Between 17 Oct and 14 November 2023, the Western Australian Government held a public consultation period to gain feedback from the public and stakeholders on proposed new laws.
Without further commentary, here is our submission:
FIREARMS ACT REFORM
From Firearm Owners United
Firearm Owners United (FOU) is a registered Not-For-Profit advocacy organisation, representing Law Abiding Firearm Owner’s (LAFO’s), hunters, and the wider sport shooting community. Our operating team consists of volunteers who bring a wide variety of expertise to the organisation, from former Defense members, security specialists – including IT security experts, agriculturalists, firearm trainers and instructors, sporting shooters, hunters, and much more.
We would like to thank the Minister for Police’s Department for inviting us to make a submission to the consultation of the “Firearms Act Reform in Western Australia”. In this document you will find our responses to the Firearms Act Reform, which have been stated in good faith and details our formal thoughts and opinions on the implementation of a Firearms Act Reform in Western Australia. We request that this submission be read in good faith, with the understanding we want what is best for both the community we represent and public safety.
Our statement: Information to be considered
With respect to the recent proposed changes to the West Australian firearms laws we state our disagreement with these changes in the strongest terms. Western Australia is already notorious within the firearms community for having the most backwards and inefficient regime for the control of firearms in Australia.
Firearm laws throughout Australia are already a global outlier amongst Western Democracies with no other country finding it necessary to exercise such stringent controls across a broad range of articles. That Western Australia now seeks to be an outlier for control of firearms within a nation that is already a global outlier should not be seen as a point of pride. The reality is that it demonstrates a near obsession for the ever increasing level of red tape and pointless restrictions that serve no purpose.
Within our organisation and its associated members, there is no view that Western Australia needs to update its firearm laws to make them more constrictive. Conversely, the view of our member base is that they should be brought back in line with the remainder of the country. No other State in the country finds it necessary to exercise the level of ludicrous restriction comparable to that of Western Australia.
Western Australia compared to other States
To expand on the above further, the key points of control that should be amended, based on the view of our member base, is to remove the requirement for co-licensing of firearms.In every other State in the country the individual is given a firearms licence and firearms are then registered against that licence. People are free to lend firearms to other suitably licensed people for a reasonable period of time. However, this is not the case in Western Australia. In Western Australia the law requires that each firearm is licensed against an individual with a firearm that is to be used by multiple people to then be co-licensed. A pointless control mechanism that in reality encourages the acquisition of more firearms and creates an administrative nightmare. It seems apparent that the proposed Act intends to continue this farcical situation into the future. Such a requirement should be abolished and replaced with a provision to allow the temporary use of borrowed firearms of the same category that an individual is licensed for. It is reiterated, this is practiced in the rest of the country and does not seek for Western Australia to be more progressive with their firearms laws, merely bringing them in line with the rest of the country.
Furthermore, no other jurisdiction in the country has the requirement for a Serviceability Certificate, like those currently required in Western Australia. This seemingly only creates unnecessary administrative work and the only benefit seems to be the additional revenue generated by the dealers issuing the certificates. With no other states requiring such a certificate, there is no substantive evidence of increased gun failure and such does not seem to add any benefit for increasing firearm safety, if this was in fact the initial intention.
Moreover, the restrictions on the freight of firearms which are unique to Western Australia creates another level of control that does not add benefit nor increase firearm safety. Much like the Serviceability Certificate, no other State has such requirements and does not have an increased number of firearms stolen in freight. As such, it seems to be another administrative hurdle that adds no value and seemingly does not result in any benefit.
In regards to the recently implemented changes, namely the ban on higher powered rifles was bereft of any critical thought. There was and has never been any use of these types of firearms in any crime in Australia ever. We conducted an extensive search and have never been able to identify a single violent crime that took place using such a firearm. There is a simple reason for this as well, the geographic situations that tend to accompany violent crime being urban areas in and around buildings do not lend themselves to excessively overweight and overpowered long range target rifles. A more conventional firearm is simply better suited and hence chosen by criminals of all types. The restriction is a hammer in desperate search of a nail, a nail that only exists in the mind of senior bureaucrats and politicians who watch far too much TV drama.
Concerns with the proposed changes
The restrictions being proposed that bring in limits on the number of firearms an individual licensee can hold is also once again a solution in desperate search of a problem. The individuals who currently own firearms in excess of this number are overwhelmingly amongst the most passionate and keen hunters and competition shooters in the country. The argument that the more legal firearms in circulation means that there is more chance of a criminal stealing them is null and void with a simple fact check. In 2017 Australian Border Force stopped 36 000 firearms from entering the country illegally over the 12 month period. They were the ones that got stopped. The Australian Federal Police estimate that there are 260 000 illegal firearms in circulation.
In October 2022 a 24-year-old Kangaroo Island man who was previously arrested for firearms offences including manufacturing of firearms, possessing prescribed firearms, possessing ammunition without licence, insecure ammunition, possessing prohibited weapons and possessing instructions for making explosive devices. South Australian Police and Australian Border Force officers located a 3D printer, several homemade firearms and other prohibited weapons.
A limit in the amount of firearms a licence holder can own, only affects the law abiding citizen. A criminal does not care for laws and such a law like this only punishes law abiding citizens rather than reducing or preventing criminal activity. People collect firearms for multiple reasons, just because someone does not possess a collector’s licence does not mean they do not collect firearms, simply because the firearms they collect dont require this type license or are also used for other reasons.
Section 3.2.4 of the proposed legislation states that “A single Collector Licence will encompass the two purposes for collection; which are the collection of firearms and the collection of ammunition. A licence holder with an approved purpose of having a Collector Licence for firearms is entitled to possess but not use:
• the firearm named and identified in the licence; and
• any major firearm part forming part of that firearm when the licence was issued.”
When someone collects something has a hobby they do so because they enjoy it, or for financial interests. For the former, one would expect to utilise their collection the same way someone who collects wine, who would like to drink it on a special occasion. By removing the ability for the licence holder to shoot the firearms they are collecting you are removing the foundation of its purpose. The legislation at a bare minimum should allow club shoots to be in line with other States. To add recreation to collectors’ licence for range shooting like another State is proposing is more ideal.
The proposed physical & mental health requirements appear likely to us to both stigmatise the differently abled as well as those with mental health issues. Creating a punitive regime for people seeking treatment for mental health problems is highly likely to instead push those people away from seeking treatment to potentially tragic results. Whilst there is a balance to be struck between mental health and the fit and proper person test we see little reason for the same attitude to be adopted in regards to individuals physical health. Outside of very limited exceptions we do not believe that this requirement has justification and should be removed from the Act.
The newly proposed Act will allow sound suppressors but only for Governmental entities, this is in our view inappropriate, these articles should also be at a minimum made available to primary producers and professional shooters. The health benefits of sound suppressors are undeniable, especially for those exposed to the noise on a regular basis.
The existence of a separate category of prohibited firearms. whilst presently obscured by the reference of not yet published regulations is of concern to us. It is our view that this separate categorisation of firearms serves no real purpose beyond creating extra contention in the field. Firearms should be classified under their mechanical characteristics in line with the regular categories of firearms, there is no benefit to having an additional list of prohibited firearms beyond this.
The Act fails to allow for a professional vertebrate pest control license or equivalent. In all other States an individual licensee can obtain a license for the purposes of providing contracted shooting services. The services offered by these license holders are typically used by agricultural land owners for the control of feral dogs and pigs. These license holders in every other State in the country are permitted to utilise Category A,B,C & D firearms as well as suppressors in most States. The closest licenses under this proposed legislation is the Professional Shooter Business and Primary Producer authority however these both lack the ability to obtain Category D firearms and suppressors. Both of which they are generally able to obtain in other States in Australia. The use and possession of these items has not caused any issues in the rest of the country and there seems to be no rational reason why Western Australia would be different in this regard. It must be noted that the provision of Category D firearms for professional pest controllers is specifically listed under the NFA in paragraph 1.2.
In the provision of prohibited accessories folding and detachable stocks are both listed as prohibited, there is no requirement under the NFA for these items to be prohibited and there is no rational basis for this. In most of the country these items are readily available and do not cause any issues. They should be removed from this list of prohibited accessories and there lacks basis and evidence for them to be prohibited.
Limitations on the number of hunters that can be granted access to a property appears to be overly restrictive and inflexible, management of the number of hunters able to utilise a given property should be left to the discretion of the land owner. It is their property and who they choose to let on to their property should not be controlled by the Government.
Finally in light of the recent provision of data detailing the location of all firearm owners house locations in the Greater Perth area several things are clear to us. The powers that are involved in this have no consideration for the actual numbers of firearms stolen and placed into the criminal community, the publication of this licensing data allows firearm owners to be identified with only a modicum of effort. This places us under the clear impression that these laws are being developed and proposed in bad faith. There was no genuine effort to consult with the community. If there was, the proposed laws would simply not have taken the form that they currently have.
From the provision of firearms registry data to the media it is clear to use that any reform of firearm laws must make it a criminal offence for the disclosure of any firearms registry data to any person or organisation outside of law enforcement or the courts. The demonstrated abuse of this data and the clear potential for this abuse to be ongoing simply erodes the communities faith in the police.
Firearm Owners United do not support the proposed changes. Western Australian firearm laws are unnecessarily complex, cumbersome and provide no additional benefit or increased safety to either the public or law-abiding firearm owners. As the legislation currently stands, the excessive requirements that are not imposed in other States, generate nothing more than an administrative nightmare with no benefit. The proposed changes seemingly aim to further restrict the rights of law-abiding firearm owners with no substantive basis of crime prevention and only increase the disparity of Western Australia with the rest of the country. We strongly recommend that the proposed changes be reconsidered and a review of the other States legislations be conducted as while they vary slightly, are largely aligned.
This paper has been written by the Board of Directors of Firearm Owners United.