Australian Institute of Criminology

Skip to content

Compliance with firearm laws

Storage compliance

The means to ensure the safe keeping of firearms when they are not being carried or in use are prescribed in state and territory firearm laws. In summary, these provisions describe the construction, anchoring and locking arrangements for receptacles used to store specific categories of firearm and ammunition. Sixty percent of owners who reported a firearm theft in 2008–09 were determined to have complied with firearm storage laws (see Table 26). The compliance rate in 2004–05 was also 60 percent, dropping to just over half (52%) in the following two years before increasing again to 57 percent in 2007–08.

Table 26: Status of compliance with firearm storage laws
 n%
Complied 351 60
Not complied 138 24
Unknown 97 17
Total 586  

Note: Excludes 15 incidents in which method of firearm storage was recorded as not applicable and hence not subject to storage laws. Percentages may not total 100 due to rounding

Source: AIC NFTMP 2008–09 [computer file] (excludes Western Australia and the Northern Territory)

Overall improvement in storage compliance was observed in just one of the larger jurisdictions (ie South Australia), although Western Australia also showed an increase in storage compliance for the years that data were available (see Figure 8). With the exception of 2007–08, South Australia has shown a consistently higher rate of storage compliance than other Australian jurisdictions, with at least two-thirds of owners recorded as storage compliant each year. New South Wales has also recorded a two-thirds or greater compliance rate, while Queensland’s rate has tended to sit below 60 percent. Victoria’s storage compliance rate was relatively even up until 2008–09 when it decreased 15 percent to 53 percent.

Figure 8: Trend in storage compliance, by selected jurisdictions (%)

 Figure 8

Note: Excludes Australian Capital Territory and Northern Territory due to the small number of firearm theft incidents reported in each territory each year. 2008–09 data for Western Australia not provided. Percentages are calculated from incidents in which the status of storage compliance was known (ie compliant or not compliant)

Source: AIC NFTMP 2004–09 [computer file]

Figure 9 compares the compliance status recorded for key firearm storage variables; that is, stored in a receptacle (locked and unlocked), left in a vehicle or generally unsecured. Not unexpectedly, firearm owners who had secured their firearms(s) in a locked receptacle before the theft incident were mostly described as storage compliant (87%), while those who had left the receptacle unlocked were mostly described as non-compliant (84%; see also Table 38). The majority of firearm owners who had left their firearms in vehicles were also considered to have not stored their firearms in compliance with storage laws. Non-compliance was recorded for 61 percent of owners who had their firearm(s) stolen from a locked car and 86 percent for owners where the vehicle was unlocked at the time of theft. There have been a number of incidents in each of the monitoring years where the storage arrangements described did not correlate with the recorded storage compliance status and this was the case again in 2008–09. However, these incidents have been too small in number to warrant investigating whether additional factors may have determined the seemingly contradictory compliance status applied.

Figure 9: Type of firearm storage and status of compliance (%)

 Figure 9

Note: Excludes 6 incidents in which compliance status was recorded as not applicable

Source: AIC NFTMP 2008–09 [computer file] (excludes Western Australia and the Northern Territory)

As discussed earlier, the majority of firearm thefts occurred in private residential premises and in these locations firearms were mostly stored somewhere within the house or in the garage or shed. Owners who had firearms stolen from the latter location had a higher storage compliance rate than owners whose firearms were stolen from within the house (80% cf 58%). This was also the case when considering compliance rates for the combined 2005–09 period (71% cf 56%). Firearm owners who stored their firearms in a garage or shed may be more inclined to secure their firearms because they perceive a greater theft risk to firearms stored away from the confines of the immediate domestic residence. Conversely, some owners who store their firearms within the home may feel the domestic residence affords better protection and hence are less vigilant with respect to the storage of their firearms. Firearms stolen from 17 percent of thefts in 2008–09 where the firearm was stored within a room of the house were described as unsecured or left in the open compared with six percent of incidents in which firearms were stolen from a private garage.

Storage compliance was also considerably greater for owners who reported multiple firearm thefts (74% of all firearm owners who reported such a theft in 2008–09) than those who reported single firearm thefts (42%; see Table 27). While the data did not indicate if firearm owners who reported single firearm thefts actually owned other firearms, the finding, which replicates results from previous years, suggests that owners of multiple firearms were more inclined to secure their firearms, for reasons that may be related to cost of replacement or greater responsibility that comes with multiple firearm ownership. However, some of the pattern may be influenced by the different circumstances in which single or multiple firearms were stolen. Firearm thefts from vehicles, for example, were usually associated with non-compliant storage arrangements; they also usually involved the taking of a single firearm, possibly because firearm owners are more inclined to transport firearms one at a time.

Table 27: Storage compliance, by number of firearms stolen
 Single firearm theftMultiple firearm theft
n%n%
Complied 105 42 246 74
Not complied 89 35 49 15
Unknown 59 23 38 11
Total 253 100 333 100

Note: Excludes 15 incidents in which method of firearm storage was recorded as not applicable and hence not subject to storage laws

Source: AIC NFTMP 2008–09 [computer file] (excludes Western Australia and the Northern Territory)

Rates of storage compliance among owners who reported the theft of firearms remained at 60 percent or less during the four year monitoring period. Some of this non-compliance was certainly attributable to incidents of firearm theft from vehicles, where an average 58 percent of owners (who reported a theft between 1 July 2005 and 30 June 2009) were deemed not to have taken all reasonable precautions to ensure the safe keeping of their firearms. However, on average, 25 percent of owners who had firearms stolen from a private dwelling (the principal location for firearm theft in Australia) similarly did not secure their firearms in accordance with firearm laws. Theft incidents characterised by the absence of appropriate firearm storage arrangements were associated with the theft of 59 percent and 17 percent respectively of all firearms reported stolen from these two locations between 1 July 2005 and 30 June 2009. Overall, firearms not stored appropriately at the time of the theft comprised almost a fifth (18%) of all reported stolen firearms during this period (see Table 28).

Table 28: Firearms stolen from non-compliant storage arrangements
 Firearms stolen from non-compliant storage arrangements (n)Total firearms stolen (n)Firearms stolen from non-compliant storage arrangements (%)
Private residential premises 847 5,111 17
Business premises 59 543 11
Vehicles 188 319 59
Other locations 39 218 18
Totala 1,133 6,191 18

a: Excludes firearms stolen from locations recorded as not applicable or unknown

Note: Excludes 2004–05 data due to some data variable comparability issues

Source: AIC NFTMP 2005–09 [computer file]

Breaches of firearm laws

Since 2004–05, around 20–25 percent of firearm owners who reported the theft of their firearms were found, or were suspected, to be in breach of one or more firearm laws. In 2008–09, the proportion was the same again with just over a fifth of firearm owners (22%) reporting the theft of a firearm subsequently found in breach (see Table 29). The highest breaching rate in 2008–09 occurred in Queensland (28%) and the lowest in South Australia and Tasmania (12% and 11% respectively; see Figure 10).

Figure 10: Firearm owners found in breach of firearm laws, by selected jurisdictions (%)

   Figure 10

Note: Excludes the Australian Capital Territory due to the small number of firearm theft incidents reported in the Territory each year

Source: AIC NFTMP 2008–09 [computer file] (excludes Western Australia and the Northern Territory)

Table 29: Firearm owners found in breach of firearm laws
 n%
In breach 132 22
Not in breach 404 67
Unknown 58 1
Not applicable 7 10
Total 601 100

Source: AIC NFTMP 2008–09 [computer file] (excludes Western Australia and the Northern Territory)

The overall proportion of firearm owners found in breach and subsequently charged and/or disciplined was similar to that recorded in 2007–08 (62%; see Table 30). This rate varied between the four largest jurisdictions included in the 2008–09 dataset, from 45 percent in Victoria to 75 percent in New South Wales (see Figure 11). Consistently higher rates of initiating proceedings against firearm owners have been recorded in New South Wales and South Australia since 2005–06, while rates have fluctuated considerably in Victoria and Queensland (see Figure 12). The absence of narrative in the data precludes reliable interpretation of this pattern.

Figure 11: Proceedings against firearm owners found in breach of firearm laws, by selected jurisdictions (%)

 Figure 11

Note: Excludes Tasmania and the Australian Capital Territory due to small theft numbers. Note: Care must be taken when interpreting data from South Australia due to small number of incidents in which firearm owners were found in breach of firearm laws

Source: AIC NFTMP 2008–09 [computer file] (excludes Western Australia and the Northern Territory)

Figure 12: Formal proceeding rates, by selected jurisdictions, 2005–06 to 2008–09 (%)

 Figure 12

Note: Excludes Tasmania and the Australian Capital Territory due to small theft numbers; excludes Western Australia and the Northern Territory due to absence of 2008–09 data

Source: AIC NFTMP 2005–09 [computer file]

Where formal proceedings had begun, only 11 firearm owners (or 9% of all owners proceeded against) had received disciplinary action or such action was pending. The remainder were known to have been charged (or charges were pending) but there was no indication if further action was to be taken (see Table 30).

Table 30: Proceeding against firearm owners found in breach of firearm laws
 n%
Proceeded against 82 62
Charged 63 48
Charges pending 8 6
Disciplinary action 9 7
Disciplinary action pending 2 2
No formal action 48 36
Unknown 2 2
Total 132 100

Source: AIC NFTMP 2008–09 [computer file] (excludes Western Australia and the Northern Territory)

The proportion of firearm owners found in breach of firearm laws and not proceeded against increased from 22 percent in 2005–06 to 36 percent in 2008–09. From earlier data it was apparent that owners were not charged due to:

  • reasons related to the expiry of the statute of limitations, the pursuit of charges not being seen in the public interest or the owner being infirm or deceased; or
  • a warning or caution being issued instead.

Where information was available as to the grounds on which police chose not to proceed with charges (n=48), 21 percent of owners were not charged as it was deemed not in the public interest to do so; another 19 percent were not charged because the statute of limitations had expired. A further 19 percent were not charged due to other reasons, including that there was insufficient evidence, the owner was elderly or had dementia, or the police believed the owner had made a genuine mistake.

Charges laid

A total of 101 charges were laid (or pending) against 82 owners who reported stolen firearms in 2008–09 (see Table 31). Thirteen firearm owners (16%) had multiple charges against them. The failure to secure or correctly store firearms was once again the most common offence firearm owners were charged with, making up 57 percent of all charges laid. The possession of an unregistered firearm accounted for eight percent of charges, as did the failure to possess the appropriate licence for the firearm stolen.

Table 31: Type of offences firearm owners charged with
 n%
Failure to secure or correctly store firearms 59 57
Unlawful or unlicensed possession of a firearm 8 8
Possession of an unregistered firearm 8 8
Breach of licence conditions 7 7
Failure to secure or correctly store ammunition 2 2
Othera 11 12
Unknown 6 6
Total 101 100

a: Includes offence of not prevent theft or loss of a firearm (n=4), failure to notify change of address where firearm is stored (n=2), unlawful possession of ammunition (n=1), use of a firearm in a national park (n=1) and not further defined (n=3)

Note: Multiple charges were laid against owners in 13 incidents. The total number of charges therefore exceeds the total number of firearm owners proceeded against (n=82)

Source: AIC NFTMP 2008–09 [computer file] (excludes Western Australia and the Northern Territory)