If you listen to talk around campfires and read some social media, you could conclude that some travellers believe shoving a firearm under the mattress of their camper, caravan or RV is a necessary and appropriate safety net against threats they may encounter on the road. Media coverage on crime in rural regions, combined with homicide and cop shows can fan the fire, giving people the impression that taking the law into their own hands is something that they might have to face on a bad day.
What’s more, variations in legislation across the states creates confusion, prompting otherwise law-abiding travellers to seek ill-informed advice online, or simply revert to what they did ‘back in the day’, placing them at risk of losing their gun licence, procuring hefty fines or facing charges, no matter their reason for carrying a gun. So we’re here to discuss how to navigate the rights and legal responsibilities of travelling with a firearm on the road.
WHO’S GOT THE GUNS?
Australia was created on the back of the fatted lamb, so our farming sector is huge. Many farmers need firearms for a variety of practical and legitimate reasons. Equally, there’s a law abiding sector of the Australian population that take part in hunting, or shoot as a sport. The legal rights of these individuals to own weapons are heavily regulated, with 2.6 million registered firearms in Australia
With this many licensed firearms, we should be alert to the fact that some of our fellow campers may be lawfully carrying a gun. But we probably don’t need to be alarmed. Some may be following the competitive shooting circuit, while others may be engaged in recreational shooting – including some who’ll be working with landowners to eradicate pest animals or to support the niche market in game meats.
In all cases, it’s important to understand that firearms can only lawfully be carried and used for the genuine reason for which the firearms licence was originally issued. So, even if we hold a firearms licence, we can’t simply ‘hit the road’ with a gun on board. There needs to be a legitimate reason to have it with us. And no legal authority in Australia will allows any of us to carry a firearm for the purpose of protecting ourselves from human threats that we might face when we’re travelling. We do not live in America.
TRANSPORT AND STORAGE
For those of us who hold a firearms licence, we’re also bound by strict provisions of our firearms licence that require the safe storage and carriage of our weapons and ammunition. As a minimum, we’re required to take all reasonable precautions to ensure:
- Its safe storage;
- That it’s not stolen or lost;
- That it doesn’t come into the possession of someone not authorised to possess it.
There are specific storage and transport requirements for each category of firearm and these vary depending on the state or territory. In Queensland, for example, you’re required to have a ‘Alternative Safe Storage Certificate’ if you intend to store your firearms in your caravan or camper as opposed to your vehicle.
Licence holders are expected to comply with the laws of the state through which they transit, not just those of their home location, and working out what applies – and where – can take some digging around. As in many areas of law, the truth is likely to be found in a combination of law, regulations, ministerial directions and policies.
So, if you’re a firearms licence holder considering travelling with a firearm, think about where you expect to visit and be prepared to contact the relevant state and territory firearms registries to get the good oil before you set off.
Some of the variables that may apply to firearms’ transport include:
- Is the boot of my vehicle satisfactory, and what if I have a ute?
- Does my firearms container need to be fabricated from a specific material, i.e., solid steel, solid timber or is hard moulded plastic adequate? In some states structural ply board is okay. In others, it’s not.
- How many locks need to be on the container? In some states it can be up to three locks!
- Does the container have to be secured or fitted to the vehicle?
- Is it enough that my firearm is fitted with a trigger lock, or do I need to remove the bolt/firing mechanism and store it separately?
- Does the jurisdiction require a temporary housing permit to store the firearm in my caravan, and do the rules change if I intend it to stay within the jurisdiction longer than three months?
In most jurisdictions, securing the firearm in the lockable boot of a sedan will suffice. But in some jurisdictions, once you start travelling with three or more firearms, you need to store them in a dedicated container. And it may be important to ensure that the firearms’ container doesn’t broadcast to the world that there’s a firearm inside.
Remember, too, that firearms registries may not always be able to give you a definite answer about your specific obligations. Ultimately, firearms ownership is an individual responsibility and your actions will be judged in light of all the circumstances specific to you. So the best approach is to plan to comply with the strictest firearms requirements of the states you’re planning to transit through. After all, if you get it wrong, asking forgiveness won’t cut the mustard.
Stuffing a firearm under a mattress is never okay. In fact, before we open our gun safe and take a rifle or shotgun on a recreational trip, we ought to consider why we are taking it. If it’s because we think we may feel unsafe on our travels, then perhaps we should consider changing our route, choice of campsites, or travel with a trusted group rather than going solo.
And the next time you’re sitting around a campfire and someone boasts that they keep a firearm under their pillow like James Bond “just in case”, you might like to stand up for law-abiding firearms owners and tell them that, like their firearm, they should “get back in their box”.
Before entering a territory or state with a firearm, we recommend you contact the relevant authority for the safe storage requirements in a vehicle or caravan/camper.
- ACT Firearms Registry: (02) 6133 2122
- NSW Police Firearms Registry: 1300 362 562
- NT Firearms Policy & Records Unit: (08) 8922 3543
- Qld Weapons Licensing Branch: (07) 3015 7777
- SA Firearms Branch: (08) 7322 3346
- Tas Police Firearms Services: (03) 6173 2720
- Vic Licensing & Regulation Division: 1300 651 645
- WA Police Licensing Services: 1300 171 011
Check out the full feature in issue #102 July 2016 of Camper Trailer Australia magazine. Subscribe today for all the latest camper trailer news, reviews and travel inspiration.