NSW Gun Laws –
Clearing up the Confusion
In December 2015 and January 2016, I had two break-ins into my property that were probably better classed as home invasions, as I was home on both occasions.
ollowing the second break-in, a sequence of events occurred, a day and a half after the break-in was reported, the details of which I will not repeat here to save embarrassment for those involved.
Arising from that situation, I was incorrectly charged with a breach of the NSW Firearms legislation and within 24 hours, had my firearms licenses suspended. The following day, officers from the local area licensing branch took away my firearms and ammunition into police storage.
Seven months, three court appearances and $8,500 in legal cost later, the charge was withdrawn, my licenses were promptly reinstated and my firearms and ammunition returned in good order.
While the circumstances were very stressful for me during the suspension period, with the prospect of the activity that had been my major interest and sport for over 50 years being taken away, it proved positive in one respect.
Because I was reasonably well known around the shooting fraternity, and was also a member of several local shooting clubs, I received lots of questions and inquiries related to NSW Firearms Laws issues, and I soon became obvious that there was considerable confusion about many aspects of the NSW gun laws, particularly since the introduction of the Ammunition legislation in 2012.
In discussing some of these issues with my local area command licensing police, I put together series of questions that dealt with some of the issues that were apparently not well understood by firearms license holders and after discussions with the NSW Firearms Registry, a project was set up to get official answers to these questions, some of which were not easily answered clearly in the legislation.
It proved to be a time-consuming project taking over 2 months, with the documentation having to be carefully reviewed at levels above and beyond the NSW Firearms Registry. The following Q&A section is reproduced word for word from the information signed off by Bruce Lyons – Director of the NSW Firearms Registry.
It should be noted that there is a significant amount of information on the NSW Firearms Registry web site, related to the acquisition, storage and transport of firearms and ammunition and all NSW firearms license holders should make sure they understand their responsibility to comply with these legal requirements.
In assisting putting this information together and dealing professionally will my particular issues, I would like to thank the licensing team at Newcastle City Local Area Command – Sgt Wayne Buck and Senior Constable Craig Staniland.
TOP: Revolvers like this S&W Custom 686 .357 Magnum are often used with .38 Special loads. Their registration certificated have to be updated to include the additional cartridge, otherwise the owner cannot legally possess .38 Special ammunition.
Air pellets are classed as ammunition and must be transported and stored under the same conditions as live ammunition.
A special thanks must go the Tina Walker – Manager, License Probity Checks & Authorities at the NSW Firearms Registry, who did all the hard work in getting responses to my questions together in time for this issue.
This information obviously only applies to NSW legislation. Readers in other states should seek clarification on any uncertain issues with their own firearms registration authorities.
Questions and Answers – NSW Firearms Registry (NSWFAR) Official Response.
Possession of ammunition.
Q. What ammunition can a license holder legally have in their possession? Previous interpretations of the Act allowed anyone with say, a Class B license, to legally possess any ammunition that can be used in a Class B firearm?
NSW FAR: In accordance with section 65 (1) of the Act a person may only possess ammunition of a type for which they are the holder of a licence or permit for a firearm which takes that ammunition. Thus if a person holds a Category B licence, they are entitled to be in possession of corresponding ammunition.
Q. Loaning a firearm.
Is it correct that a firearms owner can loan a firearms to another person who holds the same class of firearms license? If so, does the owner of the loaned firearms need to advise the NSW FAR of the arrangement? If the recipient wants to use the firearm, what is the requirement related to their possession of ammunition for that firearms if they do not have a firearms of their own in that calibre?
Q. What ammunition can a license holder legally have in their possession?
NSW FAR: A person is able to loan or borrow a firearm from another licensee, however you should be satisfied that:
- The person loaning/borrowing the firearm holds a current firearms licence
- The licence authorises the corresponding category of firearm
- Both parties should ensure the firearm is being kept in accordance with the prescribed safe keeping requirements.
Offences exist such as at section 50B for giving possession of firearms to unauthorised persons.
As above, the licensee is permitted to be in possession of corresponding ammunition.
Once a firearm changes a safe storage location from the one recorded with the Firearms Registry, the registered owner must comply with Clause 16 of the Regulations, which states the licence holder must notify the Commissioner in writing WITHIN 14 days of the change of safe storage address.
Q. Different ammunition for the same firearm.
If the holder of Class B or H firearms has say a .357 Magnum revolver or a .357 Magnum rifle that can also chamber and use .38 Special cartridges, and the firearm's registration document lists it only in .357
Magnum calibre, can that person possess .38 Special ammunition? This would also apply to some other calibres.
NSW FAR: The Firearms Registry has undertaken to resolve this anomaly by listing both calibres on the Registration papers where known or if requested.
Q. Storage and transport of ammunition.
Does ammunition always need to be stored in a locked container when being transported? Previous advice indicated that it could be transported in a 'lockable container' as long as the driver did not leave the vehicle between their home and destination?
NSW FAR: Whilst the legislation prescribes the way in which certain firearms must be secured whilst being transported, and by extension states that a firearm must not be loaded with ammunition, it does not explicitly prescribe safe storage requirements for ammunition.
It is however promoted as a matter of best practice to ensure that the ammunition be secured in a locked compartment or container attached to or within the vehicle. Further, that the container be discreetly located, and not visible by looking in the window.
Q. Travelling with firearms.
If licensed shooters are travelling on a hunting trip, do they need to carry paperwork verifying that they have permission from the property owner to hunt. Is this requirement related to conditions associated with the reasons for their acquitting a Shooter's License?
NSW FAR: It is best practice to carry the letter of authority relevant to the property upon which you are intending to shoot. This is due to the fact that police may ask for the production of your permission to shoot , pursuant to clause 28(4) and where such request is made the licensee has only 48 hours to produce such if it is not in their immediate possession:
28(4) If a licensee has been given permission to shoot on rural land, the licensee must, on demand made at any time by a police officer or an authorised officer for that land:
- produce the permission for inspection by the police officer or authorised officer, or
- if it is not in the licensee's immediate possession—produce the permission, as soon as practicable (but not more than 48 hours) after the demand is made, to the officer who made the demand or to another police officer or authorised officer nominated by the officer who made the demand.
Q. What is classified as ammunition?
Are the following items classified as ammunition?
- Unprimed cartridge cases
- Blank fire cartridges
- Primed cartridge cases
Unprimed cartridge cases - No 4(a)
Blank fire cartridges - Yes 4(c)
Primed cartridge cases - No 4(a)
See definition from Section 4 the Act. Ammunition includes:
- a. any article consisting of a cartridge case fitted with a primer and a projectile, or
- b. any article consisting of a cartridge case fitted with a primer and containing a propelling charge and a projectile, or
- c. blank cartridges, airgun pellets, training cartridges or gas cartridges, or
- d. any other article prescribed by the regulations for the purposes of this definition.
Q. Collector’s ammunition.
If a person has a Shooters License and an Ammunition Collector's License, are there any special conditions related to the storage of the collector ammunition and the ammunition held on the Shooter's License?
NSW FAR: The conditions of a an Ammunition Collectors Permit are that the permit holder must ensure the ammunition that forms part of the collection, is stored in a locked container, locked display case or other locked cabinet which is sturdy in construction and not easily penetrated.
Q. Death or illness of a firearms license holder.
In the event of the death or disability of a licensed firearms owner, what are the legalities of relations or those with power of attorney having access to the firearms and arranging their transfer and disposal. What is the situation for a spouse/partner who lives with the firearms owner on the premises where the firearms are stored related to access and security of the firearms — e.g. having access to keys?
Death In the event of a death, the executor or administrator of the deceased estate is lawfully allowed to possess but not use the firearms for the purpose of lawfully disposing of them'. This is provided the executor or administrator has notified the Commissioner as soon as practicable after the person's death and the firearms must still be stored in accordance with the same requirements as that of a licence holder.
Section 82A applies where the deceased had a current will in place at time of death or if the license holder died intestate, the administrator must apply for Letters of Administration (LOA) through the Supreme Court.
The production of a Will or LOA verifies for the Commissioner that the person is recognised as the executor or administrator. Where evidence cannot be produced, and all firearms must be immediately surrendered to police or a licensed firearms dealer.
82A Deceased estates
(1) The executor or administrator of an estate of a person:
(a) who has died, and
(b) who was authorised by a licence or permit to possess a firearm, does not commit an offence under section 7 or 7A in respect of the possession of the firearm if the executor or administrator retains possession of the firearm for the purposes of disposing of it lawfully.
(2) Any such executor or administrator must:
(a) notify the Commissioner of the death of the person who possessed the firearm as soon as practicable after the person's death, and
(b) while retaining possession of the firearm, comply with the same requirements as to the safe keeping of the firearm that would apply to a person who is authorised by a licence or permit to keep a firearm of that kind. Maximum penalty: 50 penalty units.
- (3) Subsection (1) ceases to have effect in relation to any such executor or administrator:
(a) once the firearm is disposed of lawfully by the executor or administrator, or
(b) at the end of the period of 6 months immediately following the death of the person who was authorised to possess the firearm concerned, whichever occurs first.
- (4) Nothing in this section authorises the use of a firearm.
There are no provisions in the Act or Regulations that authorises a Power of Attorney to lawfully possess firearms without a licence or permit, of a person suffering a disability. In these circumstances the firearms must be either surrendered to police or collected by a licensed firearms dealer who will register them into their stock. The power of attorney should then notify the Firearms Registry of the licence holder's incapacity, which will allow for the Registry to assess the person's circumstances to determine the continuance or revocation of their firearms licence.
Q. If a barrel has not been threaded or chambered to fit a firearm, does it need to be registered?
NSW FAR: An individual is not authorised to possess firearms parts, including barrels, without a valid licence or permit for a firearm that would take that part. However spare barrels are not required to be registered until they are fitted to a firearm. Only a Firearms dealer or club armourer is authorised to repair, maintain or convert a firearm.
Q. Some firearms, both long arms and handguns, can have additional barrels that can be fitted to the firearm. I would imagine that firearms that are supplied with additional barrels in their original form would have the barrels and calibres listed on the registration certificate for the firearm. There is uncertainty amongst my licensed firearms owner contacts regarding the situation with spare barrels that are not registered or attached to the original frame or action.
NSW FAR: A Sako Quad for instance comes with 4 spare barrels, if the registered owner intends to switch and change the barrels; all should be registered at time of registering the firearm.
Q. Some pistol shooters in particular, may have sold say a Thompson Contender pistol but may have retained a spare barrel in anticipation of acquiring a later version of that particular model. Does the barrel need to be registered separately or simply retained and included on the registration paperwork of the subsequently acquired complete pistol.
NSW FAR: If the spare barrel has been listed on the registration papers, at the point of sale the dealer will notify the Firearms Registry to remove the spare barrel as it has been retained by the seller. If it has not been registered, the owner must ensure they are suitably licensed and ensure its safekeeping. The spare barrel may be registered at the time of subsequently acquired complete pistol.
Another question is related to barrels that have been acquired with the intention of having a gunsmith fit them to a firearms to replace a worn out or unsatisfactory barrel. If the barrel has not been threaded or chambered to fit the firearm, does it need to be registered?
NSW FAR: Spare barrels are not required to be registered until they are fitted to a firearm. Only a Firearms dealer or club armourer is authorised to repair, maintain or convert a firearm therefore at the time the dealer or club armourer is replacing the worn barrel he will notify the Firearms Registry who will update the registration. The worn barrel will be retained by the dealer to either surrender to police or keep for spare parts.
A Final Word
When an anti-firearms group or politician starts calling for tighter firearms laws in NSW, they should have a look at the NSW legislation and the obligations it places on firearms owners in that state, before ranting about making it even harder for shooters in NSW to enjoy their sport.
Some aspects of the legislation are questionable to say the least. Classifying air pellets as ammunition is one example. A gun owner could be hit with a similar charge to that which I experienced if an air pellet was found unsecured in a vehicle or in a home by a police officer conducting an authorised inspection, if the letter of the existing firearms laws was to be enforced. Gun owning farmers in rural areas would almost constantly be in breach of the current regulations if they have firearms and/or ammunition in their vehicles in many circumstances.
The Ammunition legislation [Firearms Amendment (Ammunition Control) Act 2012] that was introduced with virtually no consultation on the basis that it was aimed (pardon the pun) at dealing with the gangland shootings in Western Sydney is another brick in the wall for legitimate firearms owners in NSW.
I do not think many gun crimes have been committed in NSW with centrefire sporting rifles or rimfire target rifles or pistols. The gangland shootings have continued unabated while the rest of us have been saddled with yet more restrictions, one of the most onerous being that of not being able to legally dispose of ammunition to a friend or acquaintance.
This extract comes straight off the NSW Firearms Registry web site in relation to a question on that subject. It states…
Q. I hold a current firearms licence, so can I sell ammunition to my mate who also has a current firearms licence?
A. The only licence which authorises the sale of ammunition is a firearms dealer licence.
Section 8 of the Firearms Act 1996 prescribes that a licence issued to a firearms dealer authorises the dealer to "possess, manufacture, convert, purchase, sell transfer, repair, maintain or test any firearm to which the licence applies in the course of carrying on the business of a firearms dealer”. In addition, a firearms dealer is authorised to 'possess, manufacture, purchase or sell ammunition for those firearms'.
The most disappointing aspect of this whole affair is the apparent lack of affirmative action by our elected representatives in this state who owe their jobs to NSW firearms owners, as do the officials running the shooting clubs in this state.
I am a member of four of the main shooting club organisations in NSW and dealing with firearms laws that directly affect their members is, in my experience, off their agendas. Surely it is about time that all these organisation, both political and sporting, along with firearms dealer organisations got together to work towards a better outcome for those who they represent. There would be at least a quarter of a million people in NSW affected directly or indirectly by the firearms legislation and an organisation of that size should get any politician’s attention if it was properly organised.
It is no good hanging any responsibility for these issues on the NSW Police Force or the NSW Firearms Registry. They are simply doing their job of enforcing and administering the existing firearms legislation in this state and have been very helpful in putting this information together.
If you have never manned a polling booth at a NSW election or contacted your local state member or your shooting club’s administrators to bring your concerns about the current firearms legislation to their attention, don’t complain about any inconvenienced you may have experienced.