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Western Australia’s top cop has voiced concern that decisions to take guns out of the hands of violent offenders are often reversed by the courts, as the state government announced an overhaul to firearm laws on Tuesday.
Police Commissioner Chris Dawson said there were powerful firearms in the community, such as 50-calibre sniper rifles, which he had tried to argue should not be in the possession of civilians.
WA Police Commissioner Chris Dawson.Credit: Hamish Hastie
“There’s just over a dozen of these … I objected to them being licensed,” he said.
“Regrettably, the [State Administrative] Tribunal saw fit to see that they should be licensed. I don’t agree with that … they are designed for military use, they are lethal.”
If a firearm licence is revoked or declined by police, a person can apply to the State Administrative Tribunal to appeal the decision.
Several examples in recent years showed the tribunal dismissed WA Police attempts to revoke the gun licences of those convicted of violent offences and domestic violence charges.
In 2017, police revoked the firearms licence of a 28-year-old man after they discovered he was storing a loaded rifle behind the driver’s set in his car “just in case he needs it”. He also had ammunition stored inside a stubby holder and gun bags lying on the floor in the laundry of the house he shared with his wife and two young children.
The SAT later set aside the decision to revoke the man’s licence after he was convicted of failing to store his firearms and ammunition safely.
On another occasion, a Pilbara man with an extensive criminal record, including violent offences linked to excessive alcohol consumption, had his licence revoked after police deemed him an unfit person to possess firearms, however again the tribunal reversed the decision.
Meanwhile, in 2019, a man convicted of punching his wife was allowed to keep his two rifles and shotgun despite police raising concerns about the aggression he displayed while drunk.
Another who breached a violence restraining order against his former partner was also allowed to keep his guns, against the will of police.
Under proposed changes to the state’s gun laws, police could be granted greater powers to revoke gun licenses under a “community safety” focus to gun ownership. In line with national standards, gun owners would also be required to undergo training before being granted a licence.
WA Police Minister Paul Papalia was driving the reform.
“It’s more difficult to get a skipper’s licence in Western Australia than a gun licence, I think that needs to change and that’s the sort of thing that we’ll be addressing in this process,” he said.
A WA Police map showed around 3.4 per cent of the population, or 89,000 people, hold gun licences. They possessed, on average, four firearms each – which reflected national figures.
And while the number of licensees remained steady, the number of registered guns in the state had increased from 218,765 guns in WA in 2009 to 349,492 in January 2022.
Premier Mark McGowan said the new laws would continue to allow responsible gun users, such as farmers, to keep their weapons, but aimed to reduce the prevalence of firearms in WA.
“One of the things I think that drives the terrible police nervousness and the very quick use of firearms in America is the fear that other people have got firearms and we’ve got to make sure that our laws reflect the fact that community safety comes first,” he said.
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