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 2,500 penalty units.
The Offence of Importation of Firearms:
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 Customs Act allows for the regulations to make provisions in relation to the importation of firearms. As such, the provision should be read alongside regulation 4F of the Customs (Prohibited Imports) Regulations 1956 which 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 Actions Might Constitute Importation of Firearms?
- There is no formal definition of importation in the Act, however, from a commonsense definition, importation could be read to be any action that introduced into the country some 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. For example, taking a firearm onto 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.
Are there any Exemptions?
Schedule 6 of the Customs (Prohibited Imports) Regulations 1956 sets the requirements for the importation of certain firearms, accessories, ammunition and imitations. Different items will require different ‘tests’ to be fulfilled in order to allow for importation. It is important to examine closely Schedule 6 in order to determine the tests required in relation to a particular item. Some of tests that may be required are:
- Official Purposes Test: where the item is imported for the purpose of the government of the Commonwealth or a State or Territory.
- Specified Purposes Test: where the item is imported for the purpose of:
- Film amourers;
- Supply of ammunition and components outside Australia;
- Traning, repairs, modification or testing;
- Defence or police sanctioned activity; or
- Research or development.
- Specified Person Test: where the item is imported by a person who is in the business of controlling “vertebrate pest animals” for that purpose.
- Police Certification Test: where the importer is a government representative and holds a licence or authorisation, in one of the following categories:
- A certified sports shooter;
- A certified international sports shooter;
- Is certified for business or occupational purposes; or
- Is a certified collector
- Dealer Test: where the importer has a licence to carry on the business as a firearm dealer and has a licence to possess the specified item/s.
- Returned Goods Test: where an item was lawfully exported and has not since been modified.
In addition, regulation 4F of the Customs (Prohibited Imports) Regulations also sets out a number of statutory exceptions to the offence.
- If the object is listed in Part 2 of Schedule 6, and is imported in accordance with the requirements set out in the Schedule.
- Handguns listed as part of item 9 or 10, Part 2 of Schedule 6 and meets the criteria in regulation 3B, that is for the intention of contributing to an operational multinational force established by the UN Security Council for the purpose of directly providing aid to East Timor.
- Ammunition listed as part of item 20, Part 2 of Schedule 6 and meets the criteria in regulation 3B.
- Any firearm, firearm accessary/part/magazine, ammunition, component of ammunition or imitation that meets the criteria in Regulation 3C(1) or 3D, that is: they are imported on an aircraft by an air security officer carrying out their duties or for the purposes of transshipment to another country.
What the Police Must Prove?
To convict you of an offence under this section, the police must prove beyond reasonable doubt that:
- You intentionally imported the goods;
- That you knew, or were reckless to the fact that the goods were tier 2 goods; and
- Importation of the goods:
- Were prohibited by the regulations; or
- Required prior approval from a specified authority which was not obtained at the time of the importation.
Possible Defences for Importation of Firearms
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 to the regulations.
Which Court Will Hear Your 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, however, 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.
WHERE TO NEXT?
If you suspect that you may be under investigation, or if you have been charged with an offence, it is vital to get competent legal advice as early as possible. Our lawyers are highly specialised in criminal law and will be able to guide you through the process while dealing with the various authorities related to your matter.