Anti-gun campaigners are calling for an audit of all registered firearms

The pitch of anti-gun rhetoric has escalated out of control in the last year. Left-wing anti-gun campaigners are intent on persecuting law-abiding shooters. They’re calling for a nationwide ‘audit’ of all registered firearms.  As the National Firearms Agreement 2017 approaches full implementation, millions of Police hours will be spent inspecting every storage facility for a new license or renewal.  The NFA reminds us:

34. A licence must:
(f) be issued subject to undertakings to comply with storage requirements […] and to submit to a mutually arranged (with due recognition of privacy) inspection by licensing authorities of storage facilities.

Mark Stone is an experienced Queensland solicitor. In response to newspaper articles like ‘There will be zero tolerance’: Police begin firearm audits, Mark has publicly raised some key questions such as:

What section of the Weapons Act or Regulations gives QPS the authority to randomly audit Firearms Owners? I’d like to know

Or will this be the Police just hoping that Law Abiding Citizens will consent to intrusive searches by Police looking for Minor Infringements?

Mark graciously took some time out of his court schedule to chat about the state of Queensland law with us.

LAFO: Thanks for talking to us, Mark. We’re grateful for shooters like yourself, as lawyers, raising such critical points in support of the hundreds of thousands of Australian law-abiding shooters.

Mark Stone: It’s an opportunity to discuss real, practical issues regarding firearms laws. As a prospective candidate in the next election in Qld and as a firearms owner myself, I feel it’s important for everyone to be engaged in advocating for the sport. I also feel it’s very important for all licensed shooters to be fully aware of the laws and regulations of the State so that we can continue advocating from the position of law abiding firearms owners. I’ve worked hard on my Facebook group and pages like Australian Law Abiding Shooters and Mark Stone Queensland to spread the message that Australian Law Abiding Shooters are not the danger that the anti gun crowd make us out to be. I also encourage others to be involved in my campaign of #takeamateshooting so that instead of arguing with people who are already set in their minds against lawful firearms ownership, we expand the sport by attracting new members by participation.

LAFO: That’s a great suggestion, numbers of license holders are growing by 4-6% in most States.  You’ve recently posted some pretty clear observations about section 25 of the Police Powers & Responsibilities Act 2000 (Qld). When people are out and about transporting or using firearms, Police can demand to see your license, but people are keen to know: what about when your firearms are sitting in a safe at home?

Mark Stone: Part of the Gatton Star article raised my ire through the impression the officer in charge of Laidley station was giving which, in my opinion, was that police could turn up unannounced, randomly, out of the blue and demand to be able to conduct a random audit of your firearms and storage facilities. This in my view raised the issue of under what authority were they were just going to turn up unannounced and conduct these random audits? Or will they just be seeking the consent of firearms owners by intimidation to these random audits looking for minor infringements of the Weapons Act and Regulations?

My perspective obviously is that of a criminal defence lawyer, who sees some Police using intimidation and purported authority to conduct unreasonable searches beyond their lawful authority. Some people may recall an incident with Police where they were told to open the boot of the motor vehicle. This is an example of how through intimidation and their purported authority are able to get your consent to opening the boot so the police can conduct what is nothing more than a sticky beak. Police need a reasonable suspicion to conduct a search but if they can get your consent through intimidation, then they’ll take that path. Then they’ll write up the charge sheet saying things like, “the defendant consented to Police searching his vehicle, property or person”.

Section 25(4) of the Police Powers and Responsibilities Act (PPRA) states:
However, if an individual has physical possession of a weapon, a police officer may require the individual to produce immediately to the Police officer for inspection the weapon and the photo licence authorising possession of the weapon.

This raises the question of what’s “physical possession of a weapon”. It’s not defined in the PPRA. However, it is defined in the Weapons Act.
Schedule 6 – physically possess, a weapon, means physically hold or have an immediate ability to physically hold the weapon.

So are you able to physically possess firearms sitting in your safe? I would say no. I don’t think anyone will disagree with me. However, if you’re out shooting at the range or at some property, you may have physical possession.

In regards to how police can come and see firearms in your safe at home Section 25(3) makes it pretty clear that a police officer has to give notice of such an event:
A police officer may also require the individual to produce for inspection at a stated reasonable place and time, within 48 hours, any weapon still in the individual’s possession and mentioned in any of the documents.

LAFO: Police can apparently demand the production of your license and your firearms at a ‘reasonable time and place’. A reasonable place might be, for example, a nearby police station. Given that Police have no right to access your home without a warrant except under emergency circumstances, such as threat to life, can they insist on inspecting your firearms at your safe inside your house? Is your house a ‘reasonable place’?

Mark Stone: I think a Court would interpret that section as giving a discretion to the Police Officer as to what is a reasonable time and place. Most people might find it unreasonable and unsafe to be required to transport all their firearms down to the Local Station.

What are the likely consequences of a refusal to allow the Police to enter? One would could be charged with Obstructing a Police Officer and still find the Police going through their house. Such an offence could lead to the loss of your licence. A legal defence of such a charge could be very expensive and I think a Magistrate would find that your home was a reasonable time and place. Magistrates Court often find in favour of the Police.

I believe if under section 25(2), the police officer has given the notice, then they could request to inspect your firearms in your home. Who wants to test that provision at their own risk and cost? Not anyone I know.

LAFO: You’ve deal with a lot of criminal and firearms matters. What would your advice be to licensed shooters who are unexpectedly confronted by a demand to see their safe and firearms?

Mark Stone: To remain polite and calm at all times. Everything will be depend on the situation. Are Police executing a search warrant? Have Police given the notice? To seek legal representation and not to make any statements to Police unless they have first obtained legal advice. The Police will be or should be recording any of these interactions and if you’re seen to be abusive, irrational and/or threatening or uncooperative, and they will most certainly produce this footage for use as evidence in a criminal trial.

But if you remain calm and polite, but state, “I refuse to answer questions until I’ve had an opportunity to discuss this matter with my solicitors”, then you can’t go too far wrong. All too often I see people giving up their right to silence and making irrational, uncooperative and unhelpful statements to the police which can be used against them. Don’t try to be clever or smart as this normally makes things worse.

Note: this interview is a general discussion of legal issues and should not be taken as personal or individual advice.  Every situation has different facts and you should remain calm and, if concerned, seek advice specific to your situation.