Fired-up over changes to antique gun ownership

LOCAL firearms dealer and political candidate Ray Williams has joined his fellow Shooters, Fishers and Farmers Party colleagues in questioning a decision by Tasmania Police to cancel an exemption that allowed antique firearms to be owned without registration or licencing.

At a press conference in the New Norfolk Police Station late last week, Assistant Commissioner Rob Blackwood said “Exemption 4” had been cancelled with effect from that day, January 18. “Following a review, the Commissioner has determined to cancel Exemption No. 4 and antique firearms are now subject to the licencing, registration and storage provisions of the Firearms Act,” Mr Blackwood said.

Mr Blackwood said the changes were aimed at improving community safety and owners of antique firearms would be given time to consider their new licensing and registration requirements. “We understand this change will impact the owners of antique firearms,” he said. “The opportunity to apply for a time-limited individual exemption will give owners time to consider their options to keep, sell or dispose of the firearms,” he said. 

Following the announcement, Mr Williams questioned why the change was necessary. “My understanding is that pre-1900 firearms are rarely used in firearms crime,” he said. “To me this is another example of the woke political correctness and anti-firearm pressure that exists in Australia today and this is outright discrimination against law abiding Australians.”

Mr Williams urged firearms owners to join the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers Party of Tasmania, and provide financial support if possible, to enable the party to represent them in parliament. Mr Williams is the party’s candidate for Lyons at the next state election.

Mr Blackwood said a new process was being implemented to manage the possession of antique firearms manufactured before the year 1900. He said anyone who owned antique firearms must now take steps to ensure their possession of those firearms complied with the Firearms Act 1996. Antique firearms owners have four options:

  • Apply for a time limited individual exemption (to continue to possess these firearms in compliant firearms storage for a limited time whilst applying for a suitable firearms licence and registration);
  • Apply for a firearms licence, or a licence upgrade now (this will require immediate surrender of the firearms to a licenced dealer during the process);
  • Sell the firearm through a licensed firearms dealer; or
  • Surrender the firearm to police for destruction (Tasmania has an ongoing firearms amnesty).

The Shooters, Fishers and Farmers Party expressed “deep concern” over the changes, which is said targetted law-abiding citizens. “The apparent lack of proper stakeholder engagement in this decision raises serious questions about the transparency and inclusivity of the process,” Braddon candidate Dale Marshall said.

Mr Marshall said the potential impact on antiques and historical items was unjustified. He called for careful consideration and public discourse on the proposed changes. “This ensures the safety, accountability, and preservation of historical items within our community,” he said. “Urging a collaborative approach, SFF calls for a thorough evaluation to safeguard our rights and to protect what’s left of our proud firearm history that so often is entrenched into the communities of Tasmania. SFF remains committed to fostering a constructive dialogue to achieve solutions that prioritise both public safety and the preservation of our cultural artifacts.”

Assistant commissioner Blackwood said Commissioner Donna Adams had determined that excluding the category of pre-1900 firearms was not consistent with the intent of the Firearms Act 1996, or with the expectations of the Tasmanian community with regard to the licencing, registration and storage provisions for other types of firearms.

“A firearm can be used to intimidate or threaten, regardless of whether it can be fired. That’s why replica firearms are not legal,” Mr Blackwood said. “Antique firearms which were subject to Exemption No. 4 can’t be fired with commercial cartridge ammunition – they are muzzle-loading. These firearms are often held by collectors or been in families for generations.

“Exemption No. 4 is problematic for several reasons. It has been identified that Exemption No. 4 operates to exclude a category of firearm (pre-1900 firearms) from the licensing, registration and storage regime under the Firearms Act, rather than a person (or class of persons) being exempted. The exemption is not, therefore within the power conferred upon the Commissioner by the Firearms Act.

“It has been subject to misinterpretation, and some people have relied on it to possess antique firearms that take commercially available cartridge ammunition. It is difficult to determine whether cartridge ammunition is commercially available for the firearms (technological advancements mean previously obsolete ammunition is now available). It is also difficult to determine the year of manufacture – some models were manufactured between 1880 – 1920.

“The new process to possess antique (pre-1900) firearms will further help to protect our community by ensuring that proper processes are in place regarding the possession and storage of antique firearms. Importantly, it allows for fit and proper person assessments to be undertaken, which previously was not done in relation to antique firearms.

“In the coming days, all firearms licence holders will receive information about the changes and we’re encouraging anyone impacted to contact us at the earliest opportunity so we can help guide you through the process. We understand that these changes mean affected owners will need to take action and we have established a team of people specifically to support owners through this process.”

Mr Blackwood said work was also under way to seek a legislative amendment to the Firearms Act. “Consideration will be given to whether possession of antique firearms is permitted and, if so, the licence and training requirements that would apply. We’ll be continuing to liaise with key stakeholder groups including approved firearms clubs and historical societies, firearms representative groups and firearms dealers to ensure affected parties are supported through these changes.”

More information about the changes is available online at https://fas.police.tas.gov.au/ or by emailing antique.firearms.transition@police.tas.gov.au or calling 6173 2225.

Photo: Commander Doug Osterloo, left, acting inspector Phil Burton and Assistant Commissioner Rob Blackwood at the New Norfolk Police Station with examples of seized/surrendered antique firearms.

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