There has been a recent spate of ‘bikie’ or 1% club related shootings in the news in Western Australia. Indeed, many of the articles in the paper relate to bikies these days. It’s not clear if this is because ‘bikie’ crime is on the rise, or news involving bikies just sells papers. In any event, in the last few months:
- the head of the Rebels in WA was shot dead by a sniper;
- a Hells Angels member had his home targeted in a drive-by;
- another Rebels member had his home targeted in a drive-by; &
- an associate of a club was recently charged over an incident in the CBD, in which the TRG were called in because of threats made with a firearm.
This is nothing new of course. Back in 2007 Johnny Montani went on trial for the shooting murder of Kevin “Mick” Woodhouse, a member of the Club Deroes who defected to the Coffin Cheaters. You can go back even further to 1989 when Gypsy Jokers club members allegedly shot Mongrel Mob Members in WA over a turf war. Members of 1% clubs have always been associated to firearms and firearms violence, for a number of decades.
In light of the recent gun crime by bikies, the WA Parliament has recently announced ‘sweeping new powers’ to keep guns out of bikie’s hands. These laws create ‘firearm prohibition orders’ which allow the Police Commissioner to ban certain people from holding a gun license. This includes members of 1% clubs. Once an order has been served, the police can stop and search the person the subject of the order for illegal guns, without warrant.
Will these laws stop 1% members from committing firearms offences?
The rationale for these laws is that they will prevent 1% members from obtaining firearms. The laws do this by, firstly, preventing them from holding a firearms license. Secondly, they allow police to search targeted 1% members for firearms without warrant. While the laws have an admirable goal, the reality is these laws will have little to no effect on firearms offences committed by 1% members. This is because of a number of fairly obvious reasons.
1. We already have strong Firearms licensing laws
Firstly, the Firearms Act already permits the Police Commissioner to refuse an applicant a firearms license if they are not a ‘fit and proper person to hold such a license’. This is an entirely discretionary decision. One would think that being a ‘bikie’ would be considered by the Commissioner to make a person unfit to hold a firearms license. It would be surprising if the Commissioner did issue firearms licenses to members of 1% clubs, given the strong ‘anti-bikie’ attitude of the WA Police.
So, new laws permitting the Commissioner to ban bikies from holding firearms licenses can hardly have any real effect if the Commissioner can already simply refuse to grant a firearms license to a bikie.
2. Most firearms are unlicensed
Secondly, most firearms used to commit offences are unlicensed, illegal firearms. Sources of illegal firearms include firearms stolen from:
- someone with a firearms license during a burglary;
- a gun shop; &
- the police.
Some firearms are manufactured overseas and imported illegally. Further, there are even home-made firearms.
Accordingly, preventing 1% club members from accessing firearms legally is going to have no measurable effect on their ability to commit firearms offences. If they use a firearm to commit an offence, it is almost certainly going to be an unlicensed firearm. One would think this is quite obvious because committing a crime with a firearm licensed to yourself is not the height of sophisticated criminal behaviour.
3. Penalties for gun crime don’t deter offenders
Thirdly, there are already very stiff penalties for the illegal possession of a firearm. There are also stiff penalties for offences of violence that might involve a firearm. These include GBH with intent, attempted murder and murder. Penalites include life imprisonment without the possibility of release in the case of murder. Despite these penalties, certain members of 1% clubs (and other persons of course) have not been deterred from committing serious firearm offences. Slapping a ‘firearm prohibition order’ on such a person, or having the ability to search them for a gun without warrant, will have minimal to no effect on the probability of them committing an offence.
4. Police already have sufficient powers to search without warrant
Fourthly police already have wide powers to search any citizen without warrant . It can hardly be said they needed further powers to search without warrant. It would be concerning if police were given more powers to search someone simply because a firearms prohibition order was slapped on them.
Unfortunately, it appears that again these proposed laws are designed to make the government look like they are doing something, when the laws will have minimal impact on firearms violence. This is like the situation where the government increases the maximum penalty for an offence in response to its prevalence. Such laws have minimal impact on the length of sentences for the offence and almost no impact on the rate crimes are committed. Unfortunately you can expect more fairly pointless laws such as these to be introduced as long as the relentless media coverage of members of 1% clubs continues.