Growing Number of Firearms Offences Being Sentenced in Victorian Courts: New Study

Media Release

Embargoed until 12:01 a.m. (AEST) Wednesday 15 May 2019

A report released today by the Sentencing Advisory Council reveals that larger numbers of firearms offences* are being sentenced in Victorian courts, and the courts’ are increasingly using imprisonment in sentencing these offences.

The number of charges of firearms offences sentenced in Victorian courts increased 34% in the five years to 30 June 2017 (from 2,375 to 3,191 sentenced charges). Almost half of these involved the possession, carriage or use of firearms (46% across all courts).

Firearms offences were often associated with other criminal activity, and most firearms cases (68%) had at least two charges of other offences sentenced in the case. For offenders sentenced in the higher courts (the County and Supreme Courts), drug offences were a common co-sentenced offence, as were offences against the person, such as armed robbery.

Most firearms offenders were male (93%), and the average age of adult offenders was 34 years. There was a marked association between firearms offending and the use of methylamphetamine, including ice.

There are 132 firearms offences defined in Victorian law, carrying maximum penalties ranging from a fine (up to 10 penalty units) to 17 years’ imprisonment. In sentencing firearms offences that carried a maximum penalty of imprisonment:

  • 84% of the charges sentenced in the higher courts resulted in imprisonment;
  • fines were the most common sentencing outcome (26% of all charges sentenced) in the Magistrates’ Court. However, as the rate of fines decreased (from 31% in 2012–13 to 20% in 2016–17), both imprisonment and community correction orders became more common, accounting for 59% of all charges sentenced in the Magistrates’ Court in 2016–17; and
  • a youth justice centre order was the most common sentence in the Children’s Court in 2016–17 (35% of all charges).

Of the 328 total charges of ‘being a prohibited person possessing, carrying or using a firearm’ sentenced in the higher courts, 300 (91%) received imprisonment.

Of firearms offenders sentenced in the higher courts:

  • 83% had a prior history of offending, and 40% had drug priors;
  • 34% were on an order, such as bail or a community correction order, at the time of the firearms offence;
  • 81% had substance abuse issues (alcohol and/or other drugs), and 65% were identified as methylamphetamine users;
  • 89% had a personal history of adversity, and almost one-third (32%) had a mental illness or related condition; and
  • over half (55%) of firearms offenders were considered by the court as having limited or negative prospects of rehabilitation.

Quotes Attributable to Council Chair Professor Arie Freiberg

‘This report provides insight into the difficulties courts face when sentencing firearms offenders, who often have significant criminal histories and complex personal circumstances. However, the nature of these offences is often such that there is a clear community interest in prioritising community protection as a purpose in sentencing.’

‘One of the most important findings in this research is that people sentenced for the offence of “prohibited person possess, use or carry a firearm” are overwhelmingly receiving sentences of imprisonment, as well as having to serve the firearms sentence partly cumulatively on the more serious offences of which they were convicted.’

‘We hope that this report will provide policy makers, courts, prosecuting agencies and the wider community with insights into the characteristics of firearms offenders, and the relationship between firearms offending, substance abuse (including methylamphetamine use), and involvement in drug and other profit-motivated criminal activity.’

Quote Attributable to Council Director Shane Patton, Deputy Commissioner, Victoria Police

‘Criminal offending involving firearms is of great concern to the community. This research shows an increase in the number of firearms offences sentenced in Victoria, as well as an increase in the proportion of offences receiving sentences of imprisonment.’

Firearms Offences: Current Sentencing Practices and a two-page factsheet will be published on the Council’s website.

*About Firearms Offences

The report examines trends over the five years to 30 June 2017 in the prevalence and sentencing of 132 firearms offence provisions contained in several Acts, including the Firearms Act 1996 (Vic), the Control of Weapons Act 1990 (Vic) and the Crimes Act 1958 (Vic). These offences cover acquisition offences, administration offences, alteration offences, ammunition offences, collector offences, deal/dispose offences, dealer offences, manufacture offences, possess/carry/use offences, safety offences and storage offences.