Alcohol and Guns - The Loose Cannon

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A friend of mine recently completed a Firearms Course and was advised that it was against the law to drink and shoot.  While technically correct, as alcohol often accompanies hunters on hunting trips, this topic requires some clarification.

A quick look at relevant law in some of Australia’s states reveals some similarity- and also inconsistency in how the issue of alcohol and firearms is treated under our so called ‘national gun laws’.

The Victorian Firearms Act 1996 (s132) prohibits ‘carriage or use’ of a Firearm while under the influence of a prohibited drug or alcohol. The maximum penalty being 120 units or 2 years gaol.

In Queensland, s59 of the Weapons Act 1990 in Qld, prohibits ‘physical possession’ or ‘use’ of a firearm while under the influence of alcohol or a prohibited drug, with a maximum penalty of 40 penalty units.

The Tasmanian Firearms Act s120 makes it an offence to ‘handle or use’ a firearm while under the influence of alcohol or any other drug. Penalty 50 penalty units or two years imprisonment.

in NSW, Firearms Act 1996 s64 prohibits ‘handling or using a firearm’ while under the influence of any drug or alcohol carries a penalty of 5-year imprisonment with no fine specified!

This is clearly an area where standardisation is called for, not only in terms of language used, but also penalty. 

A Penalty Unit is $110 so we can see a considerable variation in perceived seriousness between Queensland, Tasmania, Victoria and NSW.

The NSW section is another example of the absurdly punitive approach adopted by Bob Carr, who when Premier of NSW pronounced that he wanted his laws to ‘be twice as tough as everyone else’s’, something which many shooters have interpreted as payback for what we shooters did to a former Labor Government led by Barry Unsworth.

Unfortunately, unlike the operation of a boat or car, prescribed minimum levels have not been applied to the amount of alcohol permitted to be consumed.  This is actually quite important because some substances, such as hair spray, sore throat lozenges or cough medicine contain alcohol and have been known to create readings high enough to cause difficulty for motorists faced by zero alcohol laws, and while most of us are unlikely to use hair spray before going hunting, use of an alcohol based cough suppressant could be a possibility.

It is therefore safer in this context for legislation to provide for a minimum ‘trace’ amount of alcohol than to prescribe ‘no’ alcohol.

When on a hunting trip, aside from the issue of the presence of firearms, it may also be necessary for a person to have to move a vehicle, or, in the event of a campsite accident of some sort, drive someone for medical assistance, so, sobriety also needs to be considered regarding this.

If you want to have a drink, I would be locking unloaded firearms and ammunition away in a vehicle, and locking the vehicle, and I would be sticking below the .05 blood alcohol level by allowing myself no more than two standard drinks.

I would not be prepared to handle the firearm for several hours after having a drink until I was satisfied that traces of alcohol had cleared my system.

In order to be prudent, I would also want all firearms in the camp to be locked away as well, to avoid the possibility of someone who has not been drinking, handing a firearm to someone in the party who has been. This could after all happen quite innocently, as one does not need to be ‘intoxicated’ to fall foul of this law.

Simon Munslow October 2018

FIREARMS ACT 1996 - SECT 126

Safekeeping of firearms and cartridge ammunition while being carried or used

(1) A person who is carrying or using a category A or B longarm must— 
(a) ensure that the firearm is carried and used in a manner that is secure and is not dangerous; and 
(b) must take reasonable precautions to ensure that the firearm is not lost or stolen. 
Penalty: 60 penalty units or 12 months’ imprisonment. 
(2) A person who is carrying or using a category C or D longarm or a general category handgun must— 
(a) ensure that the firearm is carried and used in a manner that is secure and is not dangerous; and 
(b) must take reasonable precautions to ensure that the firearm is not lost or stolen. 
Penalty: 120 penalty units or 2 years imprisonment. 
(3) A person who is carrying or using a category E longarm or a category E handgun must— 
(a) ensure that the firearm is carried and used in a manner that is secure and is not dangerous; and 
(b) must take reasonable precautions to ensure that the firearm is not lost or stolen. 
Penalty: 240 penalty units or 4 years imprisonment. 
(4) A person who is carrying or using cartridge ammunition must— 
(a) ensure that the cartridge ammunition is carried and used in a manner that is secure and is not dangerous; and

(b) must take reasonable precautions to ensure that the cartridge ammunition is not lost or stolen.

Penalty: 60 penalty units or 12 months imprisonment.

Simon Munslow

National Firearms Lawyer
P: (02) 6299 9690
M: 0427 280 962
E: solicitor@bigpond.com
W: firearmslawyer.com.au

Simon Munslow is a lawyer who has a lifelong interest in shooting, having acquired his first firearm at the age of nine, and has had an active interest in firearms law since writing a thesis on the topic over thirty years ago at University.
Simon Munslow practices extensively in Firearms Law matters throughout Australia.

He is a regular contributor to the Australian Sporting Shooter magazine’s website on Firearms law matters, has published articles on firearms reviews and firearms law, and occasionally is asked to comment in the broader media on firearms matters.

This article is written for general information only and does not constitute advice. 
He can assist you with:

Criminal law & Administrative law and in particular that related to Firearms

• All firearms, weapons and game charges
• Avoiding & setting aside Apprehended Violence Orders
• Possession of unregistered firearms
• Unsafe transportation & storage matters
• Applications for prohibited weapons
• License Appeals
• Freedom of Information / Government Public Access matters
• Importation & Customs problems
• Advices & opinions related to Firearms law matters

 

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