New firearms laws unveiled in SA – commonsense prevails

A comprehensive review into South Australia’s firearms laws is nearing conclusion following four years of consultation under two Police Ministers. The review resulted in the new Firearms Act 2015, with the Firearms Regulations 2017 set to come into effect on July 1.

The SSAA South Australia branch was heavily involved in the review process and worked productively with current Police Minister Peter Malinauskas and former Minister Tony Piccolo, along with the South Australia Police (SAPOL). SSAA SA President David Handyside said the new regulations reflect the commonsense approach taken throughout the review and ultimately aim to improve the security of legitimate firearms. “This has been a long process involving two Ministers and various incarnations of police in the Firearms Branch, with possibly the greatest amount of stakeholder consultation on any new firearms laws,” David said. “It should be noted that there is no requirement for parliament to hold consultations, however, in this case it was obviously an enormous benefit that representatives have been involved in the review for over four years.”

The biggest change involves a tiered system of storage requirements based on the number of firearms owned. The new tiering concept is divided into less than 20, less than 35, less than 50 and 50 or more firearms and is designed to provide additional security for large quantities of firearms. “It is important to note that there is no restriction on the number of firearms a person can own, as long as they fulfil the usual requirements of genuine reason,” David said.

“It is also important to note that private owners will be required to have a combination of CCTV and alarms for more than 35 firearms; however the alarm system is not required to be back-to-base, just externally visible and audible,” David added. “Less than one per cent of the 65,000 firearm owners in the state own over 35 firearms and will possibly need to upgrade.”

The new storage regulations also make Brownbuilt cabinets and wooden cabinets obsolete, but allow the use of the old 16-gauge safes under a grandfathering clause. “Those who wish to continue to use this particular type of safe are required to notify SAPOL, with a grace period of one year to allow people to notify or to comply with the new requirements,” David said. There are new provisions for licensed firearm owners to share safes and access will be possible for farmer employees.

Another positive change involves the transportation of firearms, which David describes as “sensible”. “Firearms and ammunition will need to be stored separately in a lockable boot, if the vehicle has one,” David explained. “But in the case of four-wheel drive, ute or hatchback – cars without boots – firearms and ammunition need to be stored in a locked container if it has one, otherwise locked in the vehicle and out of sight. It is further expected that a locked vehicle is not left unattended for a long period of time, without good reason.”

Other positive changes include the extension of handgun licences from one to three years, with the same requirements in terms of the number of shoots and compliance of each category of firearm held. Shooting clubs will no longer be required to gain SAPOL approval for potential members who already hold a firearms licence and references will only need to be checked in the case of pistol clubs. Category A, B and C licences will remain at five years and licensees will now be able to carry a photocopy or electronic copy of their licence, rather than the physical licence card.

The new laws do include a provision for the mandatory reporting of any mental health issues where this is a reasonable threat to safety involved. “There have been some concerns expressed about this, however the requirement to report someone only applies if there is a reasonable suspicion of a threat or danger and the person who reports this will not be subjected to any criminal or civil liability for doing so,” David said. “We have to remember that this is aimed at minimising the misuse of firearms.”

Representatives from the Firearms Branch and key ministerial staff recently attended the SSAA SA Council Meeting and praised the involvement of SSAA SA throughout the review process. Minister Malinauskas, who has previously attended a SSAA SA meeting, recently said that: “The new regulations recognise the legitimate needs of licensed and lawful owners and provide clarity, while reducing the potential for crime. This result has been achieved following a thorough period of consultation with the firearms community and SAPOL.”

An extensive education campaign run by both SAPOL and the SSAA SA will take place to clarify the regulations and new requirements, with the information intended to be available immediately after the ratifications on July 1 this year. For more information, visit the SSAA SA website or the SAPOL Firearms Registry.

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