In early 2012, the NSW Police Firearms Registry re-interpreted the Firearms Act. As a consequence, firearms licences were no longer issued to wildlife volunteers. The NSW Wildlife Council immediately began negotiations with the Firearms Registry. Now, wildlife volunteers can again receive a permit for “Animal Welfare” reasons.
Its late, its remote, and an animal lies suffering on the side of the road. Its too large for transport, too badly injured for treatment, and veterinary care is too far away. This is a common dilemma for wildlife rehabilitators. In circumstances like these however, there is often only one option available. To avoid unnecessary suffering the law requires that the animal be immediately euthanised. It is a difficult task for any wildlife rescuer but on occasions its the most humane response.
For many years, wildlife rehabilitors in NSW could hold a firearms licence for the purpose of euthanising native animals in this situation. Mainly in rural areas, these licenses were held by designated rehabilitators who were called on as needed. In early 2012 there was consternation throughout wildlife rehabilitation as already approved rehabilitators found their renewal applications being rejected.
The Police Firearms Registry had a new interpretation of the Firearms Act 1996. This resulted in wildlife volunteers not being included on the list of people and organisations permitted to hold a firearms licence for the genuine reason of “Animal Welfare”. At this time also, the Registry expressed some concern about the standards and uniformity of training for wildlife volunteers in this area. With the assistance of the Firearms Registry, the NWC developed a Firearms Safety Brief (Operating Guidelines and Procedures for Wildlife Volunteers). This works in conjunction with the “Notes for Wildlife Group Firearms Coordinators & Instructors“, also developed by the NWC. These documents were formally approved by the NSW Firearms Registry on 12 February 2013.
Firearms Safety Brief – Flexible Delivery
Not every wildlife group needs to euthanise native animals by firearm. In the groups that do, only a few people are required to have this special skill. Being specialised, the demand for this training is not strong. This posed a problem for training delivery. Conventionally, training has been delivered in group settings but that requires sufficient demand to warrant the inherent expense and logistics.
The NWC Firearms Safety Brief solves this problem. The brief is available to all NWC members free of charge. The training can be delivered to a whole group or on an individual basis. A wildlife group has only to nominate a suitably qualified person to be their Firearms Coordinator to begin training suitable applicants.
The Firearms Safety Brief ensures new inexperienced volunteers have the appropriate knowledge and skill to euthanise animals safely and humanely. Firearms licences are no longer issued directly to wildlife volunteers in NSW for “Animal Welfare” reasons, and this training is not designed for new firearms licence applications. Those needing to euthanise native animals using a firearm must apply for a special permit for this purpose, but first, they must already hold a firearms licence for another genuine reason (e.g. vermin control).
To obtain a firearms licence, the applicant must complete the usual NSW Police Licence Application Form for another, genuine, reason. The standard “Police Registry Firearms Safety Awareness Course” must be completed as part of this licence application. Once completed, the applicant can then apply for an additional permit for “Animal Welfare” purposes, as described below.
Applying for a Permit for “Animal Welfare” Reasons
The applicant for this permit must already hold a firearms licence. They then apply for this special permit using the “Firearms Permit (Form P634 & Commissioner’s Firearms Permit – Other Legitimate Reason Form)“. They will also need to provide a “Letter of Support” from their wildlife group. This letter must confirm the applicant has successfully passed the NWC Firearms Safety Brief training or equivalent.
Renewing a License Previously Issued Under the “Animal Welfare” Category
Existing licences issued under the “Animal Welfare” category will continue to hold their authority. When such a licence is due for renewal, the applicant will be required to apply for a new licence for another, genuine, reason (e.g. vermin control), and undertake additional training to receive a permit to euthanise wildlife for “Animal Welfare” reasons, as explained above.
The NWC Firearms Safety Brief training must be delivered by a suitably qualified person. Wildlife groups need to nominate a firearms coordinator. This person must hold a current firearms licence and have a minimum of five years experience with firearms. They must familiarise themselves with both parts of the NWC Firearms Safety Brief – “Firearms Safety Brief (Operating Guidelines and Procedures for Wildlife Volunteers)“, and the “Notes for Wildlife Group Firearms Coordinators & Instructors“. Then they can guide the applicant through the brief and administer the testing. If a group doesn’t have an experienced person to act as Firearms Coordinator, then a local qualified firearms instructor can deliver the training.
Rehabilitators not in a Wildlife Group
Those wildlife carers not in a registered wildlife group can do the training with any wildlife group that has a correctly nominated Firearms Coordinator. Alternatively, they can have a qualified firearms instructor deliver the training individually.
NWC Advocates for a Better Solution
Previously, wildlife volunteers had been included with “Other Handlers” under the Firearms Act. This meant wildlife volunteers could apply directly for a licence on “Animal Welfare” grounds. With the change in policy in 2012 this was no longer possible. The NWC Firearms Safety brief is one solution to this problem. A better solution would be to directly recognise wildlife volunteers as having a valid reason to request a firearms licence.
The NSW Wildlife Council has written to the NSW Government asking them to amend the Act to include wildlife volunteers. The NWC is hopeful that the NSW Government will amend the NSW Firearms Act 1996 to allow wildlife volunteers to apply for a licence under an “Animal Welfare” category. This would remove the need to apply for an additional permit.
The NWC thanks Philip Machin, NWC representative for the Native Animal Rescue Group (NARG), for his successful stewardship of this project. The NWC Firearms Safety Brief, with its combination of flexibility of delivery and emphasis on safety, is an optimal outcome for rehabilitators and the community. Most importantly, it helps to ensure professionally delivered and safe alleviation of undue suffering for native animals in distress, which is an optimal outcome the NSW Wildlife Council always strives to achieve.