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  • Writer's pictureSami Abbas

Common Firearm Offences in WA

Updated: Oct 10, 2023


If you're a firearm owner in Western Australia, it's essential to be well-informed about the state's firearm laws to ensure you're operating within the legal boundaries. The Firearms Act 1973 (WA) (‘Firearms Act’) and the Firearms Regulations 1974 (WA) (‘Firearms Regulations’) are the primary pieces of legislation that govern firearm use, possession, and storage in Western Australia.


In this article, we will explore the key aspects of Western Australia's firearm regulations. We'll begin by highlighting some critical aspects of the Firearms Act, focusing on offenses related to firearm possession, use, and storage. We’ll be using the detailed crime statistics provided by the Western Australian Police, the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions and the Australian Institute of Criminology to identify the most common firearm offenses in Western Australia. [1] Additionally, we'll outline the potential consequences of non-compliance, including the seizure of firearms and the possibility of facing firearms-related charges.


OFFENCES

Overview


‘Firearm Offences’ encompasses a broad spectrum of criminal conduct. From the insecure storage of firearms to their use in the commission of violent crimes, the range of wrongdoing is vast and diverse.


According to a report by the Australian Institute of Criminology, nearly 45% of all firearm and weapon offenses charged in Western Australia are related to possession offenses. [2] It's important to note that within this category, 31% involve firearms, while the remaining 69% involve other types of weapons. [3] These numbers highlight the complexity of firearm offenses and their far-reaching implications.


The Australian Institute of Criminology also highlights the high rates of sentencing outcomes for those with firearm or weapon-related charges, In Western Australia, a staggering over 90 percent of firearm and weapon-related charges resulted in guilty verdicts, leading to subsequent sentencing. This includes cases where individuals entered a plea of guilty as well as those who were convicted through trial proceedings. It's worth noting that the proportion of charges that the prosecution withdrew was less than two percent. This indicates a very low rate of cases where charges were dropped by the prosecution. Furthermore, less than one percent of charges led to acquittals, signifying the rarity of cases where individuals were found not guilty.


We will now delve into a detailed analysis of the most common firearm and weapon-related offenses, as highlighted by the Australian Institute of Criminology. By examining each offense individually, we aim to provide you with a comprehensive understanding of the legal aspects behind these offenses within Western Australia's legal framework.


Sell/Deliver


The sale or delivery of firearms accounts for a significant portion, approximately 45.9%, of all firearm offenses in Western Australia. It's important to note that possessing, purchasing, selling, or carrying firearms without the required license is considered a criminal offense. For the offense of normal sale without a license, the penalty may include imprisonment for up to 5 years, as stipulated in the Firearms Act, Section 19. In cases where the unlicensed sale involves more than three firearms, the penalty can be much more severe, potentially resulting in imprisonment for up to 14 years.


Additionally, allowing a person under the age of 18 to unlawfully possess a firearm is also prohibited by law. A first-time offense can result in a maximum penalty of a $2000 fine, while a second or subsequent offense may lead to a $4,000 fine or imprisonment for up to 12 months. As per data from the Australian Institute of Criminology, selling or delivering a firearm typically leads to imprisonment, with a significant 60% of offenses resulting in this outcome. [4]


Division 2 of the Firearms Act1973 (WA) is dedicated to addressing offenses related to prohibited firearm accessories. Section 23AA of this division explicitly defines these offenses:


Under subsection (1), any individual who acquires sells, possesses, or uses a prohibited firearm accessory is committing an offense. The penalty for this violation is a term of imprisonment for 3 years and a fine amounting to $36,000.


In the case of a more severe violation, as described in subsection (3), where a person acquires, sells, possesses, or uses a prohibited firearm accessory in circumstances of aggravation, they commit a more serious crime. In such instances, the penalty involves imprisonment for 7 years. Circumstances of aggravation are defined as situations in which a prohibited firearm accessory is fitted to a firearm or when a person has physical possession of a prohibited firearm accessory along with a firearm to which the accessory may be fitted or in conjunction with which it may be used.


The term "prohibited firearm accessory" encompasses various items, including bump stocks, folding stocks, detachable stocks, chassis carbine kits, and any other prescribed items that can be fitted to or used with a firearm. [5]


Possession


As reported, 30.9% of all firearm offenses charged in Western Australia are related to possession offenses. We will examine the Firearms Act 1973 and the Firearms Regulations 1974 to understand the specific provisions governing the possession of firearms.


One of the primary charges associated with possession offenses in Western Australia is the possession of a firearm without the appropriate licensing. Briefly, In Western Australia, individuals and organizations seeking firearm licenses must apply accordingly, with firearms categorized based on specifications. Different categories have specific requirements, such as demonstrating a Genuine Reason and, for some, a Genuine Need for firearm possession. First-time applicants are required to pass a Firearms Awareness Test, and all original license applications have a mandatory 28-day waiting period from the date of application lodgment, as mandated by law.[6] Section 4a of the Firearms Act 1973 (WA) provides a clear definition of possession within the context of firearm-related matters.


In Division 7 of the Act, specific offenses in relation to licenses, permits, and approvals are delineated. Section 19, in particular, outlines the offense ‘Licensing Offences’.


This offense involves carrying or using a firearm without the appropriate license. Penalties vary based on the type of firearm. For handguns or prescribed firearms, the penalty is imprisonment for 7 years. For other firearms, the penalty is imprisonment for 4 years or a fine of $16,000. Reduced penalties apply under certain conditions. According to statistics from the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions, it was found that the most common penalty for possession of a firearm was imprisonment, at around 70% of all penalties. [7]


It's important to note that possessing, purchasing, or carrying a firearm when a firearms license has expired also constitutes an offense. The maximum penalty for this offense is a substantial fine of $2,000. [8]


Certain items, such as silencers, are strictly prohibited for possession. Under section 23(7) of the Firearms Act 1973, it is an offense for an individual to be in possession of a silencer. The potential penalties for being found in possession of a silencer include a term of imprisonment of up to 3 years or a fine of $12,000.


Other Offences


As our exploration reveals, the statistics demonstrate that the two most prevalent firearm-related offenses in Western Australia are possession and the sale/delivery of firearms, making up a substantial portion of cases. However, it is crucial to recognize the multifaceted nature of firearm-related offenses within the legal framework. Below, we provide an in-depth look at several key firearm-related offenses, along with their respective details:

  1. Permitting Possession Affected by Alcohol/Drugs or Unsound Mind (Section 23(1)): This offense pertains to allowing another person, under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs or of unsound mind, to possess any firearm or ammunition. The penalty for this offense is a term of imprisonment for 18 months or a fine of $6,000.

  2. Carrying Firearms While Affected by Alcohol/Drugs (Section 23(2)): It is an offense to carry or be in physical possession of a firearm while affected by alcohol and/or drugs. Penalties vary based on whether the firearm is loaded. For a loaded firearm, the penalty is imprisonment for 2 years or a fine of $8,000; for an unloaded firearm, it's imprisonment for 8 months or a fine of $6,000.

  3. Defacing/Altering Firearm Identification Number (Section 23(5)): It is an offense to deface or alter the identification number of a firearm without lawful excuse. Penalties differ based on whether the firearm was a handgun or modified in a prescribed manner. For such cases, the penalty is imprisonment for 7 years; otherwise, it's imprisonment for 4 years or a fine of $16,000. Reduced penalties apply under certain conditions.

  4. Using a Silencer (Section 23(6)): Using a silencer without lawful excuse is an offense. The penalty for this offense is imprisonment for 7 years.

  5. Possession of a Silencer (Section 23(7)): It is an offense to be in possession of a silencer. This offense can only be dealt with summarily, and the penalty is imprisonment for 3 years or a fine of $12,000.

  6. Discharging Firearm Dangerously (Section 23(9A)): Discharging a firearm, or any shot, bullet, or other missile from a firearm in a manner that endangers the public or causes fear to any person is an offense. The penalty for this offense is imprisonment for 3 years or a fine of $12,000.

  7. Carrying a Firearm in Public Section 23(10a): Carrying a firearm or a major firearm part, other than on a road open to the public, onto or across land that is used for or in connection with primary production without the express or implied consent of the owner or occupier of that land or some person apparently authorised to act on behalf of the owner or occupier, commits an offence. The penalty for this offence is a fine of $2,000.


Understanding the intricacies of Western Australia's firearm laws is crucial for any firearm owner residing in or traveling to the state. The Firearms Act 1973 and the Firearms Regulations 1974 serve as the backbone for regulation, affecting a wide range of issues from possession and sale to specific actions like using a silencer. As this article has demonstrated, offenses related to firearms not only carry hefty fines but often result in imprisonment, emphasizing the seriousness with which these laws are enforced. The high percentage of guilty verdicts and minimal rates of case withdrawals and acquittals suggest that the legal system is particularly stringent in this regard. Consequently, compliance with the law is not just a matter of avoiding penalties; it’s also a significant aspect of responsible firearm ownership. Whether you are a first-time owner or an experienced firearm enthusiast, familiarizing yourself with the laws and their ongoing updates is indispensable.



[1] Detailed crime statistics available at: ‘Crime Statistics’ Western Australia Police Force (Web Page) <https://www.police.wa.gov.au/Crime/CrimeStatistics#/>. [2] Megan Davies and Jenny Mouzos, ‘Court Outcomes for Firearm Offences in Australia’ AIC (Report, 2008) <https://www.aic.gov.au/sites/default/files/2020-05/tbp031.pdf> 22 . [3] Ibid. [4] Megan Davies and Jenny Mouzos, ‘Court Outcomes for Firearm Offences in Australia’ AIC (Report, 2008) <https://www.aic.gov.au/sites/default/files/2020-05/tbp031.pdf> 24. [5] Firearms Act 1973 (WA) s4. [6] Firearms Regulations 1974 (WA), Schedule 3: Lists firearm categories, including Category A, Category B, Category C, Category D, Category E, and Category H. Firearms Regulations 1974 (WA) Regulation 19: Defines the offense related to selling, delivering, disposing of, purchasing, or being in possession of firearms, major firearm parts, or ammunition without the proper license or permit. [7] Megan Davies and Jenny Mouzos, ‘Court Outcomes for Firearm Offences in Australia’ AIC (Report, 2008) <https://www.aic.gov.au/sites/default/files/2020-05/tbp031.pdf> 24. [8] Firearms Act 1973(WA) s19AA.

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