Gun rules reform in crosshairs

Rueben HaleCountryman
York farmer Terry Davies.
Camera IconYork farmer Terry Davies. Credit: Danella Bevis/Countryman

Gun regulations may soon be relaxed for primary producers in WA.

Currently, some of the licensing laws which anger farmers include requirements for them to pay registration fees for each firearm they own, and only being allowed to use their licensed firearm on their property.

These regulations and others will be considered as part of a review of the current Firearms Act by the Law Reform Commission, in a move which could result in lower fees and a lessening of red tape for farmers wanting to own firearms.

Police Minister Liza Harvey said based on the findings of the commission, the Government may look at creating a separate provision for firearms used on farms for productive purposes.

"We've gone to full cost reflectivity," she said.

"The Law Reform Commission will review all different industries, and will be looking at all their findings very closely."

Mrs Harvey said the review of the Act would provide stakeholders the opportunity to address their issues with the current statutory limitations of the WA Police process.

The minister said the terms of reference had been developed in conjunction with WA Police, Pastoralists and Graziers Association, WAFarmers, Sporting Shooters' Association and other industry parties.

"(The) Government acknowledges the current firearms licensing process could be more efficient, however current processes are necessary for WA Police to meet their statutory requirements under the Act," she said.

Mrs Harvey said the Government accepted a firearm was a part of farmers' business.

"If you are a property or agribusiness you need some flexibility with the gun licensing," she said.

Mrs Harvey said the current system was impractical because the fees would only enable farmers to shoot on their own land.

"If the farmer wants to shoot a pest that has moved onto another property it is illegal," she said.

Mrs Harvey said one member of a farming family may purchase a firearm for use on the family property and it could be used legally by all family members on that property.

"But if they were to take the firearm next door to help their neighbour, they would be committing an offence," she said.

"Person A can buy a firearm to use to kill pests on the property and person A's father, brother and sister can legally use the firearm on the family property.

"But, if there is a feral pest problem next door - the father, brother and sister cannot legally use the firearm to assist with pest eradication unless they all seek an addition at a cost of $169.50 each.

"This can create circumstances where a $300 to $400 secondhand firearm, can cost families more in licensing than the actual cost of the said firearm.

"If you are running a property or and agribusiness you need to have some flexibility."

Mrs Harvey said many farmers had complained that police had made them feel like criminals.

She said the review would aim to streamline the firearm licensing process.

"The police have been the managers and built a body of rulings. And all of these rulings have made firearm licensing a cumbersome system," she said.

York farmer Terry Davies said welcomed any government moves to remove red tape and make things easier for farmers who required firearms as a “tool” in agriculture.

Mr Davies said he could never understand why WA Police felt the need to add to the WA Firearm Act 1973 in first place.

“It wasn’t long ago the Australian gun laws were based upon the WA firearm laws, so why police would add red tape to that is beyond me,” Mr Davies said. “Guns are a work tool for farmers.”

He said the guns were needed during the time of mass cullings in the 1990s when there was no market for sheep.

“It was a Statewide problem, if I recall correctly, and if we didn’t have access to semi-automatic rifles at the time it would have been a real problem,” he said.

“For example, six weeks is just too long for a farmer to have to wait for a gun licence,” he said.

Mr Davies said he understood police needed to ensure public safety, and restricting access to firearms was part of that, but there were other ways to tackle the problem.

“If they want to make gun laws tougher they should increase the penalties for people that use firearms in a criminal way,” he said.

Liberal MP Graham Jacobs said he welcomed the review and urged that it include re-addressing the issues of the implementation process surrounding licensing.

"I have a constituency base that use firearms for a number of legal and sensible reasons, from pastoralists protecting their stations from wild dogs, to shooting at a rifle club," he said

"And I am continually being told that Firearm licensing is a frustrating process."

Dr Jacobs said the Firearms Act had a number of amendments over the years, but nothing has addressed the real nuts and bolts of a person getting a firearm licensed.

"The current Act is out-dated and poorly functioning with a lack of personnel support and backup which contributes to an inefficient arrangement," he said.

Mr Jacobs said another real concern was the cost increase in licensing a firearm.

Licence and registration fees for various industry sectors have risen between 13 and 147 per cent from July 1 last year.

WAFarmers president Dale Park said any change to the Act that would recognise firearms were a tool of trade for farmers would be recognised.

"The other part of it is that each different firearm has a different use on the land," he said.

"And we've had trouble explaining to WA Police that a .22 does not do the same job as a 308."

Mr Park said despite how frequently a farmer used firearms there times when they were a critical tool for the farm

Police also needed to understand firearms were a tool and had a purpose, he said.

"So whether we use them every four or 10 years or every week, when you need the tool … you need the tool," Mr Park said.

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