Criminal Law

Safe Storage of Firearms

“Firearms offences” as a category may make some people think of robberies and other serious crimes- but the truth is that the majority of firearms offences that come before the Courts are far less dramatic and do not involve people with any connection or involvement in criminal activity at all.

In fact, the majority of firearms offences are committed by people of good character- those people who have done the right thing and obtained a licence and satisfied the NSW Police that they have a lawful reason to own a firearm and are “fit and proper persons" to hold that important licence.

As a licence holder, you will be subject to a high degree of scrutiny, and the Police and the Court will hold you to a very high standard of conduct and expect you to have a thorough knowledge of the laws and regulations that govern your licence and permits. 

As the holder of a Firearms Licence and/or the registered owner of a firearm, the onus is always on you to ensure that you are complying with all relevant conditions.

A frequent problem that occurs is in relation to storage of firearms and ammunition. This particularly crops up when either random or pre-arranged inspections of your storage facilities are undertaken by the Police.

The Law

Although there is a general requirement for the safe-keeping of firearms there are also specific offences that deal with how firearms are to be stored.

Category A and B Licence

Pursuant to section 40 of the Firearms Act 1996, the holder of a category A or category B licence must comply with the following requirements in respect of any firearm to which the licence applies:

(a) when any such firearm is not actually being used or carried, it must be stored in a locked receptacle of a type approved by the Commissioner and that is constructed of hard wood or steel and not easily penetrable,
(b) if such a receptacle weighs less than 150 kilograms when empty, it must be fixed in order to prevent its easy removal,
(c) the locks of such a receptacle must be of solid metal and be of a type approved by the Commissioner,
(d) any ammunition for the firearm must be stored in a locked container of a type approved by the Commissioner and that is kept separate from the receptacle containing any such firearm,
(e) such other requirement prescribed by the regulations.


Category C, D and H Licence

Pursuant to section 41 of the Firearms Act 1996, the holder of a category C, category D or category H licence must comply with the following requirements in respect of any firearm to which the licence applies:

(a) when any such firearm is not actually being used or carried, it must be stored in a locked steel safe of a type approved by the Commissioner and that cannot be easily penetrated,
(b) such a safe must be bolted to the structure of the premises where the firearm is authorised to be kept,
(c) any ammunition for the firearm must be stored in a locked container of a type approved by the Commissioner and that is kept separate from the safe containing any such firearm,
(d) such other requirement prescribed by the regulations.

Penalties

The maximum penalty for not storing a firearm properly for a category A or B licence holder is a $2,200 fine and/or 12 months' imprisonment.

The maximum penalty for not storing a firearm properly for a category C, D or H licence holder is a $5,500 fine and/or 2 years' imprisonment.

Commentary

As a person of good character who has done the right thing in obtaining a licence and registering your firearms, you might think that if the Police found some defect or irregularity in your storage arrangements that they would give you the opportunity to make the necessary changes.

However, a firearms storage and registration inspection in not like taking your car to the garage for a safety check for the purpose of registration. Where the mechanic may tell you that you need a new brake light or tyre and that repair can be undertaken and the papers stamped, if the Police find a problem with your storage they will not give you that opportunity.

Rather, they will suspend your licence, seize all your firearms, ammunition and accessories and charge you with one or more offences.

Common causes of firearms owners being charged with offences include:

      • Ammunition not being stored in a separate locked compartment or separate safe – for example, this may occur even if you have a separate ammunition storage compartment or safe, but has become full.
      • Storing firearms that are loaded, such as with a round in the breach or a loaded magazine attached. Always check and clear your firearms before storage.
      • Non-compliance of your safe: is it bolted to the floor and wall? Are the locks in good working Order? Is it made of compliant materials and is it heavy enough if not bolted to the floor or walls? If your safe is damaged, for example locks or hinges, you should have it repaired or replaced at once. If necessary, have your firearms consigned to a licensed dealer or stored at a club until this is done.

At Prime Lawyers we understand that your licence is important to you, whether you are a club member, a sporting shooter or hunter, a farmer or in the security industry. Your firearms may be extremely valuable, both in terms of cost or because of historical or sentimental reasons.

Being charged with any firearms related offence is a serious matter, and may have far reaching consequences to you, including not only the recording of a conviction and the imposition of a penalty, but also the loss of your licence and the forfeiture of your firearms.

If you are unsure whether you are complying with lawful storage requirements, further information can be found at the NSW Police - Firearms Safe Storage section of the NSW Police website.

Should you find yourself charged with a safe storage of firearms offence, Prime Lawyers can help. We invite you to contact us and speak to a criminal lawyer at your nearest Prime Lawyers office. 

We have offices in Sydney, Parramatta, Chatswood, Sutherland and Wollongong.


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