared to speak about it for fear of retribution by the state’s police.  

Local shooting representatives are not expecting many positive changes from the McGowan government’s complete overhaul of WA’s nearly 50-year-old firearms legislation, with a goal of bringing in entirely new legislation.

Despite the introduction of more or less standardised firearm laws across Australia under the 1996 National Firearms Agreement, WA has maintained an essentially separate, illogical, complicated and draconian legislative framework which bears almost no relation to the laws in the rest of the country.

WA licenses individual firearms rather than users, meaning a person with a gun licence can only use the specific firearm, identified by serial number, on their licence.

The state’s Firearms Act 1973 was recently amended to add further restrictions, technically making it illegal for shooters to repair their own guns or reload their own ammunition without a special licence — although WAPOL have reportedly told WA shooters they will not prosecute shooters doing these things under a regular gun licence.

There has been little confirmed information on what the new legislation will actually involve.

However, the McGowan government is known to be anti-gun and has repeatedly dismissed the concerns of shooters and their representatives regarding the state’s laws and how gun owners are treated.

Speaking in Parliament on August 11th, Police Minister Paul Papalia delivered a chilling message (click the link and go to page 3488) to the state’s approximately 89,000 gun owners, explicitly telling them the government will not guarantee they can “continue to have firearms and conduct themselves in the same fashion as they do now under the current Act”.

“We will guarantee one thing: community safety will be elevated to primacy. It will be the number one consideration under the new act,” Mr Papalia said.

A Parliamentary Report in 2016 made numerous suggestions on how to overhaul WA’s firearms licensing laws but it was more or less ignored, with the exception of a law change clarifying that unprimed brass was not ‘ammunition’.

Western Australian Shooting Association (WASA) president Murray Bow said the state government and WA Police (WAPOL) hadn’t clearly explained what they wanted changed about the existing Act, and he was not confident they would genuinely engage with shooters in the state, pointing out the recent Firearms Act 1973 amendments were “presented to parliament with no opportunity for consultation with licensed firearm holders”.

Murray Bow, WASA
“Who would have thought that legislation would make law abiding citizens into criminals?” asks Murray Bow of the WA Shooters Association

WAPOL has held a small number of consultation meetings with selected shooting associations — WASA was not among them, but some of its member associations were — and Murray said one of the possible changes that appeared to be under consideration by WAPOL was limitations on the number firearms a licensed person should be able to own.

He said the consultation process was not transparent and was particularly disappointed there had been no consultation with the wider shooting community at individual level — only shooting associations.

“Considering the largest number of licence holders aren’t members of a competition association or Sporting Shooters Association of Australia WA, there has been no public request for submissions from WA shooters other than through associations,” he said.

“If it was a truly consultative process there would be much more transparency from both the Minister and WA Police. The current consultation process appears chaotic and flawed compared to the Law Reform Commission process of 2016 which produced a thorough and considered report recognising the legitimate use of firearms by individuals.”

Murray said while shooters could only speculate on what specifically the new laws might contain, recent changes of the existing legislation highlighted how overreaching the proposed new Act was likely to be.

“Who would have thought that legislation would make law abiding citizens, in this case firearm owners doing what had been legal for the past 50 years [reloading ammunition and minor repairs and modifications to personal firearms] into criminals?” he asked.  

Murray said he thought it seemed likely the laws against repairing firearms, or even possessing the schematics to do so, and reloading ammunition would make their way into the new legislation too.

“This is an insidious removal of an important part of recreational and competitive shooting. 

“In 20 years the reason for not enforcing it will be forgotten and the simple repairs, modification and ammunition loads essential for competition and recreational shooting will not be allowed, destroying our sport.”

Perth shooter Shannon Mullen said there were a lot of pro-law abiding firearm owner changes he’d like to see in the new laws, even if he wasn’t holding his breath.

One of Shannon’s top suggestions was changing the laws to allow for temporary safe storage elsewhere — perhaps during major surgery or a family emergency — such as with another licensed shooter, without essentially forfeiting the gun.

“There is no way [currently] to surrender them voluntarily and have any hope of getting them back,” he said. “You can’t even put your rifle in your mate’s safe if you stay overnight.

“In Queensland you can store your firearms in another licensed firearms owner’s safe without doing any paperwork for six months, which just seems like common sense to me.”

Shannon also said he’d like to see hunting on crown land legalised, noting that WA was a big place and it wasn’t a controversial suggestion.

He did agree that a practical safety course when obtaining a longarms licence was a good idea, however.

“I couldn’t get a pistol without doing one so it should also be a requirement for longarms,” he said.

“I don’t think the current written safety course cuts the mustard and it’s a good opportunity for clubs and firearms industry businesses to make some income and do a bit of a character check.” 

Both Shannon and Murray agreed shooters in WA were reluctant to make waves or stand up against WAPOL and the government, sadly. 

“WA firearms owners are acting like abused spouses and are terrified to push back or ‘make any trouble’,” Shannon said.

“I think many are hoping that their own collections are grandfathered in the legislation and the devil may care about any new shooters to come, but I think that leads to bad outcomes for everyone.”

Mark McGowan image credit: JPez1997/Wikimedia Commons




Like it? Share with your friends!

What's Your Reaction?

super super
fail fail
fun fun
bad bad
hate hate
lol lol
love love
omg omg
Royce Wilson

Royce is something rare in Australia: A journalist who really likes guns. He has been interested in firearms as long as he can remember, and is particularly interested in military and police firearms from the 19th Century to the present. In addition to historical and collectible firearms, he is also a keen video gamer and has written for several major newspapers and websites on that subject.