Spud gun ‘not a lethal weapon’

The question of whether two ‘spud guns’ seized in Victoria in 2019 are firearms has been answered in court. A magistrate has dismissed the charges surrounding two unregistered PVC pipe guns, potentially impacting existing legislation in the state which classes spud guns as Category E firearms. In general terms each state and territory classes spud guns (or potato cannons) as firearms and the items can come under controlled or prohibited weapon classifications – or as a Category E firearm in Victoria alongside machineguns, bazookas and teargas guns.

The decision in Dandenong Magistrate’s Court by magistrate Gerard Bryant has been labelled by some as a landmark ruling which could affect firearm definitions and legality of the device. However, Mr Bryant was quick to shut down this assertion in his conclusion, saying: “Ultimately I’m of the view that PVC devices are not firearms for the purposes of the Act. The charges against the accused are therefore dismissed.

“This decision should not be interpreted as a green light for the citizens of Victoria to arm themselves with these type of devices for any purpose. They should be the subject of regulation but are not properly categorised as firearms under the current law. At a minimum, such devices could be rightly categorised as ‘dangerous articles’ under the Control of Weapons Act 1990.”

In addition to defining whether a spud gun should be categorised as a firearm, the case has drawn attention for the extensive and varied analysis by the magistrate as a part of his ruling. He provided a brief firearms history, drawing on the invention of gun powder in China in the ninth century, musket and flintlock rifle origins and finally the more modern firearm using propellant with bullets or shot.

He concluded that “universally these projectiles were manufactured from non-organic substances such as lead or metal with the sole intended purpose of being discharged by a firearm to kill, seriously injure or cause damage to the intended target.” He then mused over the question of whether a spud gun using potato as a projectile fell under the definition of a firearm and drew on moments in history when livestock and human remains were used in slingshots, illustrated in the Monty Python and the Holy Grail movie when The Knights of the Round Table were attacked.

Finally he outlined the potential speed the PVC spud gun could discharge organic matter such as potato or lemon would be around 130-140 metres per second in comparison to a bullet from a .22 firearm travelling at 330-340mps. “The humble potato or lemon is not subject to any regulation unless sold commercially in supermarkets, where certain requirements must be adhered to,” he said.

“Fruit and vegetables are not inherently lethal and not manufactured, but instead grown by organic means for human consumption. There are many objects both organic and non-organic, such as tennis balls or cricket balls which, if propelled at sufficient velocity, can injure but the question remains whether the inclusion of these objects would mean that any everyday item capable of being fired from a firearm would be caught by the term ‘other missile’ as it’s expressed in the Act.”

In what was perhaps the magistrate’s most reasonable comment, Mr Bryant said typically Category E longarms including machineguns, rifles, bazookas and rocket-propelled grenades were “inherently lethal”. He said it was doubtful that homemade PVC devices were envisaged in the same category.

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