For my PhD fieldwork, I needed to use an air-pressured dart gun to immobilise seals so that I could attach data loggers on them (animal ethics approved). In Australia, dart guns are considered a firearm (gun); hence, I needed to get a firearms licence to possess one. Firearm laws are very strict in Australia, which is generally a good thing I guess – That’s until I came across the storm of Bureaucracy, which threw many stop signs at me…
welcome to the waiting game
I started my application early, about 6 months before I was leaving for fieldwork. I submitted my firearms licence and supporting identification documents to the government person behind the counter. She checked my documents, said it was all good and that she’ll send it off the Tasmanian Firearms Department, and I paid my application fee.
Weeks went by, still no news, I sent TAS Firearms an email. Still no response after weeks.
nope, no licence from us.
I sent another email. Finally, I get a response within the week, and it said that they had a backlog of applications, they will get to mine soon. More waiting, then finally I received a meaningful email! There was a problem with my application. Firstly, I had to be a Tasmanian resident – Huh? I am considered a resident for tax purposes, I’ve lived in Tasmania for 4 years, and I’ve provided my student visa to prove that I’m going to be staying another 3 more years in Tasmania to finish my PhD. I can even go into MONA museum for free because I’m considered a resident! Surely, if David Walsh (owner of MONA) says I’m a resident… but apparently, for the TAS police it meant that I had to be a permanent resident.
Secondly, in any case, they weren’t going to give me a firearms licence if I was solely going to use the dart gun in South Australia (where my fieldwork will be). Fine. I’ll take my business somewhere else.
Is that light i see at the end of the tunnel?
If Tasmania won’t give me a firearms licence when I already live here, I was afraid what SA was going to say when I asked for one. There was little information on the SA Firearms website about getting a licence for special cases like mine. I generally preferred emailing rather than talking on the phone because I don’t feel comfortable talking on the phone with strangers for some reason (I developed a habit of passing the phone to my mum since young, even when ordering pizza). But at this point, time was running out, I had about 3 months left. Sometimes you just gotta stop being a wuss and step up. So I called SA Firearms and I asked if I had to be a resident to apply for a firearms license in SA, the police officer said yes. I panicked and thanked her and ended the call. Why did I do that?! I immediately regretted hanging up because I had more questions to ask.
Ok is it weird that I feel guilty for calling up busy working people even though that’s their job to answer my calls? I felt like they were doing me a favour for picking up my call for some reason. Anyway, I waited till the next day so no one could recognise I was the same person calling again, even though probably no one really cares. So this time, I explained that I was an international PhD student studying and living in Tasmania, but my research project was based in SA, blah blah blah. The police officer said I could submit an application. Thank you for some good news finally!
I was already going to Adelaide for an Ultimate Frisbee tournament so it suited me well, as I had to submit my firearms application in person. It was sometime in October when I submitted my application to SA Firearms and I had about 2 more months to get this licence thing settled! After a couple of weeks, I still had no news so I called them up. Apparently SA also had a backlog of applications. Now this seems to be a recurring problem in government jobs… a problem that could be solved by machine learning perhaps? Or maybe it’s because machines can’t tell a potential serial killer?
Anyway, I was told by my supervisor to hassle them! Gosh, now I really feel like a pain in the butt. There’s a reason why I don’t think I can ever do sales! Alright, it was time to put aside my ego and insecurities once again to get things done. I told myself, I love challenges, obstacles are opportunities, and I’m lucky I get to worry about bureaucracy today so that I when I finally get through this storm, I can smash it the next time.
I called SA Firearms, told them it was urgent. Waited a few days, called again, told them it was urgent, they said it was already sent off to a higher authority and there was nothing else they could do. Can I talk to the boss (aka chief police commissioner aka the police of police, aka top cop)? No, they said.
Days went by, and each day I don’t get any news brings me more anxiety and stress. It’s amazing how uncertainties can have such a big effect on wellbeing. All I want to do is research… but obviously, the universe likes to mess with me. Challenge accepted! I meditated and reminded myself that I can only do what I can. I tried to find the boss’s hotline, but no boss hotline to bling. I found the boss on LinkedIn, I hesitated to contact him through that. It might be a bit creepy. I decided to go ol’ skool – snail mail.
I googled how to handle bureaucracy, some interesting stories came up, and there were a few good tips. I worded my letter carefully, tried to play my cards right, made sure my letter popped with a tinged of desperation and urgency. I posted my letter – express mail.
A few days later, the firearms department boss (not top cop) sent me an email saying that he’s seen my application and they have approved it. I was so relieved, it was a great day. My approval letter was already in the mail and it had all the information I needed to enrol and do my firearms safety course, a requirement to get the licence.
the squeaky wheel gets the grease
A few days later again, I received another email from firearms department boss, he said the top cop has seen my letter and waived my firearms safety training. They will send a new letter with my provisional firearms licence until I get the plastic card version. I read the email and pushed away from the table, WHAT! WOW. That’s cray cray. Haha, Life, you’re so funny.
That’s a pretty good shot 😉
My supervisors still wanted me to do the firearms safety training though since I had zero shooting experience, so I did. I’m glad did go for the training, despite having to make an another trip to Adelaide (and paying out of pocket cause I didn’t have project funds to cover… 😔 ). I learnt a lot and gained more confidence about using the dart gun.
It worked out in the end (but a few days to go till I leave for fieldwork and still have not received my plastic firearms licence card! At least I’ve got the provisional version so that’s good). This was my first big challenge since starting my PhD, and I’m currently experiencing new and bigger challenges – planning for my first field trip, the biggest logistical exercise I’ve ever had to do. Such stress, much meditation needed. Just. Keep. Taking. The. Next. Step.
Till next time. Peace.