When it comes to those sentenced for firearms offences, the typical offender is a 34-year-old male with a criminal history and a problem with drug abuse, mostly methamphetamine, a study has found. A total of 81 per cent of firearms offenders sentenced in Victoria’s higher courts - county court and supreme court - had substance abuse issues involving alcohol, other drugs or both.
Sixty-five per cent of offenders were identified as methylamphetamine users while 34 per cent were on bail or community correction orders for other offences. The study by the Victorian Sentencing Advisory Council found a substantial increase in the number of firearms charges dealt with by Victorian courts during the five years examined - from July 1, 2012 to June 30, 2017.
This clearly indicates those charged with firearms offences in Victoria’s courts overwhelmingly aren’t licensed shooters with legally owned firearms. A substantial proportion of those charged with firearms offences were what’s termed ‘prohibited persons’ who are barred from possession of firearms by reason of earlier convictions or a court order.
The study said these people posed a particular risk to the community with 84 per cent of those sentenced in the higher courts, which deal with the most serious charges, found to be in possession of firearms for other criminal activity. They were also far more likely to end up in jail, with 91 per cent sentenced to often lengthy periods of imprisonment.
“The findings suggest many firearms offenders sentenced in the higher courts are entrenched within the criminal justice system. They pose complex challenges for sentencing courts,” the study authors said. “In sentencing firearms possession offences, the inherent risk to the community of the unlawful possession of a firearm needs to be carefully considered. This is particularly so in light of the high proportion of firearms offenders who have conditions, such as methylamphetamine addiction, which may increase risk to the community.”
The study covered the cases of 490 individuals who appeared in the higher courts on firearms charges during the five-year period. There were 474 men and 16 women, with the oldest 75.
Many of those faced multiple charges with drug possession (38 per cent) the most common while 24 per cent were charged with drug dealing. Eighteen per cent were also up for armed robbery.
The vast majority of firearms charges in Victoria were dealt with in the magistrates’ courts -7052 cases involving 13,702 charges. The most common charge was possession of ammunition by an unlicensed person (3770 charges), followed by possession, carriage or use of a firearm by a prohibited person (1724) and insecure storage of a firearm by an unlicensed person (1040). A fine was the most common penalty in the magistrates’ courts, but during the study period magistrates were passing more jail sentences.
For those five years the total number of firearms charges dealt with by Victorian courts rose 34 per cent from 2375 in 2012-13 to 3191 in 2016-17. During the study period offenders were sentenced on a total of 14,828 firearms offences.
The study authors concluded that overall, firearms offences tended to be associated with a high level of criminal activity with offenders usually facing other charges. “In a large proportion of cases sentenced in the higher courts, the co-sentenced offences suggested a level of involvement in organised criminal activity such as trafficking in commercial quantities of drugs of dependence,” they said.
SSAA chief executive Tim Bannister said this report clearly showed it was not licensed law-abiding firearms owners who were the perpetrators of firearms crime. “As this report has identified, too often there is a domino effect of misbehaviour and criminal behaviour that can ultimately lead to misuse of a firearm,” he said.
“Drugs, theft, criminal activity and domestic violence often play their part and should put these individuals firmly in the sights of law enforcement authorities. But too often law-abiding firearms owners are targeted by authorities and bureaucrats simply because they’re an easy target.”