Importation of Firearms
In Australia, the importation of firearms that are prohibited absolutely or without obtaining the approval of a person specified in the regulations, carries a maximum penalty of 10 years imprisonment and/or a fine of 2500 penalty units.
The offence of unlawfully importing firearms and firearm accessories is contained in section 233BAB of the Customs Act 1901 which defines firearms, accessories, ammunition and imitations as “tier 2 goods” for the purpose of importation offences.
Section 233BAB of the Act allows for the regulations to make provisions in relation to the importation of firearms. Regulation 4F of the Customs (Prohibited Imports) Regulations 1956 states: “…the importation of a firearm, a firearm accessory, a firearm part, a firearm magazine, ammunition, a component of ammunition or an imitation is prohibited”.
What is importation of firearms?
The Act does not contain a definition of importation. However, importation is generally understood to include any conduct that involves introducing into the country an item or object that was previously outside of the country.
According to the Australian Customs Service, the most common means of importation include post, air passengers and air cargo. This could involve, for example, taking a firearm on to the plane with you and entering the country, or buying ammunition online and having it mailed to an Australian address.
In some situations, firearms can be imported into Australia, but only with the written permission of the Commonwealth Attorney-General’s Department.
Schedule 6 of the Regulations sets out the requirements for the importation of certain firearms, accessories, ammunition and imitations. Different items will require different “tests”. It is important to examine closely Schedule 6 to determine the test for a particular item. Some of the tests that may be required are:
Official Purposes Test
This is where the item is imported for the purpose of the government of the Commonwealth or a State or Territory.
Specified Purposes Test
This is where the item is imported for the purpose of:
- film armourers;
- supply of ammunition and components outside Australia;
- training, repairs, modification or testing;
- defence or police-sanctioned activity; or
- research or development.
Specified Person Test
This is where the item is imported by a person who is in the business of controlling “vertebrate pest animals” for that purpose.
Police Certification Test
This is where the importer is a government representative and holds a licence or authorisation as:
- a sports shooter;
- an international sports shooter;
- a collector;
- an importer for business or occupational purposes.
This is where the importer has a licence to be a firearm dealer and has a licence to possess the specified item/s.
Returned Goods Test
This is where an item was lawfully exported and has not since been modified.
In addition, regulation 4F of the Regulations also sets out statutory exceptions to the offence, such as where a firearm is carried by an air security officer, or where handguns are supplied for the purpose of providing aid to East Timor.
What must be proven?
To find a person guilty of an offence under this section, the police must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that:
- the accused intentionally imported the goods;
- that they knew, or were reckless to the fact that the goods were tier 2 goods; and
- importation of the goods:
- was prohibited by the regulations; or
- required prior approval from a specified authority which was not obtained at the time of the importation.
It is a complete defence to the charge of importation of firearms if written permission was obtained from the Commonwealth Attorney-General’s Department in accordance with the regulations.
Which court will hear the matter?
Under Commonwealth law, an offence under this section is an indictable offence. This means that it will be dealt with in the District Court but it may be dealt with in the Local Court with the consent of both the prosecutor and the defendant. If the matter is finalised in the District Court, this will give rise to harsher penalties.
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