‘If it looks like a machine gun, it will be banned’ – appearance guidelines released in Tasmania

Subjective appearance laws that see firearms categorised purely on their looks rather than function are to be more stringently enforced in Tasmania, after new guidelines were released by the Tasmanian Government last week. The SSAA still contends that a firearm should be judged on its action, not on its appearance or ‘likeness’ to a machine- or submachine-gun, as the new Firearms Categorisation Guidelines outline.

In correspondence with SSAA Tasmania, Police Minister Rene Hidding explained that: “The new Guidelines have been developed after extensive feedback from various experts in your industry and I’m pleased to see that, in applying the interpretation, Tasmania Police will only apply a prohibition under Schedule I Item 6, if the firearm is assessed as substantially duplicating in appearance a known or model or models of machine gun, submachine gun or other type of fully automatic firearm.”

The guidelines come in the midst of a review into storage requirements, and after SSAA Tasmania raised concerns about subjective appearance laws late last year. It seems that the government has listened to some of our concerns, with the new guidelines not restricting firearms that have a pistol grip, fore-end shroud or a detachable extended magazine shroud. The Minister also stated: “This should take out much of the previous subjectivity of one individual forming the view that a firearm might look vaguely ‘military’ due to the presence of one or two features.”

Nonetheless, the guidelines include the point that “a firearm which may ordinarily be categorised as an A, B, C, D or H firearm by virtue of its manner of operation, may fall within Schedule 1 (6) because of its appearance.” In order to judge whether a firearm is legal under these new guidelines, a Firearms Categorisation Assessment Committee will provide advice on a case-by-case basis. However, three of the four committee members will be police officers, with just one independent technical expert.

Ultimately, the head of the Firearms Services will decide if the firearm breaches the new criteria. There is an option for firearm owners to challenge the decision. SSAA Tasmania expects to have further discussions with the Minister on these guidelines and their implementation.

The SSAA has long sought to educate bureaucrats, police and all sides of government that a firearm cannot ‘verge’ on being a particular type of firearm; it either is, or it is not. We raised this point again during the recent review into the National Firearms Agreement. We stand by our view that adhering to the measurable categories of functionality as per the Australian Customs import test is far more appropriate than the current discriminatory and purely subjective method.

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