Many shooters end up in court and have their guns seized because police do not properly understand and enforce firearm laws, according to a prominent lawyer.
“While the police sometimes can act in good faith, I think they can be a little bit misguided in regards to their interpretation of what’s what under the Act,” Sydney-based lawyer Stephen Mainstone says.
He made the comment on the latest episode of the Australian Hunting Podcast, which this time focuses on firearm law and its impact on gun owners.
In the podcast, Mainstone and host Jason Selmes discuss several cases involving shooters and dealers, and cover issues such as apprehended violence orders, transportation of firearms, safe storage and how to deal with police.
Mainstone has 30 years experience in the police, as a prosecutor and as a criminal defence lawyer. He has been defending shooters for about a decade.
“Sometimes they get it wrong,” he says of the police.
Much of Australia’s firearms ‘law’ is not in the legislation but only exists as guidelines, and this creates additional traps that shooters can fall into.
“If it’s the police who you’re dealing with when you’re out with your firearm, their interpretation is going to be what their commissioner says,” Mainstone explains.
He gives one example in which a man had his car stolen, and the vehicle included a firearm which had been secured to what could be considered reasonable standards, yet the owner was subsequently charged with not keeping the firearm safe.
In that case, the eventual outcome was good for the gun owner, but not before it’d been to court twice.
The podcast discusses other cases that Selmes describes as “mind boggling”, including one man charged with firearm offences after his seven-year-old son was seen with a plastic toy pistol, and a case that went to court based on the guesswork of a police officer.
Mainstone exposes how some people get trapped into acquiescing to having an AVO enforced against them, in good faith, not realising it means the automatic revocation of the firearm licence for 10 years. However, he also explains how it is now possible in some cases to have the revocation quashed.
The lack of understanding many shooters have of the potential consequences of talking with the police is one reason Mainstone says it’s a good idea to have a lawyer present when interviewed by police.
He says you generally do not have to answer any questions, and that a good lawyer will ensure you have “more control over the interview”.
Mainstone also talks about the situations in which you can record an interaction with police, even if it’s merely a safe storage inspection.
The podcast is relevant to shooters in all states and territories of Australia.
“You’d be surprised how similar the legislation is across Australia,” Mainstone says.
Listen to the interview on the Australian Hunting Podcast website.