Select Committee on Home Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witness (Questions 100 - 119)



  100. Have I?
  (Mr Greenwood) And you were saying that that is my opinion. What I can say, for sure, is that the controls that have been imposed have been imposed mostly for political reasons; the first controls were introduced because the Government feared a revolution, and the Prime Minister's own words were "Firearms must be available for redistribution to friends of the Government."

  101. This is the 1920 legislation?
  (Mr Greenwood) Indeed. All the major legislation since then has been panic legislation, intended to deal with a particular point, and, I think, with great respect, Sir, that anyone who will trouble to look at the facts and the figures will see that the system of controls does not achieve anything, in terms of controlling crime. Now you may say there are other objectives; for instance, requiring a person to have a licence to have a firearm may give the police a power of arrest before he has committed an offence with an unlicensed firearm. If that is its sole objective then we can simplify things a great deal. But it is not what I say, it is what the evidence says.

  102. Yes, but I am going also by the conclusions you reach, including, of course, what I quoted, a sentence on page 25 of Part II, where you are very critical that the imposition of control of firearms serves any purpose at all. So, logically, one would assume, and if I am wrong you will soon tell me, that you believe that, basically, there should be a right to hold firearms, with the minimum of control?
  (Mr Greenwood) Yes.

  103. I am right?
  (Mr Greenwood) I think a minimum of control will serve the only purpose which the firearms controls can serve in protecting the public.

  104. And I would not have been far wrong if I had said those minimums should be very minimum?
  (Mr Greenwood) I think licensing the person would be sufficient.

  Mr Winnick: Thank you very much, Mr Greenwood.

Mrs Dean

  105. Mr Greenwood, I would like to turn to air weapons. Do you believe that the number of offences committed with air weapons is indicative of a serious problem or a threat to society?
  (Mr Greenwood) I apologise, I sent in a voluminous report, and saw later that the problem with airguns was being, I think, misrepresented. I have produced the Home Office statistics for the Committee, so, Chairman, if you would give me permission to introduce them?


  106. You can mention them, of course, yes.
  (Mr Greenwood) If we look at the statistics, what we see first of all, if you look at—this is one of the problems with Home Office statistics, they never tell the truth until you get right into them—it appears that airgun offences have risen dramatically, but, in fact, all the rise is in criminal damage, and criminal damage is recorded by the police if the value of the damage exceeds £20; and when you take the period I have covered there, the rate of inflation is rather more than the increase in criminal damage. So the problem there is that a window that cost £10 to replace in 1980 now costs £24.80 to replace; so in 1980 it was not criminal damage, today it is criminal damage.

Mr Cawsey

  107. They were a nuisance then as well?
  (Mr Greenwood) Of course, they were a nuisance then, yes; if I may say so, Sir, so were children throwing stones and doing all sorts of other things. The serious things, I think, are the woundings, and they have gone down dramatically, not up. We are told about this increase in misuse of airguns; it is not true.


  108. You would agree that the figures relate to recorded offences and not the actual total number of offences committed would you not?
  (Mr Greenwood) Yes; yes, I would. But have we any reason to believe that they are, this is not the number of incidents involving airguns, this is recorded, but have we any reason to believe that recording has changed since 1980?

  109. I think we would all have experience, in our constituencies, unfortunately, of growing numbers of people saying, "What's the point of telling the police, they never respond?" That is anecdotal, but it is there?
  (Mr Greenwood) I think it might be more than that, Sir. We looked at fatalities, and that is your Table 2; in all that period there have been eight cases, eight fatalities, involving airguns, plus one, in which the person was beaten to death with an airgun, so I do not believe that is properly a fatality involving an airgun, but the Home Office apparently do. One homicide in 1,500 involves an airgun. I doubt if you could find any lethal instrument that is not more abused, baseball bats, cricket bats, golf clubs. As far as injuries are concerned, I looked at one hospital in Glasgow which, in a three-month period, admitted 23 children with serious head injuries from golf; one hospital.

  110. I am sorry to interrupt you. Can you just make clear where these figures are from?
  (Mr Greenwood) Home Office statistics.

  111. Is that the 1997?
  (Mr Greenwood) No; obviously, Sir, it is all of them. I have taken them for each year. And if you look at the bottom table, you see that the proportion of violence which involves airguns has gone down from 2.6 per cent to 0.5 per cent. So the problem, serious as it is, is not the problem that it is represented to be. And I think it is necessary to look at what the law now provides; it is an offence for a person under 14 to have an airgun, except on private property when under supervision. It is an offence for a person under 17 to have an uncovered airgun in a public place. It is an offence for anybody to trespass with an airgun. It is an offence for anybody to have a loaded airgun in a public place. And I have looked at a lot of individual incidents, and, indeed, I am not sure if the Committee are aware but I spent 25 years in the police force, dealing with these things, and dealt with a lot of these incidents, and almost invariably, nothing is invariable, these are young people, in circumstances where they could not legally be in possession of an airgun. And the problem which is outstanding at the moment is the failure of the police to enforce existing law.

  Chairman: Mr Greenwood, I am sorry, we are getting very short of time. Do you just want to ask the other bit of this question, because we can pick these things up with the rest, I am sure?

Mrs Dean

  112. Yes. It would seem that you do not see there is a problem, but are there any initiatives that you think should be taken to address the cases that there are now?
  (Mr Greenwood) Yes. I actually have suggested, we know that the problem peaks during school holidays, which tells us something else, there is ample time to prepare an education programme before the next summer holidays, and for the police to prepare an enforcement campaign, simply going to, on the canal bank, a piece of waste ground, confiscating two or three airguns, and the rest of the kids suddenly realise that that is not permissible, and the problem diminishes substantially. You will never get rid of it.

Mr Howarth

  113. Mr Greenwood, you heard the evidence given by the representatives from the police a moment ago, which was very strongly in favour of bringing shotguns within the licensing requirements of Section 1 weapons. What effect would that have, in your view?
  (Mr Greenwood) It would increase police involvement, the burden on the police would probably be increased five-fold. The administrative cost, there are four million people who have airguns; point number one is, if you license them, a large majority simply would not license them, it would stay in the cupboard, and that is that, so you would have an enormous number of illegal airguns. You have then created an enormous number of criminals.

  114. Those would be people who currently hold those weapons legally?
  (Mr Greenwood) Yes.

  115. And, therefore, if they did not license them, they would have them taken away from them?
  (Mr Greenwood) That is right: how?

  116. The police will come round and take them away?
  (Mr Greenwood) They do not know who has got them.

  117. They know who has got the licensed shotguns?
  (Mr Greenwood) I am sorry, you were talking about the full span; you are talking about shotguns now?

  118. I am saying, if you brought shotguns into Section 1?
  (Mr Greenwood) The only difference between the criteria is cosmetic. The proposition that a person who is not fit to hold a Section 1 firearm cannot be shown to be unfit to hold a shotgun, I find nonsensical, I simply do not believe it.

  119. So you think that the same requirements for fitness should apply to both Section 1 and shotgun licensing?
  (Mr Greenwood) Yes, of course; yes, that would be very simple.

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