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  • Home Resources & Technical Articles Criminal Offence Topics (A to Z) Firearms Offences Firearms Offences and Penalties in the Australian Capital Territory (ACT)

    Firearms Offences and Penalties in the Australian Capital Territory (ACT)

    There are many laws and discussions about firearms, their use and regulations in Australia, including in the ACT. People are no longer worried about the civil rights that make others own a gun or other weapon, but to what degree the possession affects other people.

    Australian laws prioritise life, property, and the State/Territory, so the offences connected to the use of a firearm may affect licensed and non-licensed holders of the firearm.

    The scope of firearm offences in the ACT is extensive regardless of how you consider it.

    If an individual is convicted in an ACT court for a firearms offence, the offence will show up as a disclosable court outcome (DCO) on an ACT Criminal History Check result.

    What is a firearm in the ACT?

    The Firearms Act 1996 (ACT) guides the description of all weapons, objects, and instruments classified as firearms in the Australian Capital Territory. The Act also regulates the privileges through safe use laws and storage and expands on all other issues regarding firearms possession.

    The Act defines a firearm as;

    A gun, weapon or other instruments can project material or object with explosive and destructive consequences. Projectiles usually require a small effort through an instrument/equipment to produce a larger than "exponential force", causing damage or injury to a person or thing.

    Some examples of firearms include;

    • Blank fire firearm,
    • Airgun,
    • Paintball marker,
    • An item or instrument modified or expanded for use as a firearm,
    • Other materials are described as a firearm under the Act.

    A prohibited firearm means any of the materials used as a firearm that is described under

    • Section 7 of the Firearms Act 1996 (ACT)
    • Regulations under the Act
    • Firearms that are prohibited must be listed under section 31 of the Firearms Act 1996.

    There are many laws on firearms use, regulations, storage, and licensing; breaching any of these rules is usually an indictable offence in the ACT handled by a higher court. The punishments and penalties for contravening/disobeying Firearms matters/laws depend on the severity of the crime and offence.

    The offence of unauthorised possession of prohibited firearms

    It is an offence to disregard any of the Firearms possession laws; a person who illegally holds or keeps a firearm is guilty of offences under Division 7.1 and section 42 of the Act. It describes cases where the offences were with;

    Ten or more prohibited firearms; the Act prescribes punishments of imprisonment for 20 years,

    • Less than ten but over three prohibited firearms; the Act defines penalties with imprisonment for 14 years.
    • For offences with 1 or 2 prohibited firearms, the Act prescribes punishment with imprisonment up to 10 years.

    The offence for unauthorised possession or use of non-prohibited firearms

    The various actions that constitute these illegal behaviours include;

    Where the offender possesses ten or more firearms; the law prescribes a maximum penalty of 20 years imprisonment

    Where the offender possesses three or more firearms but less than ten firearms; the Act defines penalties of up to 7 years imprisonment

    Where the offender possesses 1 or 2 firearms; the Act prescribes a prison sentence up to 5 years term

    The offence of contravening any of the conditions by the licenses

    Section 45 of the Act considers a person who has a license or permit to use or possess a prohibited firearm guilty if they contravene any of the conditions for the licenses.

    • The court can impose penalties up to 1000 penalty units ($222,000 for individuals) , or
    • Ten years imprisonment term
    • Or, Both depending on the offence.

    If the person has a permit for firearms not prohibited, the court can impose penalties up to;

    • 500 penalty units or
    • Five years imprisonment term
    • Or both

    However, the offence does not cover a case where the condition includes that the licensee or permit holder must allow the Police officer to inspect a facility. And where the refusal was reasonable in all circumstances.

    Offences against licensing

    There are various definitions for offences under the Licensing section of Division 7.2 of the Firearms Act 1966. Under the Act, various Firearm licenses can be issued to individuals, groups, entities and agencies. It includes;

    • Adult firearms licensing
    • Composite entity firearms license
    • Minor firearms license
    • Temporary international license

    There are various ways a person can disregard any of these offences against firearms licensing, including;

    Offences of lost, stolen or destroyed licenses

    It is an offence for a licensee to have their licenses lost, stolen or destroyed, and while knowing about the incident, does not report it. If the license fails to report to the registrar or any official body about such loss within seven days they become aware of the loss, they are liable to punishments up to:

    • Ten penalty units

    Failing to surrender firearms when license is suspended or cancelled

    A person commits an offence if they disagree to surrender their firearm/weapon when their licenses are revoked or suspended. It does not matter that the actions were;

    • Negligent or intentional or
    • In the presence or out of an official

    For all intentional or negligent withholding of firearms when the license is suspended, the court imposes 50 penalty units or a six months imprisonment.

    The offender also attracts equal punishments or penalties from the court if they fail to surrender the suspended or cancelled license once it expires or within the stated periods.

    Offences of registration or firearm notices

    It is an offence under section 176 by an entity or an organisation not to report that their license is cancelled. The person or organisation must, within seven days of the registration cancellation, inform the registrar.

    It also includes where the composite entity does not update the registrar or official about their employees who use/possess a firearm registered under them. It includes cases where the employee stops being employed by the registered owner.

    The maximum penalty for such an offence is ten penalty units.

    The offence of unregistered firearms

    Section 177 of the Act describes all actions and punishments concerning the use, disposal or acquisition of unregistered firearms.

    It is an offence to use, dispose or handle firearms without registering them whether they are prohibited or not. Under the Firearm Act, the court can impose penalties of;

    For the use, disposal, handling or acquiring a Prohibited firearm

    • 1000 penalty units
    • Ten years imprisonment term
    • Or both

    For the use, disposal, handling or acquiring other firearms not prohibited

    • 500 penalty units
    • Five years imprisonment term
    • Or both

    The offence of firearm inspection or transfer

    The registered firearm owner must provide and produce the firearm within the reasonable period, and time the officer requires it. For such offences, the court can impose penalties up to 50 penalty units to the offender.

    It is also an offence for a registered holder of a firearm to;

    • Sell the firearm illicitly to another person,
    • Fail to give the registrar the details and particulars of the sale and regulation within seven days of the sale. For such offences, the court imposes punishments of up to 50 penalty units.

    The offence of possessing a firearm under another license

    It is an offence for a person to possess a firearm under another permit or where the person is not the principal owner of the license.

    • The court can impose penalties as high as 100 penalty units or 1-year imprisonment.
    • Or both

    The offence of Safe storage of the firearms

    It is an offence under the Act for a person who possesses either a prohibited or non prohibited firearm to be intentional or negligent disregard the storage options and requirements.

    It includes all cases where the person does not take enough steps to ensure that the firearm is

    • Is stored safely
    • Does not get lost through ordinary means
    • Another person cannot easily come in possession of this firearm.

    For such offences, the person will be liable to punishments of:

    • Two years imprisonment if the firearm is prohibited
    • One year imprisonment if the firearm is not prohibited

    Offences in dealing with firearms

    Under Section 185 of the Act, it is an offence for a person to dispose of, use, handle, manufacture, or supply a firearm if a firearms dealer license does not authorise them.

    • The court can issue penalties as high as 100 penalty units ($22,200) or an individual or a one-year sentence,
    • Or both.

    Dealing with or involving a prohibited person in a firearms business

    It is a severe offence for licensed dealers to employ a prohibited person in operation or allow such person to be involved in the process and the industry.

    The court can impose punishments up to 10 years imprisonment term for such offences.

    It is also a severe offence to a prohibited person to take part or include themselves legally or not in a firearm transfer or deal.

    Offences regarding records of Firearms license in general

    It is a severe offence for a firearms dealer to intentionally or negligently fail to record or inspect any firearm deal to procure or manage. It also includes all failure to engage in records prescribed by the registrar for the regulation.

    The court can impose penalties up to 50 penalty units for such offences.

    Defences for firearms offences

    Firearm Offences can be very severe considering the severity of the offence or the section of the Act that the offender breaches.

    It may be a defence if the legal counsel of the defendant can prove that their client is authorised to possess or use a prohibited firearm under any of the following sections;

    • Interstate residents moving to the ACT.
    • Temporary recognition of interstate licences for visitors; shooting or paintball competitions or vertebrate pest animal control.

    Will a Firearms Offence in the ACT show up on a Nationally Coordinated Criminal History Check?

    If an individual is found guilty of a firearms offence in the ACT, the offence will show up as a disclosable court outcome (DCO) on the results of their criminal background check.

    Individuals can obtain a criminal history check online via the Australian National Character Check - ANCC® website.

    Sources

    Firearms Act 1996 (ACT) - https://www.legislation.act.gov.au/a/1996-74/

    Australian Institute of Criminology (Court Outcomes for Firearms Offences in Australia) - https://www.aic.gov.au/sites/default/files/2020-05/tbp031.pdf

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