Select Committee on Home Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 60 - 79)



  60. A 2.2 rifle?
  (Mr Hart) Yes, a 2.2 target rifle, and that sort of thing.

  61. In your view, is there as great a threat to the public from lawfully-held shotguns as there is from lawfully-held Section 1 firearms?
  (Mr Hart) Of course, both weapons are just as lethal; high-powered rifles would be lethal over a greater distance. Nothing more lethal, of course, than a shotgun at short range. So public safety, I think, would be the same for both.

  62. So are you therefore of the view that there ought to be the same licensing regime for shotgun holders as for Section 1 firearms?
  (Mr Hart) Exactly so.
  (Mr Gammon) Yes.
  (Mr O'Brien) Yes.

  63. You are all of that view, are you?
  (Mr Hart) Yes.
  (Mr Gammon) Yes.
  (Mr O'Brien) Yes.

  64. Can you tell the Committee what proportion of offences against the person involving shotguns have arisen out from lawfully-held shotguns?
  (Mr Hart) I do not have that information.
  (Mr Gammon) Even the Home Office Statistical Bulletin, published recently, does not differentiate, unfortunately.

  65. But is not this quite an important point; you have all made the point that you quite accept that there is a case for people having shotguns, particularly for sporting and recreational and working use; those who do use shotguns and have a certificate and are required to comply with onerous conditions, as part of the issuing of that certificate, say to me, "Well, what about the use of illegally-held shotguns?" We know how many legally-held shotguns there are; do you know how many illegally-held shotguns there are?
  (Mr Gammon) No, we do not.
  (Mr Hart) No.

  66. Can you hazard a guess?
  (Mr Hart) I have no idea. Weapons could go back sort of dozens of years, could they not?

  67. But if you cannot tell us how many offences against the person involved the use of legally-held shotguns, i.e., by definition, by people committing an offence who have got a shotgun certificate, or by people who have seized a shotgun for which they do not have a certificate from somebody else, but if you cannot tell us that, are you really not providing us with valid evidence to consider the claim that you have just made, which is that there should be no distinction between shotguns and other Section 1 firearms?
  (Mr Hart) Let me say, I hope you do find our evidence valid; the very point you make I attempted to clarify as recently as yesterday afternoon.

  68. I am sorry, I was elsewhere yesterday afternoon.
  (Mr Hart) The Criminal Use of Firearms Committee do run into this problem very, very regularly, I am advised, that simply they run out of data on which to make very, very definite judgements about criminal use of firearms. The data that you seek is not recorded in the necessary detail; there are sufficient anomalies in the data, that the errors and anomalies actually perhaps will exceed the number of instances of the sorts of circumstances that you describe. It is a difficulty, I acknowledge, it is an enormous difficulty.

  69. But, surely, if we are to make recommendations which involve legislation, we have got to be able to make a case to the British public that there is not just a perceived threat but there is a real threat, and that the action which we take is going to diminish that threat; and yet you are not presenting us, at the moment, certainly, with evidence upon which we can base a rational decision?
  (Mr Hart) We rather hope, I think, that you would find there is sufficient evidence in the remainder of the body of our submission. The issue over criminal use, where actually there is a commission and a satisfactory conviction of an instance where a firearm, either legally or illegally, held has been recorded, perhaps does not make up the entire body of evidence.

  70. That is the entire point, it is whether the offence is committed by a legally-held weapon, in which case that is a cause for concern, or it is committed by somebody with an illegally-held weapon. And, frankly, gentlemen, that is not down to us, that is down to you, because you fail to do your job in weeding out the illegally-held weapons. And there are some who suggest that it is easier for the police to go after those who are already subject to control, those who have already submitted themselves to the process, rather than do the much more difficult thing of going round the houses, whether urban or rural, and trying to root out the illegally-held weapons?
  (Mr Morris) Surely, you are not suggesting we have the right to search every home in the country to see whether they have got shotguns, legally-held or otherwise?

  71. I am certainly not suggesting that there should be an operation on that scale, but I am making the point to you that, on the basis of what you have told us so far, certainly as far as I am concerned, I do not have enough evidence to be able to make a judgement that we should have further controls. Because I am not convinced, from what you have told us, that any more controls, for example, by moving shotguns into Section 1 requirements, is going to make a jot of difference to the number of offences committed by people using lawfully-held weapons?
  (Mr Morris) If I may, Chairman, in response to that, great play was made earlier about the Dunblane incident. That person—

Mr Winnick

  72. Would it not be more appropriate to describe it as a tragedy, rather than an incident?
  (Mr Morris) A tragedy, yes, I quite agree, Sir, I quite agree.

  73. I should have picked up Mr Hart previously; it is a tragedy, a terrible tragedy, not an incident?
  (Mr Morris) Absolutely. That person could have been banned from holding Section 1 firearms and yet legitimately hold a shotgun, because of the inadequacies of our current legislation. It is of little value to the victim of a crime whether it is a legally-held weapon or an illegally-held weapon, or whether it has a kinetic energy above 12 foot pounds; if the individual has a loved one who is dead, or they are seriously maimed, then they are not going to ask who had a certificate or not. But the bottom line is, these are lethal, barrelled weapons, and, whether they are shotguns or not, the control over shotguns is, quite simply, far below that of the Section 1 firearms, and they are just as lethal.

  Mr Howarth: If I could make the point, of course we accept that they are lethal weapons, obviously we understand that, but if, for example, all the crimes involving the use of firearms were confined to those illegally held then tightening up the law on those weapons which are legally held would not stop one further crime, and, indeed, would not prevent one further person from losing their loved one.


  74. Mr Howarth, I think we are going to have to move on, except to say, perhaps you might like to have a think about this exchange and see whether there is any further letter you want to send us on this very point; would that help?
  (Mr Hart) I can, I think, I hope, summarise the views of all of us, Chairman, on this point, it is in our submission. It is this, that, yes, we accept that there will be all sorts of controls necessary around weapons; we do accept, of course, that the final decision around injury, or whether a weapon is used legally or illegally, is the person that pulls the trigger at the time. But we cannot just rely on that as the only judgement that we make as far as the control of weapons is concerned, we need other controls as well, and I hope we have tried to illustrate to you where they are weak.

Mr Howarth

  75. Chairman, may I put one question to Mr Gammon. In your submission to us, you call for the chief officer of police to revoke a licence. I had a case in my own constituency where an individual who holds a shotgun licence, perfectly lawfully, and has had no problems at all, has had his licence revoked, after examination by the local police and they have revoked his licence; he made a lot of complaints about it, but the discretion lies with the chief police officer and his decision is subject to review by the court. Surely, we have enough checks and balances in operation at the moment, and what further powers would you recommend?
  (Mr Gammon) As we said earlier on, we would like the control over shotguns to equate with firearms certificates, so there would be much more stringent control over the identity of the weapons that they hold on the certificate, the amount of ammunition that they can possess at any time, the storage of those weapons, and indeed the criteria to use over whether that person is a fit person to hold the weapon.

  Mr Howarth: But, effectively, I have to say that that decision has been, all those have been, taken into account.

Mr Cawsey

  76. Can I move on to other Section 1 firearms then. This morning, we have heard a little bit, the Federation, for instance, talked about the difficulties of the fundamental issue of definition, and we have also spoken about arbitrary cut-off points, and, in the evidence we have received, the Scottish Police Associations have been concerned about the increased use of other weapons, such as muzzle-loading pistols, which can be concealed like a hand-gun, since the 1997 Act has come into force. Again, it is open to all three associations, but I would be interested to know whether you believe that developments in firearms usage and firearms technology since the 1997 Act has actually posed an increased threat to public safety?
  (Mr Hart) Can I start with that. There is certainly some evidence that comes to us anecdotally, that there are people on the edges, shall we say, of the firearms community that persistently probe the legislation and the regulation to try to find new ways of using weapons, new ways of adapting existing weapons, for their own purposes. And it is often in the margins, as I said in my introduction, these fringe areas that pose the greatest difficulty to us, and you have put your finger on one of them, and that is these muzzle-loading handguns, which are a little loophole in the 1997 legislation that a group seem to want to jump through at the moment. I do not know if my colleagues would want to elaborate on that, but it is precisely the point on which you put your finger that we are trying to urge into place.

  77. For all this comment, is not that the problem though, to a certain extent, it is a similar point to what Gerald Howarth was making a minute ago, which is that every time we try to erect the barrier somebody just thinks of a new way to jump over it? And you say it is a little loophole in the 1997 Act, but if it were not muzzle-loading pistols, would it not just be something else?
  (Mr Hart) Probably; our experience, anecdotally, is that probably it would be something else, and if it were easy I dare say we would have done it in 1997. And the point I make to you is that these issues are present today and they pose a threat to public safety.
  (Mr Gammon) I think the history of legislation and control in this country is that of evolution, and as technical developments arise so we have to confront them, from a policing and a legislative point of view. So just because something might happen in the future does not mean to say we do not respond to what is happening currently.

  78. But in earlier answers they were talking about the idea that everything should be covered by one Act, or whatever, and that, again I will use the phrase that was used, the fundamental issue will be definition. Now nobody would disagree with that; but do you, as organisations, have in your own minds what that definition is, because that is what we would have to decide, ultimately?
  (Mr Gammon) I am going through a great thought process about how to define specifically. I think we would need collectively to sit down and work that through.
  (Mr O'Brien) Certainly, the existence of fast reloading techniques for what previously have been regarded solely as muzzle-loading weapons did not seem to happen until after 1997. I leave you to draw your own conclusions.

  79. Thank you for that. Can I move on then to antique firearms and historic collections. What difficulties do you encounter, as a Police Service, in licensing such collections and weapons?
  (Mr Hart) Of course, part of the problem with antiques is their potential for reactivation in some way, and, as the evidence suggests, that there is no clear definition of an antique, although there is a list, I believe, of what is and is not. But, my understanding is, it is this question of reactivation, what actually can be perhaps illegitimately obtained, by means of burglary, or theft, or what have you, and then reactivated in some way and used.

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