Select Committee on Home Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witness (Questions 120 - 137)



  120. Sorry; how would you do that?
  (Mr Greenwood) I suppose the most practical way is the way other countries do, you have a basic certificate which covers all types of guns and then some guns will require additional authorisation; so to get the basic certificate you fulfil a set of criteria, basic criteria, and then you can modify them. But the problem that is being alluded to, frankly, does not exist, the criteria for shotgun certificates are strict enough now.

  121. Just one final question on this, Chairman; that relates to referees. As Members of Parliament, we get invited to act as referees for friends who are seeking either to obtain or to renew a shotgun certificate; as far as I am concerned, I do actually take the responsibility rather seriously, and if I have not seen the person for a while I ask them to come here and see me, I cannot apply forensic psychological tests to them but at least I can see that they do look alright. But do you think that the present regime relating to referees is sufficiently stringent, do you think the categories of people ought to be changed, or reduced, or what?
  (Mr Greenwood) I think it is a complete farce.

  122. A complete farce?
  (Mr Greenwood) Yes. If you want a firearms certificate, you find two referees; if you go to somebody who says, "I'm not going to be a referee for you" you go to somebody else until you find somebody who will. It was an attempt to improve the sort of intelligence system, but it was really quite a farcical attempt; it is enormously bureaucratic and it is going to deter some people from renewing their shotgun certificates. But, in terms of identifying the sort of person I was trying to talk about earlier, it is a complete farce, because he will move on.

Mr Malins

  123. Mr Greenwood, I represent Woking, which contains Bisley National Rifle Association, where thousands of people carry on their sport lawfully and with much pleasure. A number of my constituents, including Mr Pollock, have written to me, making the general point that overrestrictive gun laws are counterproductive and have no real effect on reduction of crime. Do you agree with that general principle?
  (Mr Greenwood) Absolutely.

  124. Have you seen the figures from Australia, which suggest that over a year ago legislation came in, over 640,000 personal firearms have had to be destroyed, at great cost, and yet most crimes, including robbery, homicide, including firearms, are up: you have seen that?
  (Mr Greenwood) I have seen those figures, yes. I have also seen the report from Australia which shows that the Firearms Officer for Victoria Police did an analysis and found that only a small proportion of the firearms had been either registered or handed in.

  125. So it is illegally-held arms that do most crime. Where do you think they mostly come from?
  (Mr Greenwood) I mentioned the gun-minder. Firearms are durable objects. Bear in mind, there were no controls on firearms before 1920, and I am satisfied, from my researches, that only about a quarter of the firearms held in 1920 were ever registered with the police, most people just left them in the drawer. They are, for the most part, still perfectly serviceable; there is no doubt that they are coming in from the Continent. At the moment, there is a fluke peak of reactivated deactivated firearms; that has been taken care of by the Home Office, in terms of changing the deactivation specifications, so it will not drop in the way it went up, but it will tail off, and as that tails off another source will emerge. The total number of illegal firearms is enormous; the total number used in crime is very small, 4,000 or 5,000 is the best educated guess, out of an illegal pool of certainly several million. A few thousand will fulfil all the criminal requirements.

  126. Many of us have read an article in The Times today about a particularly nasty gangland murder. I quote from that article: "The National Crime Squad accepts that the ban on handguns has done little to limit the supply of firearms to the underworld. Automatic weapons smuggled from Eastern Europe...freely available." That is a view you support?
  (Mr Greenwood) Yes, it is indeed, and perhaps I can stress again, it seems to me that the work of Mr Penrose and his crime squads has been simply forgotten. He has made the single greatest impact on the use of firearms in crime this century, by dealing with criminals, not law-abiding people.

  127. Finally, would you agree that those who have operated so lawfully at Bisley in the last few years, in my constituency, really had a terrible hammering from successive Governments, quite unfairly?
  (Mr Greenwood) Unfairly: contradicting the evidence of a need to do it, so that is unfair.

Mr Winnick

  128. That was a surprising response?
  (Mr Greenwood) Can I make just one point, Sir, if I may, to Mr Winnick. You appear to assume that I am part of the gun lobby, or something else. I have been on armed police operations, I have sent my men on armed police operations, a very close friend of mine was shot dead by a criminal. I do not support anything that would promote the criminal use of firearms, in any way.

  Mr Winnick: Of course not. I was not suggesting, for one moment, you would, Mr Greenwood.

Mr Fabricant

  129. Mr Greenwood, it is very clear that you think that legislation that we have passed since 1920 has been an irrelevance, sometimes, to use the word I used earlier on, it is just a knee-jerk reaction to tragic events, and I have some sympathy with that argument; but my question is two-fold. One is, do you believe, to take your logic to an extreme, that we ought to adopt the position that exists in the United States of America, where there is basically virtually no control at all? And, secondly, I am combining two questions in one here, you have given very specific information regarding the importation of illegal weapons which directly contradicts the evidence given a little earlier from the police authorities, who thought—
  (Mr Greenwood) I thought Mr Hart said there was a problem with imported weapons.

  130. No, I thought not. I thought he said it was weapons circulating around the system?
  (Mr Greenwood) The same weapon is used many times in what we might call top-class crime; the good robber does not keep the gun, because he gets an extra ten years, so he gets the gun before he goes out to commit his robbery and then gets rid of it again. This is what Mr McVicar was doing. So one gun; the normal system is that if you fire the gun you lose your deposit, because that gun then has to be either destroyed or modified so that it cannot be further identified. But I am sure Mr Hart said that there was a problem with importation.

  131. We will check on that. But back to my primary question, so taking your arguments, which, as I say, I do have some sympathy with, being a former statistician, do you, however, say, therefore, all legislation is irrelevant, let us just go to the system they have in the US, with no legislation at all?
  (Mr Greenwood) There are 20,000 laws in the United States about owning and carrying firearms.

  132. That put me in my place.
  (Mr Greenwood) Twenty thousand different statutes, varying from a total prohibition in Washington, which has the highest murder rate in the United States, to states like Vermont, where the state constitution forbids any control on firearms. Vermont has a homicide rate lower than that in this country; Washington has a homicide rate of 80 per 100,000, forty times. And if you look at the northern states, the states bordering Canada, the use of firearms in crime is very low, except in the big cities, New York, Detroit, those cities. If you look at the southern states, it is very high, and nobody yet, perhaps it is the hot weather's fault, but nobody can tell us why, nobody can tell us why the Italians kill more people than the Scandinavians, and we might again be tempted to say hot weather.

  133. So are you saying Parliament should do nothing, or maybe even repeal the law since 1920?
  (Mr Greenwood) I would love to see Parliament first of all, identify the problem, which Parliament has failed to do, entirely failed to identify the problem, and then come up with the simplest possible legislation that anybody can understand to deal with the identified problem, not the supposition.

  Chairman: Mr Greenwood, I am going to have to thank you there because we have got our back to the clock, as it were. Thank you very much indeed. I am so sorry: Mr Linton.

Mr Linton

  134. I am not going to detain you long, Mr Greenwood, but I do have a supplementary on that. I am very persuaded by your figures showing that the ban on handguns has had no effect on crime, but then it was not introduced in response to the use of handguns in crime. What about the effect of that legislation on the use of weapons in domestic violence, or in what one might call unmotivated violence; that is what it was brought in in response to?
  (Mr Greenwood) The proposition that removing one instrument out of a thousand possibles will prevent the next Dunblane does not seem to me to be tenable.

  135. There is a possible logic, in that the existence of a lot of licensed guns may make murder easier in domestic situations; but the question I am asking is, is there not any evidence to the effect that it does restrict its use in domestic violence?
  (Mr Greenwood) There are an enormous number of domestic homicides where the person has a gun and does not use it.

  136. I do not doubt that, but, I am asking you, is there any evidence that it will reduce the use of guns in domestic violence?
  (Mr Greenwood) It has not, throughout the time we have had legislation; and if you are talking about mass, single-incident killings, the biggest killer is actually petrol, fire, started by petrol.

  137. It is still not the question I am asking, what I am asking is, countries that have stricter gun control, do they not have lower domestic violence homicide rates?
  (Mr Greenwood) No, they do not, and they do not have lower anything else. The suggestion was made earlier of some relationship between the number of firearms in society and the rates of homicide; it is not true, it does not exist. And I have got a United Nations survey here, you find countries with the highest rate of firearm ownership, Finland has an enormous number, 411 firearms per 1,000 people, and yet a very low rate of homicide, and a very high rate of suicide. The things cannot be correlated. And really what I am saying is that, instead of making assumptions, we ought to be looking at the evidence. If what we are doing, spending millions of pounds controlling firearms, will not work, we might spend those millions in some other way that will work.

  Chairman: Thank you, again, Mr Greenwood. I am sorry for rushing you, and I am sorry for the lateness in getting to our next witnesses.

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