Leaving Firearms at Rural Locations That Are Not Your Main Residence - The Loose Cannon

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DO YOU LEAVE A FIREARM AT A RURAL LOCATION THAT IS NOT YOUR MAIN RESIDENCE?

Police in NSW and Victoria have expressed concerns about firearms being stolen from country properties while the owners are away.  Many of the properties targeted are rural retreats.

I have heard from shooters that reasons firearms are being left at country properties in the first place has in part to do with a vocal campaign in Victoria regarding the carriage of firearms in vehicles, and the fear of a lot of shooters in NSW about carrying firearms for large distances because of the rather vague ‘all reasonable steps’ security standard in NSW.

I say uncertain, because individuals taking long car trips inevitably break the trip for something to eat, and when travelling to a holiday farm, the last big town encountered is usually targeted for a ‘big shop’.  As a result, in NSW even if they have category A & B firearms the Commissioner has decreed that they need to satisfy the higher the Cat C, D & H storage standard.

This means that firearms must be fitted with trigger action locks or bolt and firing mechanism must be removed or it must be kept in a locked container secured to or within the vehicle.  Furthermore, the owner needs to consider delivery of firearms over other items being conveyed, and consider security while the vehicle is unattended such as chaining the firearm up.

Leaving the guns where they are used at the farm becomes an obvious option.  After all, nobody else goes there do they? And rural areas are considered safe.

Sadly, all is not as it seems?

Did you ever watch the Movie Jeremiah Johnson? It is something of a classic amongst the front end stuffers and the wider shooting community.  In the early days of America, a youthful Robert Redford decides to flee to the Rockies to escape the trials and tribulations in life, only to find it did not work, the problems of civilization followed him.

The story of Jeremiah, while now shrouded in legend, is true.

As a country lawyer, I have met many a ‘Pilgrim’, to coin an expression from the film, who has falsely looked at rural areas or wilderness as pristine and has not factored in risk, and believe me, not all snakes wriggle and hide in the grass.

While there are no doubt most small towns are much safer than cities, crime still occurs, as a quick look at the Court list at rural local Courts attests.

As owners of such properties are often not perceived as members of the local community, and are viewed as ‘rich city folks’.  It becomes relatively easy therefore for the odd low level gutter feeder who lives in a rural area to justify a visit and robbery.

Often such a break in is relatively unplanned, and may be triggered poachers jumping the fence in your absence and a break in occurs incidental to the visit.

If a theft is well timed, so that it happens just after an infrequent visit, the risk of apprehension is low, and these days, the crook does not just use a jimmy, as battery powered angle grinders are available at every hardware shop.

Police often claim that these firearms recovered this way fall into the hands of gangs.  This may happen to some, however, category A&B firearms are not particularly useful for gang type use. 

As a solicitor who practices in the country, I hear a lot of anecdotal evidence that these firearms are sold to people who wish to be able to hunt, and who have been excluded from the legitimate firearms market by what they see to be unreasonable gun laws.

As is often the case when an individual does not respect a law, they flaunt it.

There is little point the government seeking to cut off their ammunition supply or make the penalties even more draconian.  An increase in penalties is not going to do anything, these individuals are not volume users of ammunition and many can reload, so to them, a box of ammunition will go a long way.

THE LAW

Many readers are probably thinking ‘the farm is in a low crime neighborhood, and this is a lot of trouble to go in a situation where I am unlikely to be robbed. Surely, there is a reduction in the steps that I must ‘reasonably take’ to secure firearms in a low risk situation.

WRONG!

Over the years I have found many shooters labour under this false belief.

However, the law is clear, living in a relatively low crime neighborhood does not justify a reduction in storage requirements.  They are to be regarded as a set minimum standardthat one may lawfully exceed by supplementing but not lawfully dilute or reduce.

On 21 November 2014, the NSW Civil & Administrative Tribunal in Leviny v Commissioner of NSW Police Force (2014) NSWCATAP 90 covered this very point.

At paragraph 26 the Tribunal found ‘Finally, we wish to reinforce the point made to Mr. Leviny at hearing.  While s39(1) of the Act requires a person who possesses or uses a firearm to ‘take all reasonable precautions’ to ensure (a) ‘it’s safekeeping’, (b) ‘that it is not stolen or lost’, and (c)’that it does not come into the possession of a person who is not authorized to possess the firearm’, the question of what is ‘reasonable’ is not resolved simply by having regard to the subjective explanations of the licence holder as to what he or she might regard as ‘reasonable’ it is a standard to be applied in an objective way.  In making that objective assessment the mandatory standards laid down in the sections that follow for the different categories of weapon, must, at the least be satisfied.  For Category A weapons they are the standards set out in section 40’.

As firearms are not in use at all times when you are at the farm, you need to give consideration to the provision of adequate storage when the firearms and ammunition are not actually ‘being used or carried’ and ensure that it is being used. 

Leaving a firearm on a gun rack on a quad bike or on the passenger seat of a utility in the drive way, while you go into the house for lunch does not amount to safe storage of a firearm. 

If installing a safe for this, even if firearms are not to be left in it long term, arrange for the safe to be inspected by Police, because if thefts do occur from the safe at some stage, it would be difficult for Police to mount a successful prosecution if your storage on the property had been signed off as legally compliant.

It also reduces the risk of you being breached as a result of a visit to the property while you are there, and Police observing unsatisfactory storage practices.

If you are leaving firearms at the property, ensure that the firearm is registered to that address.  This is one of the most common ways that shooters find themselves losing their licence and any changes to a firearms storage arrangements need to be notified to the Registry within the requisite period.

MANTRAPS- DON’T DO IT

In order to prevent such thefts, owners sometimes suggest laying traps to catch would be thieves and trespassers. 

Do not do it! Mantraps – irrespective of whether they are chemical, electrical, mechanical or otherwise that are capable of causing grievous bodily harm attract a penalty of five years if you either set them, cause them to be set, or knowingly permit them to continue to be placed or set (s49 Crimes Act 1900).

TRAILCAMS

If you want to do something proactive to protect your property, consider setting up some trail cams around the property.  The time and date stamped film can provide valuable evidence of the commission of an offence.  If doing this make sure that the cameras are well concealed, as they are themselves attractive to thieves. 

Do not think location high up in a tree will protect the camera from tampering.  One client of mine arrived at his property to find that a tree had been cut down across his drive and the camera stolen.

LIVE FEED VIDEO CAM

An alternative to the easily sealable trail cam, is a video camera with a live feed to your computer. This way there is no possibility of people breaking in capturing the evidence.

Whatever system you use, evidentially, a date or time stamp relating to when the film was taken is useful.

Generally, if you own an isolated property, leaving firearms there is not desirable, as given time, even the most sophisticated safe can be compromised, and most gun safes are not that sophisticated.

As an indication, I have seen a popular imported brand of gun safe that is on the Police ‘approved list’, that was compromised by a mentally ill woman with a block splitter.  Others are easy prey for to an angle grinder.

TAKE AN OPERATIVE PART WITH YOU

If you must leave a firearm at an isolated property, dismember it. Taking the bolt with you, or in the case of a shotgun leave the barrels in the safe and take the shorter part, the action and stock, with you.  This is I believe the safest and most practical option. 

A small case is all you shall need to carry the shotgun stock and a couple of bolts for your rifles.

You will need to ensure that you remember to pack them on your next trip though, although I can vouch from personal experience that you only ever forget the bolt once!

Once separated, the other part of the firearm is reduced to little more a piece of prospective concrete reinforcement. 

INSURANCE WARNING

As an aside, if you own a holiday home or hobby farm, I suggest you also review your insurance policy.  Many policies that relate to holiday homes require that a property be occupied at least once a month, or some other stated frequency.  If you do not meet this frequency, you may be providing the insurer with an ‘out’ in the event of a claim.

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