On 1 July 2017 new Firearms Laws commenced in South Australia. There are some significant changes to the law, including the legal requirements for the storage of firearms and the grounds on which your Firearms Licence can be cancelled. There is also the introduction of mandatory reporting conditions.
There are a number of other changes that I will discuss over the coming months, however these are the changes that Firearms Licence holders need to be aware of now.
Storage of Firearms
Under the new storage regulations, a safe that met legal requirements on 30 June 2017, may be illegal from 1 July 2017. There is no simple way to explain the new provisions because safes are assigned different levels depending on their dimensions, and the types and number of firearms being stored. Attached to the Regulations is a Code of Practice for the Security, Storage and Transport of Firearms, Ammunition and Related Items. If you are keen, you can look at that Code here: http://www.austlii.edu.au/au/legis/sa/consol_reg/fr2017211/sch1.html. For the rest of you, call me and I will advise you, at no charge, if your current safe meets the new requirements.
“Fit and Proper Person” Definitions
The right to hold a Firearms Licence is based on the legal concept that you are a “fit and proper person” to hold a licence. The law starts out on the premise that you are a fit and proper person. From there, the law sets out the bases on which your status as a fit and proper person may be revoked.
A significant change to the law is that the circumstances under which the Firearms Branch can find a person not to be a “fit and proper person” have been expanded. If you fall under one of the following categories you will automatically have your licence cancelled:
- If you have breached a court imposed condition prohibiting you from possessing or using a firearm (this includes nearly all Intervention Orders and bail agreements)
- If you are subject to a Firearms Prohibition Order
- If you have a “physical or mental illness, condition or disorder, or [are a person] in relation to whom other circumstances exist, that would make it unsafe for … [you] to possess a firearm or ammunition”.
The third condition above is very broad and ambiguous. Given that the Firearms Branch is actively trying to restrict Firearms Licences, I expect that this condition (which is greatly expanded from the law before 1 July 17) will be interpreted very broadly. My concern is that the Firearms Branch will use a blanket approach to cancel licences when there is a suggestion or allegation of mental health issues. The process of appealing the cancellation of a licence is expensive and lengthy and it will effectively be up to the person to prove that they do not fall within this category. The owner’s licence will be cancelled until the outcome of the appeals process, which could take months or even years.
There is also an expansion of offences which may be taken to mean that a person is not a fit and proper person. While the list of offences is too large to list here, importantly, the following offences have been added to the list:
- Drink driving
- Drug driving
- Breach of an Intervention Order
What this means is that if you are found guilty of any of the offences listed in the Regulations, including those above, then your fitness to hold a Firearms Licence will be questioned.
This is another reason why it is so important to get legal advice before you plead to any criminal offence, if you want to retain your Firearms licence.
Mandatory Reporting Requirements
While I am unsure how this will be policed and enforced, the law now includes mandatory reporting requirements when there is a reasonable suspicion that a person who lives at (or has access to) premises where a firearm is kept, may be a threat to the safety of others. If you have a Firearms Licence and you don’t report someone, then your Firearms Licence is at risk.
However, as I have said, I don’t know how this can be effectively policed. If you do get charged with failing to make a mandatory report, refer to my number one rule: Exercise Your Right to Silence. Then call me.