Written by John Sutton
November 5, 2012
Over recent weeks there have been a number of reports of shootings in various suburbs of Western Sydney. It is arguable that people have switched off from this violence, and consider it to be part and parcel of the gang activity which is notorious in some of those areas. For many people involved in the criminal justice system, the most interesting part of the situation is the clearly prolific possession of firearms.
There are strict gun law in force in NSW and throughout Australia. However, it is clear that guns are still readily accessible to those who are willing to pay for it. A recent article in the Herald quoted Detective Sergeant Finch of NSW Police as stating that it was not uncommon for handguns to be sold on Sydney streets for up to $15,000. This quote was made in the context of a recent joint operation between Australian and United States law enforcement linking the smuggling of handguns from Nashville in the United States to guns seized in Sydney. These guns are suspected to have been disguised in car engines and imported into Australia.
The laws surrounding this issue are complex. For example, if a person is found in possession of an unregistered firearm and the police investigation is successful in tracing the gun back to its arrival into Australia there are a number of different charges that may be laid in relation to each stage of the process.
The typical process includes at least the following steps:
1. Importation of the firearm;
2. Sale of the firearm;
3. Possession of the firearm by the buyer.
The probable charge in relation to step one would be illegal importation of a firearm. The penalty for illegal importation of a firearm is a fine of up to $275,000 and 10 years imprisonment. The offence of selling a prohibited firearm or pistol carries a maximum penalty of 10 years imprisonment. The offence of possession of an unregistered firearm also carries a penalty of up to 10 years imprisonment.
Depending on the circumstances of the importation and sale of the firearm, there is likely to be a number of other charges open to the police including possession of a firearm in a public place and failure to keep firearm safely.
Despite the typical public reaction to gun crime in that we must legislate against it, it is clear that Australia and NSW already have legislated against it. The only way for gun crime to reduce, in Western Sydney or elsewhere, is through greater allocation of resources to investigation and prosecution of key players involved in the importation and sale of firearms in Australia.