Firearm Silencers – don’t get caught out!
As criminal lawyers, we have become aware of a significant increase in the number of enquires with us about firearm offences. The South Australian Police do conduct regular firearms safety audits of people with firearms licences, and I believe are doing so at the time of this article.
If your firearms licence has expired, you are almost certain to get a firearms safety visit, usually pretty soon after the expiry.
I want to deal with the increasingly less common, but not infrequent, situation involving the possession of a what is now called a ‘sound moderator’ but previously, under the 2013 Firearms Act, called ‘a silencer’.
From my own personal experience, it’s inaccurate to call them silencers as they didn’t silence the firearm, they just muted it. However, with use of low velocity bullets the noise could be barely noticeable at a distance. I recall that my old Walther .22 rifle came silencer ready with a thread and cover on the end of the barrel to fit one. I suspect other . There is a catch you should be wary of if you still own one of these rifles though. I talk more about that at the end of this article.
Once upon a time the use of firearms silencers were regarded as sensible and considerate to others as they reduced noise pollution and thereby reduced stress on people, livestock, birds and wild animals in the vicinity. Indeed, I recall from my landowners who had permitted us to rabbit and fox hunt on their property absolutely insisted that silencers were used. A quite adequate silencer could be legally purchased at very low cost. They were not serial numbered nor registerable and there must have been hundreds and hundreds of them if not thousands in South Australia alone.
But that all changed in 2013
In 2013 purchase or possession of a firearms silencer was made an offence as was the possession of silencer parts. For making a silencer the penalty was then $35,000 or imprisonment for 7 years!
What has happened to all those silencers? Nobody knows or for that matter has any means of knowing. They certainly have not all be surrendered in the general amnesty that is currently in place. I suspect that there are many in the firearms community that have silencers deep in the bowels of a shed from before 2013, if my most recent professional experience is any guide, as they are commonly turning up when the police do a routine firearms safety checks.
It seems that since about 2016 use of a silencer has been made more available by permits issued to “professional shooters”, but for recreational shooters there is currently no political appetite for restoration of the use of silencers.
So, I can easily imagine circumstances where someone is in possession of a silencer without any unlawful intent to use it, or even awareness of it.
Unfortunately, it is no defence to the charge of possessing a silencer to say:
- I bought it when it was legal;
- I haven’t used it since it was made illegal;
- I had forgotten it was even in the shed;
- I didn’t know I even had it anymore.
While none of the excuses above provide a defence, they may help to keep you from getting a prison sentence on guilty plea if any or all of the above are the case.
Basic and aggravated offences
The maximum penalty by the Magistrates Court for possession of a sound moderator being a basic offence – where you are in possession of a silencer – is a fine of up to $10,000 or imprisonment for up to 2 years. For an aggravated offence – where you are in possession of a gun and a silencer – a fine of up to $75,000 or imprisonment for up to 15 years is possible, and is dealt with by a Judge in the SA District Criminal Court.
It is classed as an aggravated offence if a silencer is found fitted to a to a firearm in your possession, however, there is a bit of a trap here for some. If a silencer is unearthed by the police during a firearms audit safety check and you also have in your possession one of those pre 2013 firearms that were made silencer ready, then you are also committing an aggravated offence. Yes, even if you never intended to fit the silencer to firearm.
My advice, if you have a silencer somewhere, dig it out and surrender it to a police station under the general ongoing amnesty. You will not be charged with possession of it because you are surrendering it.
Need Legal advice and representation?
You don’t need to bang around the internet anymore trying to make sense of all the online information about firearms.
Being a former Magistrate, (at Elizabeth, Port Adelaide, Port Lincoln and Mt Gambier Magistrates Courts, I have good reason to say I know something about the kinds of penalties that are likely to be imposed.
If you have been charged or reported for firearms offending, and want affordable legal advice with an experienced lawyer and former magistrate, then contact me Bill Morris at Northside Lawyers.
By the way, making a silencer, possessing the parts for making one or importing the parts to make one gives rise to unhappy outcomes as well. See the case reported by the ABC of a farmer down Mount Gambier way who in 2017 received an imprisonment penalty (suspended) who had seemed quite genuine and had good reasons for wanting to minimise gun noise, including protecting his own hearing and so as not to frighten his stock animals. If you want to read about his outcome check out this ABC media link.