Firearm offences

Firearms offences are dealt with seriously in New South Wales. The relevant acts that deal with firearm offences are:

  • Firearms Act 1996

  • Crimes Act 1900 

  • Weapons Prohibition Act 1988

Principles of the Firearms Act include that of ‘strict gun control’ and putting the ‘public’s right to safety before the ‘privilege of gun ownership’. 

Possession of a firearm

If you are not authorised to do so by a licence or permit, it is an offence to possess or use a firearm, pistol, or prohibited firearm, as outlined in sections 7 and 7A of the Firearms Act 1996.

However, a holder of a permit will also commit an offence where they possess or use a firearm for any purpose other than their “genuine reason” for possessing or using the weapon, or if they contravene any condition of the permit.

Genuine reasons outlined in the Act include sport/target shooting, recreational hunting, vermin control, business or employment and firearms collections. 

A pistol refers to a firearm that is reasonably capable of being raised and fired by one hand, which is within certain dimensions prescribed by the regulations.

A firearm is defined as a gun, or other weapon, that is (or at any time was) capable of propelling a projectile by means of an explosive, and includes a blank fire firearm, or an air gun, but does not include a paintball marker.

In contrast, a ‘prohibited firearm’ refers to a specific list of firearms in Schedule 1 of the Act, which includes machine guns, self-loading rifles, certain shotguns, as well as any firearm which has an article attached to it which muffles, reduces, or prevents noise created by firing the firearm.

Unregistered Firearms

All firearms which are used by licence and permit holders must be registered, except for firearms that are exempt from registration requirements (i.e., imitation firearms). The Firearms Registry maintains a central register of all firearms registered to licence and permit holders in the state. 

As outlined in section 36(1), the Act criminalises supplying, acquiring, possessing, or using a firearm that is not registered.

What the prosecution needs to prove

In order to be found guilty of an offence of unauthorised possession of a firearm, the prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that: 

  • The firearm was in your possession; and 

  • The firearm was either unlicenced, unregistered or a prohibited firearm or pistol. 

The Firearms Act defined possession as where a person knowingly:

  • has custody of the firearm,

  • has the firearm in the custody of another person,

  • has the firearm in or on any premises, place, vehicle, vessel, or aircraft, whether or not belonging to or occupied by the person. 

Penalties

The maximum penalty for possessing or using a firearm where you are not authorised to do so by a licence or permit and supplying, acquiring, possessing, or using a firearm that is not registered is 5 years imprisonment.

However, where the offence relates to a pistol or prohibited firearm, the maximum penalty is 14 years imprisonment.

They are both classified as ‘table 2’ offences, which means that they will be dealt with in the Local Court unless the prosecution elects for the matter to proceed to the District Court.

In the Local Court, the maximum penalty is instead limited to 2 years imprisonment and/or a $5,500 fine, for a single offence.

Statistics detail that where possession of a firearm, pistol or prohibited firearm is the ‘principal’ or ‘main’ offence, it is most likely that the matter will be dealt with in the Local Court.

Apart from a full-time custodial sentence, you may also be eligible for the following penalties: 

  • S10(1)(A) dismissal. 

  • Conditional release order without conviction. 

  • Conditional release order with conviction. 

  • Fine.

  • Community corrections order.

  • Intensive corrections order.

It is important to work with your lawyer to prepare your case properly to give yourself the best chance to avoid any custodial sentence or receive a non-conviction penalty.

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