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Firearm Offences

Matters involving firearms are treated seriously by the courts in the ACT, with heavy penalties provided for even simple possession matters. Many people are unaware that merely possessing a part of a firearm, such as a barrel or grip, or a replica firearm that they believe to be a toy, can attract a prison sentence.

There are more than 60 separate offences spelt out in the Firearms Act 1996, from trafficking, manufacturing or discharging firearms in a public place to simply possessing a replica or imitation (perhaps still kept in its display case and never taken out of the home).

What is a Firearm?

The Act defines a firearm as “a gun, or other weapon, that is, or at any time was, capable of propelling a projectile by means of an explosive force”. The definition includes a firearm frame or firearm receiver that does not form part of a firearm and the definition includes also a “modified item”, which means something that would be a firearm if it did not have something missing from it, or a defect or obstruction; or something had not been added to it.

As well as that definition, the Act also defines, in a 24-item schedule, what constitutes a prohibited firearm. Many items incapable of propelling a projectile and acquired only for souvenir or curiosity value are captured by the legislation.

Possessing Firearms

The definition of firearms, prohibited firearms and unregulated firearms in the Act (which came into force in the ACT in 1996, the year of the Port Arthur massacre) is extensive. The Act lists 24 particular items as prohibited firearms, including various replicas and even imitation paintball markers and speargun attachments.

The maximum penalty for possessing one or two prohibited firearms is 10 years’ imprisonment, rising to 14 years for three but fewer than 10 firearms, and to 20 years for 10 or more firearms.

The maximum penalty for unauthorised possession of other firearms is five years’ imprisonment, rising to seven for three or more but fewer than 10 firearms, and to 20 years for 10 or more firearms.

The seriousness of matters of possessing firearms varies greatly, from the possession in public of many weapons capable of causing death to the possession of a boxed replica that never left one’s home.

Other Firearms Offences

Disposing of or acquiring a firearm without the appropriate licence or authorisation carries a maximum penalty of five years’ imprisonment, rising to 10 years for a prohibited firearm.

A person who inherits a firearm and does not hold or obtain the relevant licence, or otherwise surrender it to police or dispose of it to a licensed dealer, faces a maximum penalty of 50 penalty units.

If someone is found to have sold or acquired firearms on three separate occasions inside a 12-month period, he or she can be liable to prosecution for trafficking firearms, the maximum penalty is 20 years’ imprisonment.

Discharging a firearm in a public place carries a maximum penalty of 100 penalty units and/or one year’s imprisonment. That penalty reduces to 50 penalty units and/or six months’ imprisonment if the firearm is discharged over other land.

Manufacturing, or taking part in the manufacture of, a prohibited firearm carries a maximum penalty of 1500 penalty units and/or 20 years’ imprisonment, reducing to 1000 penalty units and/or 10 years for an ordinary firearm.

Firearms Licences

It is an offence to act contrary to a licence and the maximum penalty for doing so in relation to a prohibited firearm is 1000 penalty units and/or 10 years’ imprisonment and 500 penalty units and/or five years’ imprisonment in the case of other firearms.

There are many classes of licences, including adult, minor and composite (corporation or government entity) and it is an offence (10 penalty units) to fail to report when a licence is lost, stolen or destroyed.

It is a more serious offence not to surrender firearms when a licence is cancelled or suspended or to fail to hand in a licence when it has been cancelled or suspended. The maximum penalty in each case is a fine of 50 penalty units and/or six months’ imprisonment.

The  Act specifies that personal protection of one’s self or of another person, or of property, is not a genuine reason to be granted a firearms licence.

Prohibited Weapons

The Prohibited Weapons Act 1996 makes the possession of a range of knifes and other implements punishable by up to five years in prison and/or a fine of up to 500 penalty units.

The Act includes schedules of prohibited items, including 9 bladed weapons, 10 hand weapons, five missile weapons and 19 other weapons or articles.

If you require legal advice or representation in any legal matter, please contact Armstrong Legal.

Michelle Makela

This article was written by Michelle Makela

Michelle has over 15 years experience in the legal industry, working across commercial litigation, criminal law, family law and estate planning.  Michelle has been involved in all practice areas of the firm and in her personal practice has had experience in litigation at all levels (State and Federal Industrial Tribunals, the Supreme Court, Court of Appeal, the Federal Court, Federal...

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