The Firearms Act 1996 regulates firearms in NSW while confirming that individuals have the privilege of possessing legal firearms, subject to the overriding need to preserve public safety. The law requires the registration of firearms, establishes a licensing scheme, prohibits the possession of certain kinds of firearms, and requires firearms to be stored safely.
The Firearms Act creates offences and establishes penalties that pertain to violations of its regulatory scheme. The Weapons Prohibition Act 1998 is a similar regulatory scheme for weapons other than firearms. Some offences listed in the Crimes Act 1900 also address the use of firearms and other weapons.
Firearms offences are regarded as serious crimes in NSW. The simple possession of an unregistered or prohibited firearm can expose the accused to a lengthy prison sentence, even if the firearm is never used for an illegal purpose. Any person who is accused of a firearms offence in NSW should obtain legal advice from a criminal defence lawyer.
Schedule 1 of the Firearms Act lists certain prohibited firearms. Guns that are currently listed include:
- self-loading rimfire rifles
- self-loading centre-fire rifles
- pump action shotguns
- assault shotguns
- machine guns and other guns capable of firing more than one shot with a single squeeze of the trigger
- long guns that use a revolving ammunition cylinder
- long guns that fold or that have a readily detachable stock
- guns that have a silencer or sound suppressor attached
- paintball guns
- guns that shoot flares or pyrotechnics
- guns that are disguised to look like something other than a gun
- cannons and other weapons that fire large projectiles
Permits that authorise possession of prohibited firearms may be issued by the NSW Police. Collectors, firearms instructors, film producers, museum curators, and other people who have a legitimate need to possess a prohibited firearm can request a permit to do so.
Possession or use of a prohibited firearm without a permit is subject to prosecution under the laws described below.
Unauthorized Possession of Firearms
An individual in NSW who obtains a licence is authorised to possess certain kinds of firearms. The nature of the firearm that may be possessed depends upon the classification of the licence that the person holds. Permits are issued instead of licences when firearms (including prohibited firearms) will be possessed for certain limited purposes.
A licence is issued only to individuals who have a genuine reason to possess or use a firearm. A list of acceptable reasons is included in Table 12 of the Firearms Act.
Section 7 of the Firearms Act makes it an offence to use or possess a pistol or prohibited firearm without a licence or permit. The maximum penalty for a violation of section 7 is imprisonment for 14 years.
Section 7A of the Firearms Act makes it an offence to use or possess any other firearm without a licence or permit. The maximum penalty for a violation of section 7A is imprisonment for 5 years.
Sections 7 and 7A can both be violated by using a firearm for a purpose other than the genuine reason that was relied upon in applying for the licence. Violating any condition upon which the licence is based can also result in a prosecution under section 7 or 7A.
Any person who acquires a firearm is required to register it with the Commissioner of Police. The Commissioner can require the firearm to be produced for inspection before permitting its registration. Only individuals who hold a firearms licence or permit may register a firearm.
Section 36 of the Firearms Act makes it an offence to supply, acquire, possess, or use a firearm that is not registered. The maximum penalty is 14 years of imprisonment if the firearm is a pistol or a prohibited firearm. The maximum penalty is 5 years of imprisonment for all other firearms.
An individual who is accused of violating section 36 has a defence if the defendant was not the owner of the firearm and did not know, or could not reasonably be expected to know, that the firearm was unregistered.
The resident of another state or territory does not violate NSW’s registration law by possessing or using a firearm that is not registered in NSW, provided that the firearm is registered in the state or territory of that person’s residence.
Possession of Unregistered of Unregistered Firearm in a Public Place
Possession of an unregistered firearm in a public place violates section 93I of the Crimes Act (NSW). The offence is normally punishable by a maximum sentence of imprisonment of 10 years.
Any of the following aggravating circumstances can increase the maximum if they occur in a public place:
- Possession of more than one unregistered firearm.
- Possession of an unregistered pistol.
- Possession of a prohibited firearm.
The existence of an aggravating circumstance increases the maximum sentence to 14 years.
Shortening or Converting Firearms
Illegally shortening a rifle or shotgun by cutting off part of the barrel violates section 62 of the Firearms Act. The act of shortening is illegal if it is done without a permit or in contravention of regulations issued by NSW. The maximum penalty for shortening a firearm is imprisonment for 14 years.
Converting a firearm into a prohibited firearm (by, for example, modifying a semi-automatic weapon to make it a fully automatic weapon) violates section 63 of the Firearms Act. Other acts that violate section 63 include:
- shortening a revolver so that it has a barrel length of less than 100 mm
- shortening a self-loading handgun so that it has a barrel length of less than 120 mm
- altering a handgun so that will accept a calibre of ammunition of more than .38 inch.
Instructing another person in the technique for converting a firearm as describe above carries the same penalty as actually performing the conversion.
The police can issue a permit authorising a conversion. The maximum penalty for converting a weapon without a permit is imprisonment for 14 years.
Safekeeping of Firearms
Section 39 of the Firearms Act requires every person who possesses a firearm to ensure:
- its safekeeping,
- that it does not become lost or stolen, and
- that it does not come into the possession of someone who is not authorised to possess it.
The maximum term of imprisonment for violating any of those requirements is 2 years if the firearm is a prohibited firearm of 12 months if it is any other firearm.
Shooting at Buildings
Firing a firearm at a dwelling or any other building with reckless disregard for the safety of its occupants or other persons is prohibited by section 93GA(1) of the Crimes Act. Drive-by shootings or any other act of shooting at a building that endangers an occupant or bystander subjects the accused to a maximum sentence of imprisonment of 14 years. The maximum increases to 16 years if the shooting occurred during a riot or other form of public disorder.
Trespassing with Firearms
Entering another person’s building or land (other than a road) without permission while possessing a firearm violates section 93H of the Crimes Act (NSW) unless the entry is made for a lawful purpose or with a reasonable excuse. Getting lost and unwittingly straying onto another person’s property might be an example of a reasonable excuse.
The maximum sentence of incarceration for violating section 93H is 5 years if the gun is not fired. Firing the gun increases the maximum sentence to 10 years.
Unauthorised Possession of a Weapon
While firearms are generally regulated by the Firearms Act, certain other weapons are regulated by the Weapons Prohibition Act. Those weapons are listed in Schedule 1 of the Act. Examples include:
- Flick knives (also known as gravity knives)
- Trench knives
- Butterfly knives
- Urban Skinner knives
- Most items with concealed blades that are not obviously knives
- Throwing stars
- Spear guns that are less than 45 cm in length
- “Professional” slingshots (i.e., not homemade toys)
- Flame throwers
- Bombs and explosive devices
- Blow guns and darts
- Certain kinds of whips
- Taser devices
- Knuckle dusters (brass knuckles)
- Extendable batons
- OC spray and certain other defensive sprays
- Body armour
- Certain handcuffs
- Certain laser pointers
Unless the police issue a permit authorising the possession of a weapon listed on Schedule 1, possession or use of the prohibited weapon is punishable by imprisonment for a maximum of 14 years.