Big morning. I spent it with all three WA Law Reform Commissioners, and their advisers, explaining to them, on behalf of SSAA(WA), the shooters’ response to the many issues raised in their Discussion Paper on firearms laws. They said they got over 1,200 submissions from the public and that about 500 of those were obviously the result of the campaign by SSAA(WA) to get shooters to have their say. That was a good effort by shooters – and well done SSA(WA)! I have no doubt I was able to get the Commissioners to understand the shooters’ point of view on important issues. But it is a long haul. We wait to see what is in their final report.
Some of the proposals it entertains would make hunting almost impossible, e.g., being restricted to shooting only on properties where you have written permission and farmers being required to keep a register of all letters issued.
I will be working with SSAA and Rick Mazza (Shooters Party member of WA Parliament) to help minimise the changes which would be detrimental to WA shooters.
14th December 2015
Here are some thoughts on the Law Reform Discussion Paper consolidated into one document. I have put it in the form of a letter to the Commission. Feel free to use it and parts of it as you wish...
The closing date for submissions is the 1st of February 2016
Property letters and genuine reason for wanting to licence a firearm
A firearms licence for a long arm should not be restricted to the property referred to in a property letter.
A restriction like that would breach the commendable principle the Law Reform Commission describes at page 19 of the Discussion Paper: “measures taken to protect the public must be appropriately adapted so as not to impose too great a burden on persons who possess or use firearms for reasons recognised as legitimate by the Firearms Act and care should be taken not to expose people seeking to comply with the Act to the risk of inadvertent non-compliance”.
Restricting firearms possession to fit and proper people protects public safety: restricting the safe and lawful use of firearms by those people does not. When the police determine someone is fit and proper to have a firearms licence then it must follow he or she can be trusted to get the owner’s permission before shooting on their property. It is a crime to fail to do so.
Most recreational hunting and shooting on private land now happens with verbal, not written, permission. For example, someone with a property letter will take a friend with firearms to the property referred to in the letter. The friend has only verbal permission to use firearms. But both will safely and lawfully use their firearms. Outcomes like this are desirable.
The address of the property letter does not provide a logical reason for restricting a licence. The licence applicant producing a property letter is merely a step in the bureaucratic procedure for getting a licence. The WA police typically accept this. Restricting safe hunting and shooting does not protect public safety. That only happens by making sure only fit people are doing the hunting and shooting.
The landowner who gives permission to a person to shoot on their property should not have to maintain a register of the permission and people to whom it was granted. The issuing of property letters is a private matter between the people concerned. Land owners permitting licensed people use firearms safely on their land is no threat to public safety.
A property owner who issues a property letter should not be required to provide storage facilities. There is no need for such a requirement. Anyway, at all times, firearm licence holders are obliged to provide for the safe keeping of their firearms whether they are in transit or in storage. As fit and proper people it is up to them to ensure they comply with that law.
Typically, when someone visits a farm for hunting he or she has close custody and control of the firearm at all times. So the need for unattended storage does not arise.
For the same reasons, it is wrong to restrict a long arm licence to range use only. A licensed club member can be trusted to use a firearm safely and lawfully off range. It does not make sense for a person to have some firearms which he or she can only use on range and some which can be used anywhere.
Centrality of the character of the licence holder – licence the person, not the firearm
The central plank of a sensible, fair, logical firearm licencing regime is the character of the licence holder. It follows that when the police accept a person is fit and proper to have firearms, and will keep them securely, then there should be an expedited procedure for the noting of additional firearms on to their original licence.
Dealing with an addition as an original application does not protect public safety. It creates ill will to the police because licence holders resent the unnecessary red tape.
There should be no upper limit on the number of firearms a single firearm licence holder may possess.
The central plank of a sensible, fair, logical firearm licencing regime is the character of the licence holder. It follows that when the police accept a person is fit and proper to have firearms, and will keep them securely, then the number of firearms on the licence is not a public safety concern.
Decisions about whether a person “has enough” firearms are arbitrary. The variety of circumstances in which firearms are used is infinite. So too is the combination of variables in specifications of different firearms. The characteristics of users (e.g., age, sex, fitness, proficiency) are innumerable. No decision maker can objectively take all this into account to determine a person what is or is not “too many”. These decisions always cause a justifiable sense of grievance against police for no public safety benefit.
Once a person satisfies the test for wanting a firearm (now called the genuine reason test), the next test is the genuine need test. That test relates to whether a firearm of a lesser category would be adequate. There is no need for a further test relating to the number of firearms already on the licence.
Others using the one storage facility - what is adequate storage?
The Firearms Act should be amended to permit two or more people to use the one storage facility. That will improve public safety. Now, when travelling, you cannot store your firearms in a friend’s cabinet while you stay overnight. This means the firearms are left in places less secure than that cabinet.
The law now regarding storage and security is reasonable. But some police don’t understand it and have charged innocent people. That needs to stop.
Licence terms and renewals
No public safety reason justifies the idea of having to effectively re-apply for a licence every five or so years. The sheer cost of renewing the licence will cause people who do not have a reason for keeping a firearm to get rid of it. Making people who have been held to be fit to have firearms go through the licence procedure every five years would cost the tax payer dearly, consume scarce police resources and burden the licence holder – all for no public safety benefit.
Persons under 18
A junior licence could be issued to minors so that they can use any firearm on a range, not just the firearm of an adult.
A person who is not licensed should be able to possess a firearm if the licence holder supervises the use of it, or the possession is temporary (e.g., transporting a friend’s firearm to a range) or reasonable in the circumstances, such as for safety reasons (e.g., handing a firearm to someone to get it through a fence, helping to clean it).
Regulation 26B of the Firearms Regulations
The regulation should be removed. The concept of “close resemblance” is very uncertain. The opinion of the Commissioner changes over time. Different police Commissioners can have different opinions. The appearance of a firearm makes no difference to victims of crime. The application of this regulation is arbitrary and creates undesirable ill will to the police from responsible firearms owners. The appearance of a firearm should not determine its category. So the definition of Category D1 should be changed by removing any reference to appearance.
The possession of ammunition components without a licence should not be an offence. Having to deal with components such as empty shell cases, wads etc as if they were real cartridges is impractical and does not protect public safety.
A plastic smart card is a good idea. A paper licence can end up in the wrong hands and disintegrates easily.
Interstate licences should be effective in WA for travellers and to give new residents time to get a WA licence within 6 months.
Sound suppressors should be permitted, as they are in New Zealand. They minimize sound and recoil and assist in effective vermin control, especially in places where the sound of firearms use may be a problem.
The police should be required to send a reminder if a licence is not renewed. A reminder would reduce the inconvenience caused when the renewal does not arrive.
[Name and address]
Ross WilliamsonB Juris, Ll B Barrister and Solicitor