The NSC has had a huge win in a self-defence case that affects the interests of all licensed shooters.
In this article:
- An Alice Springs (Northern Territory) man beats gun charges after helping a stabbed neighbour;
- Court orders the return of his guns despite automatic ban under NT’s gun laws; and
- NSC writes to NT MP to seek changes to make NT’s gun laws fairer for people like him
This is an amazing story of not only how the man, Ron Sterry, beat unfair gun charges, but how the NT Magistrates Court issued an order trumping an automatic gun ban in NT.
It shows why supporting the NSC is the best way to for shooters to get the outcomes they need.
On 27 April last year, experienced first aider, Ron, went to the aid of his Alice Springs neighbour who had been stabbed.
It was dark, the assailant was still on the loose in a town known as the stabbing capital of the world, and the emergency services had not yet arrived.
To ensure his own safety, Ron took one of his rifles, a Model 1917 Eddystone 30.06, and a bayonet with him.
He did what he could to help the neighbour (she survived) and remained until the emergency services turned up.
After initially being let go by police to return home, a second group of officers stopped him and took his gun off him.
They also seized his remaining firearms and came back the next day to get his ammunition.
It was clear that NTPol intended to make an example of Ron, however, their actions were severly flawed.
Ron had not yet been charged with any offences, his licence had not been suspended until some 3 months later, and police failed to give Ron any receipts for what they took off him.
Ron eventually faced five charges despite helping his neighbour. They were that he:
- Charge 1 – Carried a loaded firearm in a public place;
- Charge 2 – Carried a firearm exposed to view in a public place;
- Charge 3 – Went armed in public; and
- Charge 4 – Carried a controlled weapon (a bayonet) in public;
- Charge 5 – Possessed a firearm (contrary to the genuine reason).
The problem we faced was two-fold. First, it was clear the police didn’t want to lose this fight, so we needed to understand how to fight all five charges. The second problem was how to help Ron get his guns back, if that was possible.
That’s because under section 10(2A) of the NT Firearms Act 1997, a finding of guilt on any of the offences would have resulted in Ron being disqualified from holding a firearms licence for 2 years.
It’s an unfair law written at the height of the political attacks on us.
To help Ron, many of you donated to our fund to help him use the best legal support we could find. For that, we used barrister Mr Jon Bortoli, who came to us recommended by the NT Firearms Council. We also used the services of local solicitor, Luke Gardner who we are also grateful to.
During this time Ron wanted his other seized guns that were unrelated to the charges transferred to a friendly dealer, as he was entitled to do under NT firearms law and as suggested to him by the NSC’s Vice President.
However the police resisted that idea. This resulted in Mr Bortoli having to write to the Chief Commissioner threatening more proceedings if this did not occur.
The police then allowed Ron to transfer all property unrelated to the charges. However, NTPol were determined to win their case against Ron and we understand they may have even flown in a Senior Prosecutor from Melbourne to run their court case for them all NT taxpayers’ expense.
The matter went to trial before Judge Birch in the Alice Springs Local Court on 19 October. After lengthy and careful deliberations by Ron and Jon, Ron entered not guilty pleas to all five charges.
At the trial, it was noted that Ron did not immediately load the firearm until after talking with the victim’s family. Even then, a round had not been chambered.
After the evidence was concluded, the prosecution withdrew Charges 2, 3 and 5 leaving Charges 1 and 4 remaining.
The decision was originally meant to be handed down 9 December but was deferred to 11 February. We took this as a positive sign that Judge Birch wanted to consider the matter properly.
The verdict on the remaining charges were:
- On Charge 1, Not guilty; and
- On Charge 4, Guilty. For this, Ron was placed on a 6 month good behaviour bond with a $500 penalty if he breached the bond. Importantly, no conviction was recorded.
His Honour found that Ron’s evidence raised a lawful excuse and that his actions were not ‘disproportionate’ or ‘unreasonable’ to have taken his firearm with him in the circumstances.
As you can imagine, Ron was happy with that outcome – but more good news was yet to come.
As you will recall, a finding of guilt of one of the offences could have disqualified Ron from holding a licence for a 2 year period.
After some discussion on a previous case, Burrarrwanga v Rigby, the Court issued an Order requiring the immediate return of Ron’s guns & licence, trumping the automatic disqualification.
If anything, this was the judiciary’s way of saying that the penalty was excessive. Here’s what the Court Order said:
Not to waste any time, Ron marched off to the police station with the Order to get his guns – and has now been reunited with them. He also got his licence back and we understand a new one will be issued shortly.
It is a fantastic outcome for shooters Australia wide because it shows what can be done by a competent organisation such as the NSC. It’s why more and more shooters are backing the NSC.
The last remaining thing for us to do is to see if we can effect change in the NT by having the NT Firearms Act amended to provide greater flexibility for when a disqualification period may apply.
There needs to be the option for at least an administrative review, so we’re raising this with NT MP and NSC member, Kezia Purick.
There was a lot of anger in the shooting community over this case and understandably many were pessimistic on Ron’s chances for a good outcome. However we believed in the principle of defending the matter which is why we fought it so hard for Ron.
A word from Ron…
“I wish to give a big THANK YOU to everyone that had supported me this past year.
I am deeply humbled that people would not only take the time out of their lives to help me but to also commit their hard earned dollars.
I am profoundly grateful to the National Shooting Council and its members; especially Neil, Peter and my lawyer Jon.
Thank you to the Shooting Stuff Australia podcast and Finally A big THANKS to my friends and family.
THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU!”
Ron, still in his court clothes, back with his Eddystone straight after the verdict
We couldn’t have hoped for a better outcome. It’s a great and fair outcome for shooters.
However, do not take this as an endorsement of vigilantism. Ron was forced into the position he was in to help save a life and potentially faced jail time but fortunately the courts saw why he did what he did.
If you end up breaking the law with a firearm and without a reasonable excuse, then you can expect to wind up in serious trouble.