Prohibited Weapon Madness in Australia - The Loose Cannon

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Are Bows Prohibited Weapons In NSW? This and Other Prohibited Weapons Madness

I have arguably the most law abiding client base in the country, and therefore it is only a handful of times a year- when a shooter has done the wrong thing, and owned something that is prohibited, or is considering getting something prohibited, that I come into contact with the Weapons Prohibition Act 1998.

This piece of legislation is full of ‘Nanny knee jerks’.  That is to say, whenever the Editor of the Telegraph or Herald, or other media journalist, bleats loudly about something, the Premier or Police Minister makes a pronouncement that he will ban the offending item. 

Sadly, as is often the case with such things, a policy decision is made to criminalise an activity without due consideration, and under circumstances where the only defence the Politician has for making the decision, is the ‘streaker’s defence’, that is to say, that it seemed like a good idea at the time.

Not surprisingly, the legislation is a virtual smorgasbord of bad policy, for example:

 

  1.      SOUND MODERATORS (incorrectly termed ‘silencers’)

I have discussed sound moderators or ‘silencers’ in a recent blog. The prohibition of sound moderators owes much I believe to James Bond movies, as does the mystical quality of ‘silencing’ a shot. 

Improvised moderators are easy to make, yet criminals do not use them.  Countries with laws that permit shooters to easily obtain them also report low incidences of crime with them, so why regulate them?  Most countries do not heavily regulate them, and one of the only countries other than Australia that does, is that of Mr. Bond’s nemesis- Russia.

 

  1.      CROSSBOW

The Weapons Prohibition Act 1998 prohibits ownership of the cross-bow.  If my memory serves me correctly, Crossbows were banned in NSW after a single incident in which a girl was shot in the leg with one on the Central Coast.

The madness was spread by the NSW Police Minister to other states via the Police Ministers Conference, because NSW Police were upset that crossbows being imported from other states and territories.  This has led to their widespread prohibition.

Why, I do not know.  Nobody has taken the crossbow seriously as a weapon since Henry V beat the French at Azincourt. (note this spelling is not a typo, the battle occurred at Azincourt, not Agincourt, which is a different town in France, that I believe does rather well out of accidental tourism!).

A crossbow is also not exactly concealable, and is painfully slow to reload, and has a short range.  Thus, if a would be assassin were to miss, his victim would probably be able to recognize his would be assailant, and the intended target could approach him while he is hunched up, with his foot in the stirrup, re-cocking the bow, snatch the bow off him and wrap the bow around his neck! 

Contrary to the movies, it does not have a range that is suitable for assassinations, and Its only likely criminal role is in the area of poaching.

One reason I believe for the Crossbow having such bad press has, I believe to do with heavy advertised draw weights which those who do not understand the cross bow equate with high power.  A cross bow needs a heavy draw weight compared to a bow and arrow because of the more limited period of time that its short bolt or Quarrel has to have energy imparted upon it, the other factor is that compared to the arrow, the Quarrel has poor ballistic properties and sheds speed rapidly.

To the regulator, one advantage of the heavy draw weight is that it reduces the bows speed of fire, and also renders it highly unlikely that a child would be able to cock the bow.

I would have thought that the further regulation of the use of crossbows, such as an age restriction as in the UK would have been a sensible step, rather prohibiting them. Alternatively, if a ‘genuine reason’ for ownership is considered desirable, treat them like a category A firearm, thereby applying a ‘character test’ to would be users, and guaranteeing safe storage.

A recent precedent for this is the Benjamin Pioneer Airbow which is essentially a PCP Air rifle that fires a conventional arrow.  Classifying the Airbow as a cat A firearm shines a beacon in the right direction, and the approach of all registries bar the ACT and WA needs to be applauded in respect to this device.

 

  1.      CATAPULT / SLINGSHOT

A further example of the twitchy nature of Ministerial legs that are given to knee jerks.  There are thousands of sling shots in NSW, and while most people know that the version with the wrist strap is prohibited, few realise that the that the ordinary version is also prohibited.

After all, why would you think something is prohibited, when it is legal elsewhere, replacement bands and ball bearing ammunition are available in most hunting shops and sports stores, and slingshots, sold as ‘fishing bait dispersers’ appear for sale on wall displays at many others.

As with crossbows, mischief with slingshots usually involves juveniles.  Why not prohibit use by juveniles and, perhaps require a legitimate reason for one to be carried, to enable Police to regulate possession on the streets, rather than prohibiting ownership?

 

  1.      SECURITY BATON & HANDCUFFS

Possession of a security baton or handcuffs is also illegal without a permit with the reason for a permit being granted being the holding of a security licence. 

Given that a heavy duty, security orientated torch, cricket bat, axe handle, baseball bat or hockey stick is as functional as a security baton, and plastic ties that are available at any hardware or gardening shop are effectively flexi cuffs, which are used as a stand in for handcuffs, the level of over regulation here is obvious.

 

  1.       AIROGUN

Recently however,I became aware of one inclusion in the Prohibited Weapons Act that makes the rest of the over regulation pale into insignificance.

A client, who is a paint ball operator, called, and advised that he was considering acquiring a bow for use on his paintball fields that can fire paintballs.  The device was called the Airow gun.  See http://airowgunsales.com/ 

Prior to importing any, he did the sensible thing and contacted the NSW Firearms Registry for a ruling.  They advised that:

‘We have had a ballistics determination done on this device previously, it is prohibited under s4(9) of the Weapons Prohibition Act 1998’, which provides:

Miscellaneous articles

4(9) Any device (regardless of its composition) that is designed to propel or launch a bomb, grenade, rocket or missile other than by means of an explosive including a device known as a PVC Cannon.

 

  1.      PVC CANNON

The PVC Cannon was a device made of plumbers pipe that, with a quick squirt from an aerosol can and ignition from a Barbeque lighter was capable of firing frozen oranges some distance.  It was quite often used by some high school science teachers to demonstrate practical physics.

I am not aware of any incidents where they were misused within the community, and believe that they were banned because of what Police may have perceived as risk, rather than observance of actual dangerous activities.  My observation for what it is worth being that difficulty measuring the gas charge, and variations in the payload, together with the absence of sights, make accuracy very much a ‘hit and miss’ affair. 

I understand that the genesis of this law, which also has the effect of making paint ball guns and devices designed to fire tightly rolled tea shirts into concert crowds, prohibited weapons, (and thus weapons requiring a permit), was non-lethal crowd control technology that became available in the early 1970’s to deal with anti-Vietnam war protests.

Police had not wanted protestors to be able to get hold of this technology and the prohibition continued from one Act of Parliament to another, as the law was periodically revised.  

 

  1.      PAINTBALL GUNS

 

When Paintball guns first appeared in the 1980’s, Police then mindlessly applied it to paintball guns.

Why? Presumably because the cap fitted. Nobody had the sense however to look at the substance of the matter and see if the cap was made of the right material!

In the early days of paintball guns, there were one or two incidents where guns were acquired interstate and they were discharged on the street. 

However, this type of lawlessness is easy enough to regulate through application of assault laws, and perhaps through a simple licensing regime, without the need for it to become a  prohibited weapon.

 

BOW & ARROW- ARCHERY AND ABORIGINAL WOOMERA

Of course, the breadth of the drafting used does not just impact Paintball guns, and upon reading the section again, the ‘penny dropped’, and the enormity of what Parliament has done hit me.

Because a bow is a device, that is designed to propel an arrow, which like a spear, is a primitive missile, (the Macquarie dictionary defines a missile as ‘an object or weapon that can be thrown)’, we are left with a situation where Parliament has banned the bow and arrow and Aboriginal Woomera!

I am sure this would be news to the thousands of archers who target shoot or hunt, andI would have thought it safer for Parliament to have added at the end of 4(9) some words that exclude Archery from the operation of the section.

Clearly, Parliament did not intend that every archer in NSW would need to obtain a Prohibited Weapons Permit, and that health and fitness organisations, and retreats, that have archery as an activity, should have to endure a level of over regulation like that experienced by the paintball industry.

For one thing, if it had been intended, these laws would have been enforced years ago.

My concern is that if the law is left as it is, it is open to a Police Officer to exercise a discretion to prosecute using this law.

I have raised this matter with the Hon Bob Borsak, of the Shooters Fishers & Farmers Party, who was going to raise it with the Police Minister.

NSW FIREARMS STORAGE SELF ASSESSMENT

On a more positive note, the NSW Firearms Registry has just sent me two copies of the brochure ‘Reduce your risk undertake the safe storage Assessment took to evaluate your risk’ this is a 27 question self-assessment brochure that enables you to gauge whether you are taking all reasonable precautions regarding storage.

My only real criticism of it is that the formula penalizes people in country areas- (which it acknowledges), and does not award extra points where one’s storage exceeds the minimum standard prescribed in the legislation.

However, these are small points, the important thing is that the brochure enables people to objectively evaluate their firearms storage and consider alternatives that would raise their score.

Once again. I congratulate the public servants responsible for this brochure, and recommend that you get hold of a copy of this self test and evaluate your own storage.

Simon Munslow over thirty years experience in legal practice and a life long passion for hunting and shooting. 

His experience includes post graduate qualifications in Public Sector Management, and ten years experience as an Administrative and Regulatory Lawyer with the Commonwealth Government.  This, together with his extensive knowledge and experience with firearms enables him to craft telling and creative arguments for shooters.

The balance of his time in practice has been in private practice where he has practiced extensively in criminal law, family law and firearms law. 

Simon is now semi retired, operating from a well equipped home office, and he restricts his practice to mostly handling firearms law matters.

He is passionate about keeping you shooting, which is something he does by representing shooters who fall foul of the law, and also by engaging in private political lobbying.

All material in his blogs are current at the time of publication. Blogs are of a general nature and do not constitute legal advice. 

If you need advice contact me for advice specific to your particular circumstances. 

If you have some information that you think I can use to help advance the cause of shooters, please also call me.

P: 02 6299 9690  F: 02 6299 9836  E: solicitor@bigpond.com 

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