So, you have jumped through all the hoops in order to pursue the sport of shooting or to participate in recreational hunting activities. You are now part of the one million Australians who are proudly involved in this great traditional pastime. However, it is important to remember there are certain circumstances where your firearms licence could be revoked.
As the state and territory governments control firearm laws, with the National Firearms Agreement a guiding document, there are situations in which you could find your licence potentially taken away. One area that the SSAA has investigated and spoken to all of the state and territory police firearm registries about, in our role as educators, is that of illegal drug use or possession.
The laws governing illegal drug use or possession are very subjective and the repercussions in terms of firearms licensing are not made entirely clear across the board. Nevertheless, firearm owners should be aware of the current laws.
The following information is provided as a guide only. If you do make a mistake or find yourself in trouble, please contact a lawyer, noting that there are appeal processes in place.
Australian Capital Territory
The Australian Capital Territory does not have a ‘fit and proper person’ test; instead it uses an ‘assessment of suitability’ which is legislated in the Firearms Act 1996. The Firearms Regulations 2008 also governs firearms in the ACT.
In relation to the ‘assessment of suitability’, some activities that can cause a licence holder to have their licence suspended, cancelled or refused include those served with full restraining orders; those found guilty of offences involving drugs, alcohol or weapons; or contravening the Firearms Act 1996 or a corresponding act, such as the Prohibited Weapons Act.
Each ‘assessment of suitability’ is treated on a case-by-case basis and there is a right of appeal through the ACT Civil and Administrative Tribunal if the applicant or licence holder doesn’t agree with the determination of the ACT Firearms Registrar.
New South Wales
The NSW Firearms Act 1996 and Firearms Regulation 2017 provide a number of grounds for suspension, refusal and revocation of a firearms licence or permit. A licence must not be issued to a person who has been convicted, within a 10-year period, of a prescribed offence. Offences could involve firearms or weapons; prohibited drugs or plants; fraud, dishonesty or stealing; prescribed restricted substances; terrorism; violence, public order or assaults against law enforcement officers; robbery; organised criminal groups and recruitment; riots; affray or an offence of a sexual nature.
In regards to prohibited drugs, plants or prescribed restricted substances, new regulations which began on September 1, 2017, extended the prescribed penalty thresholds for these offences. This now includes any term of imprisonment (whether or not suspended), a community service order, a good behaviour bond or a penalty of $2200 or more.
For existing licence or permit holders, a licence may also be revoked if the person is convicted of a prescribed offence. However, in instances where applicants or licence holders come under notice for drug-related matters, whether charged or not, assessment is carried out to determine the person’s suitability to hold (or continue to hold) a firearms licence.
All incidents involving drugs, whether or not the person receives the prescribed penalty threshold, are reviewed and assessed by police. In addition to offences relating to prohibited drugs and the other prescribed offences, the criminal history of a person will be reviewed and assessed to determine the suitability of the person to be issued or to continue to hold a licence. This includes offences that fall outside the parameters of the prescribed offences.
An example of this is when a person has a large volume of recorded incidents or offences (whether prescribed offences or not) that highlight that the person may have a disregard for the law. This history will be assessed to determine if the person is a fit and proper person and whether it would be in the public interest for the person to be issued (or continue to hold) a licence.
The Weapons Control Act and Firearms Regulations specify firearm licence criteria in the Northern Territory. There are provisions under the regulations that if a person commits a disqualifying offence, their licence is automatically revoked and that person may not hold a firearms licence for a period of 10 years.
There are numerous offences under misuse of drugs laws, the majority relating to commercial possession quantities, not just personal or trafficable quantities. However, if a person has numerous quantities of minor offending, for example possession of a dangerous drug such as methamphetamine, police can exercise a provision which can prevent a person from holding a licence for not being a fit and proper person.
The Weapons Act 1990 and Weapons Regulations 2016 provide a strict licensing and registration regime. An authorised officer appointed by the Police Commissioner is legally able to make decisions on the approval, rejection, suspension and revocation of all weapons licences. The authorised officer may hand down a suspension notice to a licensee and suspend the licence if the licensee has been charged with an offence against any law in Queensland or elsewhere, including relating to the misuse of drugs.
When issuing, renewing or taking away a licence, a person is not a fit and proper person if, in Queensland or elsewhere within the relevant period, the person has been convicted of, or discharged from custody on sentence after the person has been convicted of, an offence relating to the misuse of drugs. A decision to suspend or revoke a licence may be reviewed to the Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal and decisions are published.
The South Australian Firearms Act 2015 and Firearms Regulations 2017 refer to a person making an application for a firearms licence, the holder of a firearms licence and those applying to vary or renew a firearms licence. The person must be a ‘fit and proper person’. Firearm licence applicants and those renewing or varying a firearms licence, are subjected to a ‘probity check’. The probity check searches local and interstate police records for offences the applicant may have committed.
In addition to the fit and proper person check, offences relating to firearms, drugs (including cannabis), alcohol and serious criminal activity may result in a firearms licence being suspended or cancelled and the licence and any firearms seized by police.
An example of this could be if someone is growing a few marijuana plants at home and smoking marijuana a number of times a week. If the police are notified by a neighbour or acquaintance and attend the property, the person will be issued with an expiation notice and the plants removed.
If, sometime later, the person is then found to be driving under the influence of marijuana, they will receive an expiation notice. The offending is recorded on police systems. Prior to the renewal of a firearm licence, a probity check will show this and they most likely will not be considered a fit and proper person to hold a firearms licence. Police will personally serve a notice suspending the firearms licence and seizing the licence and firearms.
The person will be required to attend a doctor within 48 hours of the notice being served and provide a urine sample which is tested for drugs. The result is forwarded to the Police Firearms Branch for evaluation. Cancellation of the firearm licence may apply if the person does not comply with the requirement to provide a urine sample within 48 hours. Numerous speeding fines without alcohol or drug use will attract attention as it may be deemed a disregard for the law.
The Firearms Act 1996 and Firearms Regulations 2006 govern firearms in Tasmania. Tasmania Police advised that it is currently drafting a policy and guidance document regarding the ‘fit and proper’ test and what matters may be considered by the delegate of the Commissioner in determining a person’s approval to hold a firearms licence.
Currently, anything in a person’s history that sheds a negative light on their conduct or actions, particularly those that constitute a breach of the law, would be considered in regards to a ‘fit and proper person’. But each instance has to be considered as well.
A single minor speeding offence is not likely to prevent a person from obtaining a firearms licence, but several high speed offences may start to lead police to consider more clearly those actions and what they represent about a person. The Commissioner also considers if granting a licence would be in the public interest.
The Firearms Act 1996 and Firearms Regulations 2008 cover firearm licences in Victoria. In granting a firearms licence on behalf of the Chief Commissioner, the Licensing and Regulation Division (LRD) must be satisfied that the applicant is suitable to hold a licence and can possess, carry or use a firearm without being a danger to public safety or peace. In assessing suitability, the LRD applies what is referred to as a ‘fit and proper assessment’.
Unlike prohibited persons, there is no definition of what a fit and proper person is. The assessment for determining if an applicant is fit and proper involves many factors, which can include a general disregard for law and order, physical and mental health or close associations to outlaw motorcycle gangs or other involvements.
The laws specifically say that a person must not be under the influence of a drug when participating in shooting activities.
In Western Australia, the Firearms Act 1973 and Firearms Regulations 1974 govern firearm licences. The Commissioner can stop a firearms licence from being issued if they are of the view that it would not be in the interest of public safety or if the person is not a fit and proper person. If a person has committed an offence within five years of applying for a licence, this could also prevent a licence from being issued. This includes breaching firearms storage requirements.
If someone is found with a prohibited drug or plant, when they are not authorised to be in possession of that drug or plant, the person has committed an offence. This particular offence is taken into account when it comes to firearms licensing.