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  • Writer's pictureSami Abbas

Understanding the New Firearm Laws in WA

Updated: Jul 4


Gun on table with books and a gavel

The Firearms Act 2024, recently passed by the Western Australian Parliament, represents a comprehensive overhaul of the state's firearm legislation, replacing the Firearms Act 1973. The new legislation will see Western Australia become the strictest jurisdiction in Australia with regards to firearms, with Premier Roger Cook stating: “New laws will replace the current five-decades-old Act and see my Government unapologetically impose the strictest regulations of firearms anywhere in Australia.”[1] These new regulations on firearms will be unique to Western Australia and may pose issues with the harmonisation of WA laws and national standards.


This new legislation will affect approximately 90,000 Western Australian gun owners. WA Police expect that as many as 40,000 guns could be removed under these new regulations. The new legislation aims to remove approximately one-third of legally owned guns from the state. Firearm owners have repeatedly argued that the new gun laws unfairly target law-abiding, licensed gun owners while failing to address criminal elements using firearms.


Despite an overwhelming opposition reflected in a petition signed by over 30,000 people — the largest e-petition ever presented to the WA Government — the new Firearms Bill in Western Australia proceeded as planned.[2] The previous largest e-petition opposed the Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Act, which the government was forced to abandon after it received 29,714 signatures.[3]


The WA Government proposed consultations with industry stakeholders regarding the new Firearms Act. However, despite these efforts, there is significant scepticism about how seriously the government considered the concerns of WA gun owners and the industry. Many of their comments were not reflected in the final wording of the act. The Act also appears to deviate significantly from the recommendations of past consultations and the Law Reform Commission, calling into question the integrity of the legislative process.


The Act includes stringent measures such as gun ownership limits, compulsory physical and mental health checks for gun owners, and other restrictive provisions. These measures have raised serious concerns about the expanded powers granted to the police, including the ability to arrest individuals for refusing to answer questions related to inquiries under the gun laws.


This article aims to provide detailed information about the most significant changes to the state's firearms laws in decades.


Transitioning from the Old Laws

The transition from the Firearms Act 1973 to the new Firearms Act 2024 involves several key changes that will impact firearm owners and the general public. Here’s an overview of what this transition entails:

 

Key Changes in the New Legislation:

Mandatory Training and Education:

The new law mandates that all firearm owners undergo rigorous training programs that include both theoretical and practical components. This training aims to ensure that all firearm holders have a thorough understanding of firearm safety and usage. This requirement is set out in section 166 of the new law, stating that an applicant must complete an approved course of training on the safe handling and use of firearms.


Pursuant to the Act, no longer is there any scope for the 'friendly' education of the use of firearms.

A person must not use a firearm unless that person is authorised to do so by a licence or permit and such use is unlawful with such use attracting either a 7-year imprisonment term or 3-year imprisonment term and a fine of $36,000: section 217 and 218 of the Act.


Further, if a licensee provides a firearm to an unsuitable person (including someone not capable for any reason of the safe use of a firearm) then that licensee also attracts a penalty of either a 7-year imprisonment term or 3-year imprisonment term and a fine of $36,000: section 295 of the Act.

The Act also seeks to prohibit the use of firearms by anyone under the age of 12 years: section 158 of the Act. It is likely that any education of anyone under the age of 12 will attract penalties and fines similar to those contained within section 295 of the Act.

Previously, it would be difficult to establish liability under these particular provisions, however under the Act, liability may be slightly easier to establish.

 

Health Assessments:

Applicants for firearm licenses will now be required to undergo comprehensive health assessments, including checks for mental and physical fitness. These assessments will be part of both the initial application process and periodic renewals for existing license holders. This is outlined in division 2 of the new Act, setting out requirements for a fit and proper person.


Under section 148 of the new Act, the Commissioner may sometimes require evidence that a person meets health standards set by the firearm authority. Additionally, there is a vague consideration at section 150 of the new Act where it is stated that the Commissioner may have regard for the purpose of forming an opinion as to whether a person is a fit or proper person, they may have regard to that person’s physical and mental health.

 
Firearm Prohibition Orders:

These orders empower the Commissioner of Police to prohibit individuals deemed unfit from possessing firearms. The criteria for prohibition include being involved in organised crime, having a serious criminal record, or other factors deemed to pose a risk to public safety. Violation of these orders can result in significant penalties, including imprisonment.


This is called a Firearms Prohibition Order and is located under part 8 of the new Act. Firearms Prohibition Orders are wide reaching and can be granted for a myriad of reasons. Additionally, a firearms prohibition order remains in force for a period of 10 years, beginning on the day on which it comes into force, unless the firearms prohibition order is revoked sooner by the Commissioner as per section 323 of the new Act.


The Commissioner may make a prohibition order if the Commissioner is satisfied:


  • The person is not a fit and proper person; or

  • Possession would likely result in an unlawful use; or

  • The person is a member of a disqualifying organisation; or

  • It is otherwise in the public interest.

This is a large scope in which the Commissioner must determine whether or not a prohibition order may be made.


In the event a prohibition order is granted against a licensee, it is a crime if the person with whom a prohibition order is granted against enters or remains at:


  • A place where a firearm, major firearm part, prohibited accessory, or ammunition is sold, repaired, or manufactured; or

  • A licensed firearm range; or

  • A firearm trade premises: section 327 of the Act.


Further, it is a crime if the person with whom a prohibition order is granted against is in the company of a person in possession of a firearm, major firearm part, or ammunition, with such a crime incurring a penalty of 7 years imprisonment: section 328 of the Act.

 

Voluntary Firearm Buyback Scheme:

The WA Government has allocated $64.3 million for a voluntary buyback scheme. Running from February 21, 2024, to August 31, 2024, this scheme allows firearm owners to surrender their firearms to the police in exchange for compensation based on the type and condition of the firearm. This initiative aims to encourage firearm owners to surrender their property, offering gun owners minimal compensation through a limited buyback scheme, which is likely to be far less than the commercial value of most firearms. For more information on the Voluntary Firearm Buyback Scheme, the Western Australian Police Force has a frequently asked questions page.[4]

 

Increased Penalties for Unlawful Possession and Use:

The new legislation imposes harsher penalties for the unlawful possession and use of firearms. This includes significant fines and imprisonment for violations such as unauthorised firearm modifications and the production of 3D-printed guns. The new Act defines 3D printed firearms under section 282 as a programmed firearm manufacturing device. A programmed firearm manufacturing device under section 282 falls under the definition of firearm technology. Under section 284 and 285 significant penalties up to 10 years in prison are in place for developing firearm technology or disseminating it.

Significant penalties are also in place for a person who gives possession of a firearm to someone who is prohibited from owning one, the penalty of which is a maximum imprisonment for 14 years. The Act introduces new disqualifying offences and prohibition orders. Individuals convicted of serious crimes, subject to restraining orders, or deemed members of disqualified organisations will be prohibited from obtaining or retaining firearm licences.

 

Limitation on Firearm Ownership:

WA will be the first state to impose a limit on the number of firearms an individual can own. Section 30 of the new Act outlines the limit on the number of firearms under an individual license. The maximum number of firearms that an Individual Licence can apply to at any one time is 10 (the overall limit for an Individual Licence). In addition to the overall limit for an Individual Licence, the maximum number of firearms that an Individual Licence for any particular licence purpose can apply to at any one time is as follows:


(a) 10 for a Competition Licence;

(b) 5 for a Hunting Licence.


Changes to Licence:

Current licence holders will continue to hold licences on an interim basis. Such licences will be considered a transitional authority as outlined in section 411 of the new Act.

The new Act introduces eight different license categories depending on the proposed use of the firearms, including Individual, Business, Primary Producer, Collector, Club, Range, Trade, and Government Entity Licenses, these different licenses can be found under division 2 of the new Act. Essentially the purpose of these distinct type of licenses is as follows:


  • Individual Licence: For hunting, competition, and target shooting.

  • Business Licence: For businesses involved in firearm trade or manufacture.

  • Primary Producer Licence: For agricultural purposes.

  • Collector Licence: For individuals collecting firearms as historical or antique items.

  • Club Licence: For firearm clubs to regulate their members' usage.

  • Range Licence: For shooting ranges.

  • Trade Licence: For firearms and ammunition traders.

  • Government Entity Licence: For government departments and agencies.


The Commissioner of Police may cancel the transitional authority if of the opinion that the transitional authority does not correlate to any of the licences which the Act will establish as stated under section 412 of the Act.

All licence holders will most likely receive a direction from the Commissioner of Police to comply with any firearm authority requirement the Commissioner considers necessary: section 413 of the Act.


For all future licences and likely any renewals, such applications will be subject to:


  • Providing further information relating to the genuine reason for licence: section 21 of the Act;

  • Information relating to the applicant's health standards and require the person to be subject to medical examinations: section 148 of the Act; and

  • Further consideration of any application by the commissioner who may take into account:

    • The person's conduct and behaviour;

    • The person's physical and mental health;

    • The person's views, opinions and attitudes;

    • The person's way of living or domestic circumstances;

    • Whether the person is of good repute, having regard to the person's character, honesty and integrity;

    • Their criminal records; and

    • The person's associates: section 150 and 151 of the Act.


These criteria appear to be so broad and vague in scope that it is nearly impossible to know what constitutes a fit and proper person.

 

Property Letters:

Under the Individual – Hunting licence, the Hunting Licence authorises the licensee to use a firearm to which the licence applies for the purposes of lawfully hunting on land which the licensee has approval, similar to previous legislated requirements: section 36 of the Act.


The land from which the licensee has approval to go hunting on must have been approved by the Commissioner of Police for that purpose: section 37 of the Act.

The Commissioner of Police must not approve the land unless he is satisfied that:


  • The land is located in Western Australia;

  • The licensee has permission to engage in hunting as per their licence; and

  • The land is suitable for the use of the particular firearm.


For land to be approved by the Commissioner of Police, the authorised person (owner or as otherwise defined) must seek approval from the Commissioner of Police.

Approval for a licensee must obtain approval from the authorised person in writing: section 39(2). Such permission may be revoked:


  • In writing from the authorised person at any time: section 39(3) of the Act; and

  • As per any further terms as set out in the regulations.


It is not clear whether current 'property letters' will suffice and in this regard, it is likely that the current content of the property letters will not comply with the proposed legislative requirements.


Information Reporting:

The Act also includes provisions for licensees to provide information to the Commissioner of Police concerning other license holders in respect of that person's:


  • Fitness in holding a licence;

  • Physical, mental, or emotional condition which is not in the interest or public interest for that person to have access to a firearm; and

  • Any injury which has been sustained as a result of the use of a firearm: section 372 of the Act.

 

Conclusion

The passage of the new Firearms Act marks a significant tightening of licensing requirements, the imposition of numerical limits on firearm ownership, and the broad powers granted to the Commissioner of Police have sparked considerable opposition from firearm owners and advocacy groups.


The petition against the bill, signed by over 30,000 people, highlights the widespread concern among West Australians about the potential overreach and the impact on responsible firearm owners. Critics argue that the new laws may unfairly target law-abiding citizens, leading to the confiscation of thousands of firearms and imposing onerous requirements on those seeking to renew or obtain new licences, while not addressing the issue of unlawfully possessed firearms used in criminal activities.


The transition to these new laws will involve significant adjustments for the approximately 90,000 gun owners in WA. As many as 40,000 firearms are expected to be removed from circulation under the new regulations. Current licence holders will need to navigate the interim transitional authority process, while new applicants will face more stringent requirements related to health assessments and justifications for firearm ownership.


The forthcoming regulations, expected to be finalised by the end of 2024, will provide clearer understanding to the vague drafting of much of the Firearms Act. Stakeholders, including firearm owners and industry experts, are encouraged to stay informed and participate in the ongoing consultation process to ensure a smooth transition.


For more detailed information and updates on the implementation of the new firearm regulations, visit the Western Australia Police Force website.

 

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 is important to seek professional advice for your specific situation.


[1] Government of Western Australia, ‘Cook Government’s Historic Firearm Laws enter WA Parliament’ (Media Statement, 21 February 2024) < https://www.wa.gov.au/government/media-statements/Cook-Labor-Government/Cook-Government's-historic-firearm-laws-enter-WA-Parliament-20240221>.

[3] Parliament of Western Australia, ‘Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Act’ (Web Page) < https://www.parliament.wa.gov.au/Parliament/LCePetitions.nsf/($All)/208DF4E618299D73482589C60030E78E>.

[4] Government of Western Australia, ‘REFORM voluntary buyback scheme - frequently asked questions’ (Web Page) < https://www.wa.gov.au/organisation/western-australia-police-force/reform-voluntary-buyback-scheme-frequently-asked-questions>.

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