THE Oxley Command has the most licensed guns in the state and the numbers are rising, but police maintain the increase in firearms is no cause for alarm in a country area.
Rather, firearms checks are a priority for local police who claim the onus is on gun owners to ensure their weapons don’t end up in the wrong hands.
According to new figures, the number of guns in the Tamworth area jumped 17.9 per cent between 2010-2015 to 14,452, while Gunnedah increased 22.2 per cent to 3681 guns.
However, it was Inverell and Warialda that saw the second biggest spike in the region over the past five years, with firearms numbers jumping 20.6 per cent in each town, while Moree had a 16.9 per cent spike.
“It’s not unusual, we’re a country location,” New England crime manager Detective Inspector Ann Joy told The Leader yesterday.
“The issuing of those licences are scrutinised and only issued for genuine reasons.”
Tamworth has the second highest number of registered firearms in the state behind Dubbo, and the guns can be used for recreational hunting, vermin control, target shooting and primary production.
Oxley crime manager Detective Acting Inspector Jason Darcy said the onus is on the gun holder to do the right thing.
“When that gun turns up on the streets of Sydney, involved in a crime, you have to look at how they get hold of it,” he said.
“And those licensed owners are just as responsible if they do turn up in the wrong hands.”
Detective Acting Inspector Darcy said Oxley police had been pushing firearms compliance as a priority to ensure owners store guns in an approved safe, in a concealed location that wasn’t left unattended, but regularly checked.
“For those older landholders, you can’t just leave it on the back step for snakes, people have to be accountable for what happens,” he said.
“If there is a break-in and it has been determined the gun owner left the keys out or didn’t secure them properly, then we will take steps to prosecute them. They need to be responsible, just because you get a licence, doesn’t take away your responsibility.”
According to the gun figures, Narrabri saw a 14.9 per increase in registered guns in the five years to 2015, while Glen Innes saw a 13.9 per cent jump and Quirindi 13 per cent.
Barraba, Manilla, Uralla, Bingara and Guyra saw spikes of nearly 10 per cent between 2010 and 2015.
There are dedicated licensing officers att- ached to each policing command, including two in Tamworth.
The last gun audit, which took four years before it finished in 2013, saw every safe in the state cross-checked by police, including every licensed gun holder in the New England, Oxley and Barwon commands.
Detective Inspector Ann Joy said police have a detailed register of licenced holders and their guns and they can inspect a gun safe at any time.
“If there is a breach of the requirements we can suspend the licence and seize the firearms pending the outcome of that investigation,” she said.
“It’s also about the security of the firearms for those that have a licence to ensure that they comply with the regulations because that maintains the security of the firearm.”
Under the Firearms Act, a licensed holder must take all reasonable step to ensure it is kept safely, not lost or stolen or taken into the wrong hands.
If convicted of the offence, a gun owner faces up to two years imprisonment, or a $5500 fine.