report

Firearm Controls

Executive summary

Introduction

This audit assessed how effectively the Western Australia Police Force (Police) controls and regulates firearms in Western Australia (WA).

We reviewed Police’s licensing of firearm owners, dealers and repairers, as well as inspection and monitoring programs. We also assessed the effectiveness of key information systems Police uses to support its regulation of firearms.

Since 2000, we have conducted 4 audits of Police’s management and regulation of firearms. As part of this audit, we assessed progress made on our previous recommendations.

Background

In Australia, firearms and their owners are registered and licensed to protect public safety.

In WA, Police is responsible for the control and regulation of firearms and ammunition under the Firearms Act 1973 (the Act) and the Firearms Regulations 1974 (Regulations).

In May 2019, there were around 330,000 licenced firearms and 85,100 licence holders in WA.

To obtain a firearm licence in WA, applicants must meet eligibility criteria to confirm:

  • Criteria 1 – identity and that persons are fit and proper
  • Criteria 2a – genuine reason for a firearm
  • Criteria 2b – genuine need for Category B firearms and above (Appendix 1)
  • Criteria 3 – sufficient firearm knowledge and safety awareness
  • Criteria 4 – firearm details and good working order (serviceable)
  • Criteria 5 – secure storage for firearms and ammunition.

The Act lists the following 7 genuine reasons for a firearm:

  • hunting or recreational shooting
  • club membership
  • occupational
  • paintball
  • corporate
  • collection
  • another approved purpose – the Commissioner of Police has discretion to decide a genuine reason.

Under the Regulations, Police has to keep a register of information for each licence application. The register must record information such as the applicant’s name, date of birth and address; as well as the type, magazine size, calibre, and serial number of the firearm. The register must record all successful and refused applications.

To support accountable and transparent licence approvals, the Regulations also require Police to maintain records and state that only an officer ranking sergeant or above can approve and issue a firearms licence.

Most licences are valid for one year. Police issue a renewal notice about 1 month before a licence expires. The licence holder must pay a renewal fee, however they do not have to submit any new information when renewing a licence.

Police is required under the Regulations to issue an infringement if a licence is not paid within 3 months of its expiry date.

Under the Act, Police can inspect and monitor compliance with licence conditions, but there is no requirement to do so. Police inspections should confirm that firearms and ammunition are securely stored, keys are not accessible, and firearms are not loaded.

In 2016, Police introduced the Licensing and Registry (L&R) information system to support its regulatory functions. The system records details of licence applications, licensed firearms and users, licence conditions, and firearm storage. It also guides staff through the key licence assessment processes, including final approval before a licence is issued. The L&R system also has some reporting functionality.

Figure 1 summarises key elements of a good regulatory framework. Our audit focused on the areas shaded blue.

              Figure 1: Key elements of a good regulatory framework

Audit conclusion

Police assess about 10,500 firearm licence applications each year, and approve over 99% of them. We found that dedicated staff with appropriate experience and knowledge carry out the work. However, weaknesses in Police controls raise significant risks.

While our audit did not find any evidence that Police approved licences inappropriately, it did find that assessments and decision making lack demonstrated rigour and transparency. This increases the risk that decisions to approve and decline applications may not be appropriate or consistent.

Further, the audit also found there is limited monitoring of compliance with licence conditions, and when Police does inspect, it is not informed by a documented risk assessment. Police is also slow to follow up when licences have expired or for deceased estate firearms. Risk-based and timely compliance activities are essential to effective regulation of firearms.

Police’s key firearm licensing information system does not effectively support the entity to carry out its licensing and compliance activities. Basic licence and compliance information is unreliable and hard to get.

Police is still to address a number of findings raised in our previous audits that date back nearly 2 decades.

Key findings

Licence assessment procedures are not sufficient and transparent

Licence assessment procedures and guidance for staff are inadequate. Formal procedures were last updated in 2012 and are not used by staff to assess licence applications because they are out of date.

Staff also lack formal guidance on key elements of the assessment process, and how Police has interpreted key legislative requirements. This increases the risk that assessments will be inefficient and inconsistent. Police informed us it plans to develop formal guidance for staff.

Eligibility assessments were poorly documented. Twelve of the 27 assessments we reviewed had poorly documented assessments of fit and proper person, genuine reason and need, and storage. Good records support sound decision making and improve accountability and efficiency.

Oversight of licence approvals lacked rigour. During July 2016 and December 2017 over 150 licence applications were partly assessed by the same person who approved the licences, and another 19 were approved by the person who carried out all steps in the assessment. Inadequate segregation of key licensing steps increases the risk of errors and misconduct.

Monitoring and compliance activities do not address risks

Police’s approach to monitoring compliance with licence conditions has a number of weaknesses. In particular:

  • licences are not selected for inspection based on a documented assessment of risk
  • inspection procedures and guidance are inadequate. For example, inspection procedures have not been updated since 2013 and guidance on how to assess licence holder compliance with key conditions of their licence is lacking
  • internally set inspection targets in 3 of the last 4 financial years were not met. In 2017-18, Police only inspected 788 of the target 1,050 firearm owners, and 35 of the target 50 dealers and repairers
  • Police is slow to follow up, and recover firearms from deceased estates and expired licences where necessary. We found it takes Police on average 150 days from notification to secure firearms from deceased estates, and at least 6 months from the time an infringement is issued to actively follow up expired licences.

These weaknesses limit the effectiveness of Police’s monitoring and inspection activities, the likelihood that non-compliance will be identified, and the recovery of firearms in a timely manner.

Information systems do not support effective regulation of firearms

Control weaknesses and a lack of system functionality limit the effectiveness of Police’s firearm licensing system. Control weaknesses relate to data input, logging and monitoring of access, and authorisation to approve licences. These issues affect the integrity, reliability and completeness of information in the system. In addition, a lack of reporting functionality makes it difficult for Police to review and continually improve processes and activities.

Recommendations

To strengthen its control and regulation of firearms in WA, Police should:

1.   update its policies and procedures for licence application assessments and inspections, and keep sufficient records to demonstrate accountable and transparent decision making

Police response: Agreed

Implementation timeframe: by December 2019

2.   develop and implement a risk-based regulatory framework, including a licence inspection program

Police response: Agreed

Implementation timeframe: by December 2019

3.   implement appropriate controls in the L&R system to ensure only delegated authorities can approve licences in the system

Police response: Agreed

Implementation timeframe: by December 2019

4.   implement appropriate procedures to secure firearms from deceased estates and expired licences in a timely manner

Police response: Agreed

Implementation timeframe: by December 2019

5.   address L&R system issues to ensure data integrity and reliability, and accurate and timely reporting.

Police response: Agreed

Implementation timeframe: by July 2019

Response from the Western Australia Police Force

The majority of findings relate to inconsistencies with documentation or adherence to policies and procedures within Licensing Services (Firearms) heightened by some inadequacies within the Firearms Licensing and Registry system.

The Licensing & Registry Enhancement Project is in progress with estimated delivery in July 2019. It is anticipated this will address the issues relating to data integrity, systems reliability and business reporting.

By way of an overall response to the performance audit on firearm controls we agree with the five areas highlighted by the audit and accordingly, believe we have sufficient risk management and related controls in place, or in development, to achieve compliance.

Licensing Services (Firearms) acknowledges the audit findings and recommendations, and will focus on the implementation of improvements to administrative practices and procedures.

The Western Australia Police Force will continue its endeavour to improve its capability to fulfil its obligations under the Firearms Act 1973.

 

 

 
Page last updated: May 15, 2019

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