Securing a firearm license and understanding the accompanying storage regulations in Australia can be a perplexing process. Each state and territory, while sharing commonalities, has its own set of legislation governing the possession of a firearm license. The categories of firearms allowed, as well as the enforced storage rules.
This article will delve into Western Australia’s laws and regulations to assist firearm owners in the state regarding the aforementioned as per The Firearms Act 1973 (WA) (‘Firearms Act’) and the Firearms Regulations 1974 (WA) (‘Firearms Regulations’).
It is crucial to distinguish what constitutes a firearm, with Section 4 of the Firearms Act describing a firearm as a ‘device that is made, modified or capable of being modified to discharge or propel a shot, bullet, missile, or other projectile.[i] Any object with such capability will require a license, and stringent checks will be conducted to verify the necessity of the applicant’s usage.
Obtaining a Firearms License
Western Australia is categorised as a state with restrictive licensing. Restrictive licensing aims to reduce firearms in circulation. Under such a system a person seeking to buy a firearm, typically a handgun, must provide the licensing authority with evidence of good character and have a valid reason why he needs the firearm. In restrictive licensing, the licensing authority requires the applicant to provide a valid reason for owning a firearm, and only those who are specifically approved may possess firearms covered by the system. This contrasts with permissive systems, where the applicant is presumed to be eligible to own a firearm unless they belong to a prohibited class. The restrictive system provides that “nobody but…” those who are specifically approved may possess the firearms covered by the system.
Gun control legislation in Western Australia includes the Firearms Act 1973, and the Firearms Regulations 1974. All Australian States and Territories are bound by the National Firearms Agreement of 1996 and 2017. According to section 5A of the Firearms Act 1973, Guns in Western Australia are regulated by the Minister and the Commissioner of Police, with power to give licences, permits and approvals. The Western Australia Police Force is responsible for assessing applications for firearms licenses and managing licensing records within the Firearm Registry System.
While the definition of a firearm has been established, it intentionally remains vague to include various objects that may fall under this description. The Firearms Regulations outline six categories of firearms based on specifications, and the Western Australian Police Force has summarised these categories as follows:
· Category A (low powered)
· Category B (high powered)
· Category C (specially defined rifles/shotguns)
· Category D (restricted to Commonwealth or State Government)
· Category E (paintball and other non-classified firearms)
· Category H (handguns)[ii]
Schedule 3 of the Firearms Regulations discusses the restrictions on some of these categories, requiring that firearms in lower-powered categories are insufficient to fulfilling their need.[iii] Regulation 26 of the Firearms Regulations 1974 outlines prohibited firearms and ammunition, with Schedule 2A providing for an extensive list. Some examples of prohibited ammunition include ammunition for a machine gun, ammunition for a mortar gun and ammunition for a bazooka gun. Some examples of prohibited firearms include a category D firearm, a machine gun, a hand grenade, a mortar gun, a bazooka gun, and a fully automatic firearm.
It should be noted that Section 10 of the Firearms Act stipulates that applicants must be 18 years or older and may be required to successfully complete an accredited training course.[iv]
In essence, obtaining a Firearms License is achieved through the following:
· Establishing your Genuine Reason and/or Genuine Need;
· Completing the Firearms Awareness Test;
· Obtaining a Serviceability Certificate;
· Retrieve a ‘Letter of Support’;
· Lodge Application for Firearms License, and;
· Proof of Adequate Storage Accessing Firearms License and Firearm.
When applying for a firearm licence, the applicant must demonstrate a Genuine Reason for possessing a firearm, this can be found in section 11A of the Firearms Act 1973. For Category A firearms, this is the only requirement. However, for all other categories of firearms, the applicant must also establish a Genuine Need for that specific type of firearm and demonstrate that a firearm of another class is inadequate or unsuitable for their need. The applicant must provide supporting evidence that substantiates their genuine reason or need to acquire a firearm.
The two most common genuine reasons in Western Australia for having firearms are for hunting, destroying, controlling vermin, or for club/recreational use or sporting.[v] Applicants must have paperwork covering each relevant reason. A ‘letter of support’ is often required whether it is from a property owner to control livestock and vermin or from a shooting club for recreational use.
As previously mentioned, applicants may require a higher-class firearm for your Genuine Reason and will consequently need to prove a Genuine Need, explaining how the lower-class firearms will not be suitable.
If applicants are seeking their first Firearms License, a Firearms Awareness Test is to be undertaken at an approved firearm dealer or club.[vi] The test is multiple choice and covers the WA Police Firearms Safety Booklet. Western Australians living remotely can contact the Multi-Function Police Facility (MFPF). Upon successful completion of the test, applicants will be issued a Firearms Safety Awareness Certificate.
A Serviceability Certificate can be obtained when purchasing a firearm from a dealer.[vii] The certificate discusses the purchased firearm and is necessary for a Firearm License application. Importantly, the firearm will remain in store until applicants have the specific firearm listed on their license.
Once applicants have obtained the Serviceability Certificate, they must provide it to their club or property owner for a ‘letter of support’, as described above.
Applicants must complete an Application for a Western Australian Firearms License and lodge it with a participating post office.[viii]
Schedule 4 of the Firearms Regulations requires secure storage for the firearm. After filing an application, applicants should organise a gun safe which will need evidenced and pictures taken and submitted to the licensing department.[ix]
Once the application has been processed, and a Firearm License has been issued, applicants can return to the dealer to obtain the firearm.
It is the responsibility of licensees to ensure their licenses are current, as well as their address and/or storage addresses. Address changes require notification to the WA Police Force Licensing Services within 21 days as per Regulation 9 of the Firearms Regulation.[x]
Once a person has been granted a firearms licence it is necessary to properly secure and store their firearm and the ammunition associated with it. Regulation 11A of the Firearm Regulations 1974 states that A person entitled to possess firearms, major firearm parts or ammunition of any kind is to ensure that the firearms, major firearm parts or ammunition are stored in accordance with this regulation. Proper storage of firearms and ammunition can be found in regulation 11A, sub regulation 2 where it is stated that Firearms, major firearm parts and ammunition are to be stored in a locked cabinet or container that at least meets the specifications described in Schedule 4 or in such other way as is approved. Schedule 4 has an extensive list of requirements for the specifications of storage cabinets and containers and include stipulations such as the cabinet or container is to be constructed of mild steel that is 2 mm thick.
Firearms must be strictly kept away from public access and, as such, stored in a place where only the licensee can access them, with the exception of the police who can inspect the storage site at any given time.[xi] Any ammunition is to be kept separate from the firearm in a different approved locked facility.
Schedule 4 of the Firearms Regulations outlines the storage requirements for firearms with respect to:
· Hinging Mechanics
· Locks and Locking Points
It is imperative that Firearms License applicants refer to the requirements detailed in Schedule 4, and enforced by the Western Australian Police, before attempting to collect their firearm from a dealer. As mentioned, proof of an applicant’s storage facility is required, and pictures must be sent by post or email to the licensing department for approval.
It is crucial for individuals requiring a firearm to familiarise themselves with the relevant legislation, as failure to adhere to the laws results in serious offences with expensive fines and the potential of imprisonment. Even for frequent firearm users who may not need to go through the exact process outlined above, it is vital to keep up to date with the constantly-developing legislation as adherence requires an ongoing commitment. If you have any questions or require legal assistance related to firearm laws in Western Australia, don’t hesitate to reach out to professionals who can provide guidance and support. Carter Dickens Lawyers is here to assist you with your legal needs.
Disclaimer: The information provided here is for educational purposes only and should not be considered legal advice. If you need legal assistance, we recommend contacting Carter Dickens Lawyers or consulting a qualified attorney. Legal matters can vary based on laws and regulations, and it's important to seek professional advice for your specific situation.
[i] Firearms Act 1973 (WA) s 4.
[ii] Western Australia Police Force, Firearms License (Web Page, 21 July 2022) <https://www.police.wa.gov.au/About-Us/Our-Agency/Police-Licensing-Services/Firearms-Licensing/Firearms-Licence>.
[iii] Firearms regulations 1974 (WA) Schedule 3.
[iv] Firearms Act 1973 (WA) s 10.
[v] Government of Western Australia, Apply and pay for a firearms license (Web Page, 31 January 2022) < https://www.wa.gov.au/service/justice/criminal-law/apply-and-pay-firearms-licence>.
[vi] Western Australia Police Force, Firearms License (Web Page, 21 July 2022) <https://www.police.wa.gov.au/About-Us/Our-Agency/Police-Licensing-Services/Firearms-Licensing/Firearms-Licence>.
[vii] Sporting Shooters Association of Western Australia, How do I apply for a firearms license? (Web Page) < https://www.ssaawa.org.au/faq/how-do-i-apply-for-a-firearms-licence>.
[ix] Firearms Regulations 1974 (WA) Schedule 4.
[x] Firearms Regulations 1974 (WA) Regulation 9
[xi] Sporting Shooters Association of Western Australia, How do I apply for a firearms license? (Web Page) < https://www.ssaawa.org.au/faq/how-do-i-apply-for-a-firearms-licence>.
[xii] Firearms Regulations 1974 (WA) Schedule 4.