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Firearms of “Military Appearance”

Firearms of “Military Appearance”

Savage cover

There has been a lot of talk about rifles fitted with pistol grip or chassis stocks in Western Australia recently – specifically, the Police’s readiness to confiscate firearms that have them fitted.  Why are they confiscating them?  What does it mean for the average shooter and the sport of shooting?
Pistol grip stocks are something that has featured on many firearms over the years, and indeed, many military firearms feature pistol grip stocks.  It would seem logical that innovation in firearm design would be pioneered by the military.  Those innovations have made their way into the recreational market since firearms were available to the public.  blackhawk rifle stocksClick the photograph to reveal the ludicrous interpretation
While many hunters still use conventional hunting stocks, the popularity of the “thumbhole” stock has increased in recent years.  Being on the counter of a successful firearms dealership for more than 10 years myself, it is remarkable of how tastes have changed.  Comfort is a priority for many shooters – thumbhole and pistol grips stocks certainly deliver this.  With more and more hunters preferring to shoot from a vehicle (over the bonnet, off the roof or out the window) the need for a vertical grip angle for comfort has become more pronounced.  Modern recreation firearm design reflects this market.

Why are the Police confiscating them?

 

The argument from Police Licensing Services (PLS) is that these firearms are “military in appearance”, and therefore should not be granted a license for recreational use.

“Please refer to Firearm Regs 1974 – Refer Section 26(1)(3) Cat  D.    Division 4 (7) Cat D1   (Military in Appearance)  “

– Police Licensing Services

TRG42Sako TRG – An actual military firearm, though not restricted in licensing for recreational purposes in WA
However, PLS’s complaint lies solely with the stock, and not the rest of the gun itself.  Those who have had their firearms seized have been informed that if they were to source different stocks the firearm would again be allowed to be licensed.  It would seem the stock connected to the rifle is the sticking point.
This banning of firearms of ‘Military appearance’ is confirmed in Hansard by the Hon Michael Mischin’s response, as acting Police Minister, to Hon Rick Mazza’s questions regarding seized category B rifles:
Hon Mr Mischin’s responces:(3)          The only time that a category B class firearm would be re-categorised as a category D1 Class firearm is when it fits into the description of a D1 firearm under schedule 3, clause 7 of the firearms regulations 1974

 

(4)          There are various category B class firearms that meet the description of a D1 class firearm by substantially duplicating and having the appearance of a self-loading, centre fire rifle designed or adapted for military purposes….

 

(5)          A category B2 class firearm that had the appearance of a category D1 class firearm could impact on public safety by causing fear and panic if it is believed the firearm is a military style firearm, similar to those used in the Port Arthur massacre.

Firearms Regulations 1974

D1

a self loading centre fire rifle designed or adapted for military purposes or a firearm that substantially duplicates such a firearm in design, function, or appearance

On the surface it would appear that PLS and their spokesperson in the legislative assembly have only the public’s safety in mind.

Is this a legitimate use of the Legislation?

 

There are two main arguments the Police are using against the licensing of these firearms:

  1. These firearms “Substantially duplicate” (as written in the Regulations) a firearm of Category D and are therefore prohibited.  These firearms are too “Military” in appearance.
  2. That these firearms, if allowed into the hands of the public, are likely to cause fear and panic if it is believed they are military firearms, similar to those used in the Port Arthur massacre.
German M98 

German manufacture Mauser M98 – a rifle manufactured for military use

In refutation of argument 1, the first question would therefore be –what constitutes being military in appearance? Reading the legislation itself it reveals that a firearm of military appearance itself is not prohibited, but a firearm that duplicates a self-loading centre fire rifle adapted for military purposes is prohibited.This makes sense, as previously stated, as nearly all modern recreational firearms owe their lineage to military innovation – banning all modern bolt action rifles due to them being based on the original Mauser turnbolt design, makes little sense.  Therefore, you would think the focus itself would be on the firearm’s action giving the appearance it was a semi-automatic rifle adapted for military purposes.  The question must then be asked – how does a firearm resemble a firearm of Category D with one stock and not with another? Surely the Police must be using some sort of reference.  They must have an example of a military firearm that they compare recreational rifles against to come to a decision whether they resemble a military rifle. Beaton Firearms thought this and Beaton Firearms were wrong – we have been informed by FLS that there is no guideline for us to go by – it seems the OIC of FLS has ample spare time to certify each firearm independently.  Russian Nagant The Russian Nagant bolt action rifle – another rifle manufactured for military use
The second point, confirmed in Parliament by the Hon Mr Mischin, is that such firearms fitted with stocks that the PLS deem “Military in appearance” are likely to cause fear and panic if seen by the public.
What the PLS and the Hon Mr Mischin fail to remember is that there is other, more specific legislation that deals with the issue of going armed in public – if a licensed shooter were to expose his firearm in full view of the public he would be breaking the law, regardless of whether it were deemed of  “Military in appearance” by the OIC of FLS.  A member of the public uneducated with firearms would unlikely be frightened if presented with a black-stocked firearm but be cool if confronted with a more conventional firearm.  Using this area of legislation to restrict firearm owners going armed in public is ludicrous.

SKS

The SKS rifle, like the one used in the Port Arthur Massacre.

How many licensed firearms have a similar appearance to any of these military rifles?

This is further backed-up be several State Arbitrary Tribunal (SAT) cases, in which several firearm owners won their cases and were able to keep their .338 Lapua caliber rifles.  Several of these were of Barrett manufacture.  Anyone familiar with military rifles will know that these are indeed active service military rifles – the SAT gave approval of the applications as the rifles were not duplicating the appearance of a semi-automatic military firearm.  The other active-military firearm that has been licensed in WA is the Sako TRG – I’m yet to console a disgruntled firearm license holder refused an application for a Sako TRG, though it fits the description of a firearm targeted by the quoted legislation.

Recommendations

 Remingtin with AI stockA Remington 700 bolt action rifle, fitted with an Accuracy International rifle stock.  Accuracy International rifles are in active military service – this rifle is made to resemble that rifle, yet is not restricted.
The question remains – why do the Western Australian Police choose to ban some firearms and not others?  That, I cannot answer.  I cannot say for the same reason as I cannot say why they chose to have a temporary prohibition against .338 lapua calibered rifles.  Or why they chose to pick on duel caliber firearms for a time.  Or Air rifles with shrouds that barely altered the report of the rifle.   The only similarity between these cases is that PLS relish temporarily restricting the trade of firearms, only to roll over on a particular issue and pursue something else. “This interpretation of legislation serves no benefit to public safety and does not follow the Western Australia Firearms Act or Regulations in the spirit it was written”
The PLS themselves have stated that the fitting of a conventional stock would make an otherwise ‘Millitary in appearance”   firearm legal in their eyes.  So if you own a firearm that may be deemed as such, I would recommend sourcing a conventional rifle stock prior to Police confiscating it.  This is the only sure way of mitigating such a nonsensical issue.
Any questions can be directed toward the contact details found on the Contact Us are of our website.
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