Changes to the Arms Act that GPs need to know about

Earlier in 2020 the Government updated the Arms Act. While much of the update covers the banning of certain firearms, there are changes coming into force on 24 December 2020 that will affect general practitioners.  

The changes are intended to prevent harm caused by the possession and use of firearms in the community.

Read detailed information for health professionals (opens to PDF) or access that information on the Police website.

The changes require: 

  • Firearms licence applicants to provide details of their health practitioner to Police
  • Police to notify the health practitioner when a licence has been issued 
  • Health practitioners to consider notifying Police if they have reason to believe their patient is a firearms licence holder and they have medical concerns regarding the safety of the patient or the public, through their access to, or use of, firearms. 

What GPs need to record about their patients who own a firearm 

From 24 December 2020 health practitioners will be told when someone who has named them as their GP has been granted a firearms licence. Police will start sending notifications to health practitioners via email or post from 24 December 2020. GPs will need to make a clearly visible note on their patient’s file about their firearms licence status. 

Police notifications will include the details of the firearms licence holder as well as information on the health practitioner’s obligations under the Arms Act. 

When GPs need to notify Police 

Part of the legislation change is that GPs must consider notifying Police if they have a patient who they believe to be a firearms licence holder and their medical condition is such that in the interests of their, or other’s safety, the GP believes the licence holder should not be permitted to use or possess a firearm. 

There are three main ways to notify Police:  

  1. Online ( if there is no particular urgency 
  2. By phoning the non-emergency Police number, 105 
  3. By phoning 111 and asking for Police if the licence holder poses an immediate or imminent danger of self-harm or harm to others.

FAQs about GP’s obligations under the Arms Act

When do health practitioners need to notify the police?

If a health practitioner is concerned about a patient holding a fire arms license, the police should be notified as soon as it is practically possible.

The health practitioner should notify the police if they have had a consultation with, or been advised the patients has, or might have, a firearms licence. They must also notify police if, in the interests of public safety, the health practitioner thinks that the license holder should not be allowed to use a firearm, or should only be allowed to use it subject to certain limitations, because of health conditions the patient may have.

What kinds of health conditions, which may limit someone’s use of a firearm, should health practitioners notify police about? 
Updates about any health condition which might lead a health practitioner to think the sufferer should not be using a firearm, should be passed on to police. Examples of these kinds of health conditions are acute stress, mental or physical trauma, suicidal thoughts or feelings, depression or anxiety, mental health issues, dementia, drug or alcohol abuse, neurological conditions or physical conditions that make handling a firearm unsafe
What information do health practitioners need to provide when notifying police?

Health practitioners should provide their medical opinion as to why that person should be allowed to use a firearm, the medical grounds for their opinion, and whether the licence holder poses an immediate threat to themselves or others.

What action will the police take if a health practitioner notifies police about one of their patients? 

Police may respond to a notification by a health practitioner by asking the licence holder to undergo a further medical assessment, conducted by someone independent from the practitioner. This may result in the licence holder having to surrender their licence, or undergo a further medical assessment, or start the process or having their licence suspended or revoked.

Is there legal protection for health practitioners who notify police?

Health practitioners are not liable to criminal, civil, or disciplinary proceedings by disclosing personal information in the course of performing any of the notifications under the new Act, as long as they act in good faith.