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HHG Legal Group Associate, Richard Dewar, has provided a thorough analysis of new firearm laws in Western Australia.

Introduction: Ownership of firearms in WA

For many years, the use and ownership of firearms in Western Australia has been frowned upon, and other members of the community have demonised many owners. Responsible gun owners would argue that these attitudes are due to a lack of understanding and education of the wider community, concerning the use and capabilities of firearms.

Firearms have been used for many years by landholders, professional shooters, or recreational shooters to

  • euthanise sick or poor livestock and
  • manage vermin which can destroy native animals and vegetation, livestock, infrastructure, or even plant and equipment.

For many as well, firearms are used as a cultural tool, to honour and respect the traditional hunting methods and culture, evolving into taking account more humane methods of hunting than previously adopted traditional methods.

Practically speaking, to execute the objective of a shooter, to humanely and responsibly destroy or hunt animals of a variety of sizes (e.g. from rabbits to feral pigs), any gun owner must own numerous calibres. As any firearm owner will testify, owning and operating a firearm is an expensive exercise, taking into account government fees, the purchase price of the firearm, the safe, and the cost of ammunition. Additional costs include the upkeep/maintenance of equipment and the replacement cost of ammunition required following any activity.

Amendments to Legislation

Recent and proposed further amendments of the legislation relating to firearms may inhibit the responsible gun owners’ humane use of their firearms, or increase the costs associated with ownership of a firearm, potentially affecting the ability of some to be able to afford a firearm, all in the name of safety.

Given the above, will the new and proposed laws increase safety for the public or are they an overreach of a decision maker with a subjective outlook of safety, sold under the guise of safety?

New and Proposed Laws

The most recent reform of the Firearms Act 1973 is the Firearms Amendment Act 2022 (Amendment Act). The Amendment Act focuses on:

  1. Firearm Prohibition Orders (effectively granting the Commissioner of the WA Police the power to ban any individual from possessing a firearm);
  2. unlawful manufacture of firearms (including the prohibition of any activity, information, or paraphernalia related to the reloading of ammunition);
  3. increased penalties for serious offences involving firearms; and
  4. a permanent general amnesty.

Additional Amendments

Further, late last year, the Government foreshadowed additional amendments to the Act for the alleged purpose of improving WA’s regulatory compliance with national firearm practices. According to the 2024 Consultation Paper issued by WA Police, the proposed changes to the Act will include:

  1. the introduction of a ‘genuine need’ test, which, along with the ‘genuine reason’ test, the response must be satisfactory to acquire a firearm authority;
  2. power for the Commissioner to request any licence holder provide any information as to genuine need and genuine reason at any time;
  3. the categorisation of 8 different licences depending on the proposed use of the firearms, such categories including:
    • Individual Licence (for hunting, competition, and target shooting);
    • Business Licence;
    • Primary Producer Licence;
    • Collector Licence;
    • Club Licence;
    • Range Licence;
    • Trade Licence; and
    • Government Entity Licence.

Each new proposed licence has a restricted number of firearms that may be owned under one licence category.

Significantly, from the information available, it appears that for any holder of an Individual Licence for target shooting and hunting, such licence holder may only discharge their firearm on land for which they have written permission (commonly referred to as a property letter).

4. Introduction of general restriction that a firearm authority may not be granted where:

    • It is not desirable in the interests of public safety;
    • the applicant is not a fit and proper person; or
    • the applicant or authority holder is a disqualified or prohibited person.

 When determining whether a person is a fit and proper person for a firearm authority, the proposed legislation will provide that the Commissioner may have regard to the following matters:

    • the person’s conduct and behaviour (including any criminal record);
    • the person’s physical and mental health (including a prescribed medical assessment when applying for a new licence or renewal of a current licence);
    • the person’s views, opinions, and attitudes;
    • the person’s way of living or domestic circumstances; and
    • whether the person is of good repute, having regard to the person’s character, honesty, and integrity.

No information has yet been provided on the subjective scope of views, opinions, and attitudes the Commissioner (and each subsequent Commissioner) would deem inappropriate to affect the ability of a person to be considered as ‘fit and proper’.

The proposed changes are foreshadowed to be available in draft legislative form later in 2024.

From the Amendment Act and further proposed amendments, it is clear that:

  • the Commissioner will have greater powers than is currently the case when considering the factors of who may be a fit and reasonable person; and
  • applying for a licence and renewing a current licence will be significantly more difficult than it is today.

Whether or not the implementation of the new and proposed laws will protect the public or turn out to be an overreach of public policy, will likely depend on the Commissioner’s subjective view of ‘safety’.

What is clear is that for some firearm licence holders, it will become more difficult to continue to use, obtain and maintain a licence for particular firearms.

It follows that any new or existing firearm licence holder should seek advice as to whether they will either be able to keep their current firearm or meet the requirement to obtain a firearm authority under the proposed new laws.

Find out more

If you require assistance with any of the information provided above, HHG Legal Group’s lawyers can provide advice to you and or your business to minimise your future risk.

Contact us today by emailing Richard Dewar or Matthew Lilly
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*The information provided in this website serves as a general guide and does not constitute legal advice. It is based on our research and experience at the time of publication. Please consult our knowledgeable legal team for any specific inquiries or advice relevant to your circumstances, as the content may not have been updated subsequently.