Why Crocodile Dundee couldn’t work in Ireland.
I said last week after the article on theft legislation that I would cover the topic of offensive weapons in an article as an explanation. This may not be as long as some of the normal articles as the legislation is pretty straightforward on this one. The article is written as always for information purposes but also to serve as a warning to security operatives. Many times over the years I have seen security operatives carrying equipment at work which could be deemed to be an offensive weapon and some that there is no question about.
Definitions for firearms and other offensive weapons are contained in both the Firearms and Offensive Weapons Act 1990 and the Criminal Justice (Theft and fraud offences) Act 2001 (aggravated burglary). Both definitions are broadly the same. The types of implement which may be involved are:
Weapon of offence
To clarify the technical aspects of the offence, we will examine each of the above and their legal meaning.
What is a firearm?
A firearm is defined as:
Anything from which shot, bullet or missile can be discharged
An air gun or air pistol
Any type of stun gun or weapon capable of discharging electrical energy or shock.
An imitation firearm is anything which is not a firearm but has the appearance of one. This could include airsoft guns, replicas or even toy guns which resemble a real weapon.
So as you can see things like tasers, homemade tasers and those torch things you can import from Asia which give a shock are all illegal to carry for security operatives also.
What is a weapon of offence?
The term weapon of offence is broad and can include numerous types of item. The item may not initially seem to the casual observer to be a weapon, and may have another conventional purpose, but its use to cause somebody injury or harm may cause it to be deemed a weapon of offence.
Weapons of offence include:
Anything which has a blade or sharp point
Anything made or adapted for use to cause somebody injury or harm
Anything made or adapted to incapacitate a person
An item used to threaten a person with injury or harm
An item which discharges noxious liquid or gas.
So this is where it gets tricky. The obvious stuff in here like pepper spray and knives (I’ll look at this later) etc might seem straightforward but there are some really subjective bits in here.
Something made to cause harm is easy. The item is made with the sole purpose of causing harm. Items like extaendable batons and knuckledusters sit in here.
Adapted to cause harm might be the classic drunk guy who breaks a beer bottle in a fight (separate offence here but we will look at that in a minute) . They have adapted a drinking vessel and made it into a bladed object. So now its an offensive weapon.
The tricky one is “used to cause harm”. That means I can take any object and use it to cause harm and it becomes a weapon in the eyes of the law. I take my pen strike somebody with it, a newspaper rolled up, a chair, a barrier. All things I have seen security operatives use to protect themselves in live situations. The problem now becomes that we have made an everyday item into an offensive weapons and we have to be 100% sure that the force we are using it with is reasonable or we have committed a number of serious offences.
The opposite also applies here if we are dealing with a person who brings an item into a conflict situation and attempts to use it to cause harm. A high heel shoe, an umbrella or a bag of goods might be used to harm the security operative making them all an offensive weapon.
There is specification legislation in places regarding knives and their use. Section 9 of the Firearms and Offensive Weapons Act 1990 says;
“Subject to subsections (2) and (3), where a person has with him in any public place any knife or any other article which has a blade or which is sharply pointed, he shall be guilty of an offence.”
So it illegal to possess a knife in a public place. Now bear in mind that possess doesn’t have to be on your person. It can also include in a bag or backpack. There are however two lawful defences to this:
- If you had a lawful excuse for having it
- If you were using it for work or other recreational purposes.
The first one might happen if you have found a knife or have taken it from a person during a search or in a conflict. The second one is if you need it for work or recreation such as fishing etc. Lets get this straight. Just by having it you are guilty of an offence and the onus is one you to show you had a good reason for having it.
You might be wondering why any security operative would be carrying a knife anyway. I for one have carried a Leatherman multi-tool (which contains a small knife) for years in the security industry. Mostly I carry it in my work bag but at events I regularly carry it in my pocket or my belt. There always a bolt to be tightened or cable tie to be cut or a loose screw and I’ve used it thousands of times at work. But it is technically a weapon and if anything ever happened or a Garda ever questioned me I would have to have a very good reason for carrying it. I’m happy I could justify it but its a risk all the same.
The same legislation applies to any other offensive weapon in a public place not just knives
You have to be able to stand behind all of your kit. Consider the security operative I spoke about in a previous article that I watched patrolling a Penney’s store carrying a 12 inch Maglite on his belt. If he is ever involved in an incident and has to justify carrying this never mind using it I have a feeling he might be in some trouble. Same goes for the clown I saw wandering around a Christmas market this year with an extendable baton in his pocket. There really is no justification for it as far as I can see but I’m open to correction on that.
The law says that the Gardaí do not have to prove or even allege that you were going to use it to cause harm just that you had this item in a public place with no justifiable reason for having it there and it could have been used to cause harm. The onus is on you to show why you had it.
Section 11 of the Firearms and Offensive Weapons Act makes it an offence to produce any offensive weapons during the course of an altercation. Doesn’t have to be used just produced. This carries a 5 year maximum term and so is arrestable by the security operative if required. We also however need to bear in mind our own responsibility in this. If we produce an item during an altercation (whether it used or not) we could be arrested or have to justify it. Again I can’t stress enough how important it is here to be aware of your legal obligations and your law so that you can justify the issue if it doe arise. Consider the now famous video of the door supervisor in Dublin last year who in the course of an altercation used (what I believe to be) reasonable force and dropped two attackers with his trusty Motorola. Now whether I believe he was right or not is irrelevant I just hope he knew enough about the law to justify his actions and his reason for producing the radio as a weapon as well using the reasonable force.
So to sum up a bit. The law is both specific and very harsh when it comes to offensive weapons in this country. It is one of the strictest regimes around Europe when it comes to this type offence. Whether you agree with it or not its the law and it is up to us as security operatives to make sure we are compliant. While it makes provision for certain uses for items which might be used as a weapon it is completely up to us as security operatives to justify our reason for carrying them. Whether its a radio, torch or Swiss army knife do you a legal and valid reason to carry it. If you do then great. If you don’t then its a risk. I would ask that you all do two things in the next week particularly with the equipment heavy event season just starting:
- Review your gear that you carry and ask yourself why you carry it and could it be interpreted incorrectly
- Read up on your law in this area (including this article) and if you aren’t sure then ask somebody such as a colleague, your employer or even ask on here for an opinion.
Don’t end up being in a Crocodile Dundee “That’s not a knife” situation that ends up losing you your job and possible your liberty if you get it wrong.