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  • Firearms Offences and Penalties in Queensland (QLD)

    Each State and Territory in Australia has laws governing the mode of obtaining, sales and use of these weapons. These laws contain provisions that strive to prevent the abuse of guns, therefore, safeguarding life and property.

    In Queensland, the law that regulates the use of firearms is the Weapons Act 1990 (Qld). The act gives a broad description of what weapons are. They range from physical materials such as martial arts training tools, bulletproof vests to immaterial substances like gases.

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

    This article will look at firearms offences, their accompanying penalties, and the possible defences for an accused person.

    What "Firearms Offences" Mean

    The usage of terms in the Weapons Act 1990 (Qld) indicates that while all firearms are weapons, not all weapons are firearms. Firearms are limited to items like rifles, handguns and shotguns.

    As such, firearms offences are those acts that involve the items listed above and are criminalised by the law. These offences are of various kinds, some of which are:


    #1. Public Places offences:

    These are firearms crimes that occur in public places. As per Section 57 of the Weapons Act 1990 (Qld), it is an offence for a person to do any of the following without a reasonable excuse;

    • Carry a firearm that is on display to public view in a public place
    • Carry a copy of a firearm in public
    • Carry a firearm that is loaded, or one with the ability to be fired, in a public place
    • Enter a public location armed in a way that would make others afraid
    • Aim to fire or in any way discharge any firearm in, towards, into, through, or over a public place.

    #2. Offences related to unlawful possession

    Section 50 of the Weapons Act 1990 (Qld) prohibits private persons from having an unregistered firearm in their custody.

    "Being in possession" of a firearm means several things. First, it implies having physical custody of a firearm. It could even involve holding a weapon for another person. This factor is why it can be dangerous to collect unlicensed weapons.

    It is necessary to note that unlawful possession of firearms may also include being in possession of a lawful weapon by a person that the Court has prohibited from having one. An example is a person who has been previously convicted for misuse of a particular firearm. The Court may find such a person unfit to own or handle a gun for a stipulated number of years.


    #3. Offences in Prohibited Categories

    There are about nine categories of weapons in Queensland. The Weapons Categories Regulation 1997 (Qld) states which weapon fits into which category. They are:

    • Category A: Break action shotgun and rimfire rifle combination, single or double barrel shotguns, rimfire rifles, powerheads, paintball guns, and air rifles.
    • Category B: Muzzleloading firearm, lever-action shotguns with a magazine capacity of not greater than five rounds. Repeating centre-fire rifles (other than semi-automatic), shotgun/rifle combinations.
    • Category C: Semi-automatic or pump-action shotguns not greater than six rounds and semi-automatic rimfire rifles not greater than 11 rounds.
    • Category D: Self-loading centre fire rifle, lever-action shotguns with a magazine capacity of more than five rounds. Semi-automatic centre-fire rifles, semi-automatic shotguns with more than five rounds and semi-automatic rimfire rifles with more than ten rounds.
    • Category E: Bulletproof vests or protective body vests
    • Category H: Air pistol, blank firearm and others which call into the class of handguns
    • Category M: Crossbows, specific knives and other handheld items capable of causing bodily harm.
    • Category R: Hand grenade, silencer, machine guns, and large automatic weapons used in the military.

    A person must first obtain a license before purchasing a weapon in any of the above categories. Such permits are issued by authorised officers chosen by the State's Commissioner of Police.

    Before an authorised officer grants a weapon's license, the applicant must have met certain conditions. One of these conditions is giving a genuine reason for needing that particular type of firearm. For example, that reason could be for study purposes, sports, or recreational shooting.


    #4. Offences from storing firearms

    Every firearm acquired should come with a proper storage system. Such storage must be safe and secure. This security measure is to prevent situations of accidental discharge. For instance, a shotgun should come with a storage box. Failure to comply with this amounts to an offence.


    #5. Offences related to adjusting firearms

    This type of offence includes actions that tamper with identification marks on a firearm. It also involves changing the structure of or transferring a weapon. A more detailed explanation of this offence includes the act of:

    • Modifying or changing the action or structure of a firearm
    • Having a firearm that has had its build or action changed
    • Acquiring or selling a firearm that has had its construct, structure, or action changed
    • Making functional a firearm that must be, and has previously been made permanently unfunctional
    • Destroying or adjusting any mark used as means of labelling a firearm, such as a unique identifying number
    • Possessing a weapon that has been destroyed or adjusted
    • Buying, receiving, selling or giving out a weapon that has been destroyed or altered.

    #6. Offences related to licensing

    Any firearm dealer must be authorised. The sale of weapons without a license constitutes an offence.


    #7. Offences related to Shortening firearms

    It is against the law to shorten a firearm. It’s also a crime to buy or sell a shortened firearm or to be in possession of one.


    #8. Obtaining firearms by deceit

    Section 64 of the Weapons Act 1990 (Qld) states that a person should not get or acquire a weapon or explosive through fraud or deceit.

    Which Court Has Jurisdiction to Hear Firearms Offences in Qld?

    Simply defined, jurisdiction is the right or power a court has to hear a case and apply stipulated laws on the subject.

    In Queensland, the Magistrate Court typically oversees cases involving firearms offences. However, where the number of weapons is up to 10, the district court will have jurisdiction over such a case.

    Elements to Prove in a Firearms Offence

    Just as in other criminal matters, the burden to prove that an accused person actually committed a crime is on the person asserting it. This party is typically the prosecution, which could be the police or attorneys from the office of the state's Attorney General.

    To establish that a defendant committed any of the firearms offences, the prosecution must prove the following components:

    • That there was a firearm
    • That the suspect or accused person was in possession of a firearm.
    • The object in question falls within the description of "firearms" provided in the Weapons Act 1990 (Qld) .
    • That the accused person was indeed in unlawful possession.

    Possible Defences for a Person Accused of a Firearm Offence

    After the prosecution presents evidence proving the accused's guilt, the burden of proof shifts to the accused to establish his innocence. The defendant can use any of the following defences:

    • The accused can assert that they had no firearm in their possession;
    • The accused person may agree that while they did have a firearm in their possession, the firearm or firearms was not one prohibited by the Weapons Categories Regulation 1997 (Qld)
    • The accused person had a prohibited firearm but had a licence that authorised them to possess the firearm
    • The accused person was under pressure/duress/threat and had the firearm(s) for self-defence.

    Penalties for Firearms Offences in Qld

    In Queensland, there is no general penalty for firearm offences. The deciding Court has the right to exercise its discretion but within the confines of the law. In exercising this discretion, certain factors can determine the gravity of the penalty the Court gives.

    These factors include:

    • The method(s) used in obtaining the firearm(s). If it is stolen, a maximum penalty of up to 10 years can be given as stipulated in Section 398(15) of the Criminal Code Act 1899 (Qld). Also, if the reason for stealing the firearm was to commit an indictable offence in QLD, the maximum penalty increases to 14 years (Section 398(14)) of the Criminal Code Act 1899 (Qld).
    • The number of firearms involved can get an accused person a maximum penalty of up to 10 or 13 years as per Section 50 of the Weapons Act 1990 (Qld).
    • The kind of firearm also determines the penalty given. For instance, weapons in the restricted category will attract heavier penalties.

    After the Court has considered these factors, it can issue several penalties. These penalties include:


    #1. Probation:

    Probation is a community-based order that the court issues that places the convicted person under the supervision and management of the Probation and Parole Service, requiring them to comply with specific conditions.

    The Court can apply this penalty in two ways. First, the Court can give a probation order for the entire sentence. Otherwise, it will give the probation order as only a part of the penalty in addition to a prison sentence.

    In either case, the person must fulfil the probation conditions.


    #2. Imprisonment:

    This penalty is more severe than probation. It involves spending some years in prison as prescribed by the Court.


    #3. Order of Recognisance:

    An order of recognisance is a commitment that an accused person makes. This promise usually states that they will do whatever is required to participate in court proceedings until the Court gives a sentence on the firearm offence.

    By making a recognisance, the accused person also agrees to be of good character and not get involved in activities that go against the law for a specified time frame.

    A court can exercise its powers by ordering the release of an offender who makes a recognisance. This release may come with or without the payment of a specified amount called a surety.


    #4. Fines:

    This penalty is another area where the Court exercises its discretion to demand the payment of a stated sum of money. It does not matter that the law under which the accused person is tried does not provide such fines as an option.


    #5. Intensive corrections order (ICO):

    The ICO is a penalty of imprisonment that an offender serves in the community rather than a prison. This penalty option is only available to offenders sentenced to one year in jail or less. The Court can only give this order if the offender consents and agrees to comply with the conditions of the ICO.


    #6. Community service order (CSO):

    The CSO is an order of a court requiring an accused person to give free services to society. It is usually done at a facility owned by the community or for community purposes. This penalty can last for a maximum of 240 hours within a 6 to 12 months period.


    #7. Dismissal under Section 19 of the Penalties and Sentencing Act 1992 (Qld):

    The Court may make an order to release a person without convicting them. The only thing required is a Recognisance and obedience to any further demands the Court may deem necessary.


    #8. Specific Penalties:

    The Court can also adhere strictly to the penalties attached to each offence as stated in the Weapons Act 1990 (Qld). For instance, crimes in public places attract a prison sentence of between 3 months to 2 years. On the other hand, offences on modifications of firearms may attract a 4-year prison term.

    Additionally, the penalty for unlawful possession of firearms can be as high as ten years in prison if the offender had up to 10 weapons on them at the time of the offence. Where the offender used the firearms to commit a crime, the Court can give a maximum of 13 years.

    Certain categories of firearms such as machine guns, military-style weapons, and pump-action shotguns have minimum penalties, which must be served fully in jail. This jail term is usually not more than one year. For offences involving shortened weapons, there is a maximum prison term of 2 years.

    Most of these jail or prison terms have options of fine.

    Bottom Line

    The Weapons Act 1990 (Qld) regulates the use, purchase, sale, and ownership of firearms and weapons in general in Queensland. Contravening any of its provisions can lead to very grievous consequences.

    It is therefore essential to engage the services of experienced criminal lawyers if charged with a firearm offence.

    Will a Firearms Offence in Queensland (Qld) show up on a national criminal history check?

    If an individual is found guilty of a firearms offence in Queensland, 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.

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