With yet another official firearms amnesty on the horizon, it seems prudent to bring forward a case that really makes us question the value of these amnesties.
Following the COAG resolution to restrict the availability and use of handguns by sporting shooters in late 2002, a national firearms amnesty was announced, which took place in Queensland between the 1st of July and 31st of December 2004.
It was during this amnesty that a licensed handgun collector and sports shooter in Queensland decided to acquire and register a previously unregistered semiautomatic UZI pistol. Thinking he was doing the right thing, by the law and in the spirit of the amnesty, to get unregistered guns off the street. With a 10 round magazine and a barrel over the new 120mm legal limit for semiauto handguns, it was able to fit in under the new restrictions on sporting shooters handguns.
The legislation governing firearms amnesties in Queensland allowed for weapons to be registered by those with a suitable license or surrendered to the state. The new owner of the semiauto UZI elected to have it registered against his firearms license with the details confirmed and entered by his local dealer, a relatively common practice under amnesties in Queensland. This is where this story should draw to an end, but alas disappointingly, we must continue.
About 10 days after the end of the amnesty, the owner had his house raided by the police and all his firearms seized. The basis for the raid was the owner’s possession of the semiauto UZI pistol. Queensland Police had elected to charge the owner with unlawful possession of weapon under section 50 of the Act.
The story broke and made the news, Brisbane 4BC provided some coverage of the charge, reportedly acting premier Anna Bligh provided no comment on the case at the end of this segment.
Unfortunately for the police, section 168B of the Weapons Act provides protection for those whom register a firearm under a declared amnesty. The provision clearly states that a prosecution cannot proceed against a person for unlawful possession of a firearm when they take action to obtain the necessary authority under the Act to possess the firearm during a declared amnesty.
Whilst the police were able to charge the collector, the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (ODPP) was unwilling to proceed with the prosecution, presumably because they read the Weapons Act and realised & that to proceed clearly violated the Weapons Act and therefore dropped the charge.
With the matter now presumably resolved, the owner was able to retrieve his firearms from the police. Some firearms were damaged due to lack of care by the police, as is apparently their standard practice, that is apart from the semiauto UZI pistol. The police had decided to insist upon their position that the semiauto UZI pistol was not a Category H weapon and was in fact a Category D or R weapon.
With no other option to retrieve his property, the owner sued the police for the return of the UZI. In a civil court case that took several years to resolve, the owner was able to prove on the balance of probabilities, that his semiauto UZI was in fact a Category H firearm. Demonstrating that it was neither a replica/ facsimile of a submachine gun, nor a substantial duplicate of a military style semiautomatic rifle and instead a Category H pistol.
With the magistrate calling the police’s actions in the case to be ‘oppressive’, he ordered an immediate return of the UZI and awarded costs. With the court orders made and the owner able to recover a small portion of his costs from the police (and thus us the taxpayers), the semiauto UZI was returned to its rightful owner.
This is the first story we are presenting in an ongoing saga of law abiding firearm owners running into serious legal issues because of mistakes in fact and law by the police. Have you been in a situation like this? If so please contact us so we can hear about it.