SPE­CIAL RE­PORT: Hun­dreds of stolen weapons un­re­cov­ered, with fears many are in hands of crims

Balonne Beacon - - Front Page - ELLEN RANS­LEY

A STAG­GER­ING num­ber of firearms have been stolen from ru­ral and re­gional south­ern Queens­land towns in the past 18 months, and de­tec­tives are con­cerned many of them could now be in the hands of or­gan­ised crim­i­nals.

More than a dozen weapons have been stolen from Dir­ran­bandi, with po­lice now urg­ing gun own­ers to in­crease their firearm se­cu­rity, or face the con­se­quences.

MORE than 300 firearms have been stolen from re­gional Queens­land towns in the past 18 months, and de­tec­tives be­lieve about half of them could have ended up in the hands of dan­ger­ous crim­i­nals.

Po­lice are now ap­peal­ing to gun own­ers for in­creased firearm se­cu­rity in the hopes of curb­ing the rate of stolen weapons sold on the black mar­ket to or­gan­ised crime cir­cles and be­ing used in vi­o­lent crimes and armed rob­beries.

An alarm­ing num­ber of firearms were stolen from the south­west re­gion.

The con­clu­sion of two ma­jor po­lice op­er­a­tions late last year in south­west Queens­land re­sulted in po­lice charg­ing six peo­ple on ten counts of sup­ply­ing stolen firearms, which were then on-sold to or­gan­ised crime op­er­a­tions.

De­tec­tive Act­ing Su­per­in­ten­dent Re­gional Crime Co­or­di­na­tor South­ern Re­gion, Mat Kelly, said the rate of stolen weapons was con­cern­ing, and that po­lice would be step­ping up their au­dit­ing.

In the Dar­ling Downs re­gion, a to­tal of 144 weapons have been stolen since July 1, 2018 with only 54 of those re­cov­ered.

A to­tal of 33 weapons were stolen from Toowoomba, 27 from Lai­d­ley, 17 from Warwick and 16 from Pittsworth.

In the South­ern Re­gion, a to­tal of 143 weapons were stolen in the same pe­riod, and 74 were re­cov­ered. Eigh­teen were stolen from Cun­na­mulla, 17 from Roma, and 10 from Dir­ran­bandi, with the ma­jor­ity taken from ru­ral prop­er­ties.

“Most of the weapons stolen in this dis­trict are be­ing taken from inse­cure dwellings, farm­ing lo­ca­tions and out­build­ings,” he said.

“We’ve seen re­ally bad ex­am­ples of weapons be­ing left in ve­hi­cles, which have then been stolen and as a re­sult these firearms have ended up in the wrong hands.

“We had firearms lo­cated in a car in Toowoomba which had been stolen from Roma.

“What is also alarm­ing is that al­most a third of these stolen weapons have been taken from their safe, be­cause of­fend­ers have found the keys.

“We need our firearm hold­ers to be se­cur­ing their keys.”

Det Act Supt Kelly said there had also been in­stances of forgetfuln­ess, which led to op­por­tunis­tic theft.

“We’ve had in­stances with firearm own­ers who have taken their weapons to an out­build­ing to clean, they do their main­te­nance and then they just leave them there – they for­get about them,” he said.

“And then an op­por­tunis­tic thief comes along, goes onto that ru­ral prop­erty, and steals the weapons sim­ply be­cause it hasn’t been put back in the fa­cil­ity.”

Det Act Supt Kelly said crim­i­nals are tar­get­ing ru­ral prop­er­ties to steal weapons for the black mar­ket.

“We have in­tel­li­gence that sug­gests or­gan­ised crime is ac­tu­ally com­ing out here into our dis­tricts and tar­get­ing ru­ral prop­er­ties to steal guns,” Det Act Supt Kelly said.

“If firearms end up in the hands of the wrong peo­ple in our com­mu­ni­ties be­cause gun own­ers are be­ing ir­re­spon­si­ble, then that’s re­ally con­cern­ing for us.

“Po­lice will be con­duct­ing more ran­dom au­dits across the dis­trict, and there will be a zero tol­er­ance. If we come to your home and your weapons aren’t be­ing stored cor­rectly, you can ex­pect to be at­tend­ing court.

“There is an ex­pec­ta­tion among the com­mu­nity that if you own a firearm, that you com­ply with the weapons act.

“There is a lot of con­cern that these firearms could end up in the wrong hands and later be used for vi­o­lent crimes, armed rob­beries.”

The Weapon Li­cens­ing Act states any per­son who pos­sesses a firearm must take all re­spon­si­ble pre­cau­tions to en­sure safe stor­age of the firearm, that the firearm is not lost or stolen, and that it does not come into the pos­ses­sion of a per­son who is not au­tho­rised to pos­sess the firearm.

Those found guilty of fail­ing to se­cure firearms un­der sec­tion 60 could re­ceive penal­ties in ex­cess of $10,000 or two years im­pris­on­ment.

The South­ern Re­gion, which en­com­passes 671,366sq km of Queens­land and boasts a pop­u­la­tion of 784,185 peo­ple is home to 58,984 weapons li­censes and 251,237 weapons.

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