Select Committee on Home Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 200 - 219)



Mr Stinchcombe

  200. Mr Gill, you talked just now about targets we should be attacking if we are trying to deal with the unlawful use of these weapons. I wonder whether you would agree with me that there are two other targets we might want to have in our sights: those who design these weapons, and those who trade in them. If I can take you back to this advert, it was a Millennium Christmas Brochure sent unsolicited to a youngster, advertising things such as lighters and, then if we read on, the ultimate fun gift for Christmas a James Bond style Walther PK air pistol; ". . . its sensational styling really makes it look the business"; sellable to anybody who phones up and says they are 18. Further on the "Sporty machine gun. Fires 80 rounds . . . realistic look . . . 500 rounds of ammo supplied free of charge. All action special". Then we read on to the "Laserhawk Air Pistol For Every Caller . . . plus an extended barrel for greater fire power and accuracy . . . extended holder for repeat shooting without the need to stop and reload. With Christmas just around the corner what better present could there be?" Would you agree with me it is outrageous that adverts such as that could be sent unsolicited to youngsters just before Christmas, clearly advertising pistols designed to look like the real thing, and clearly designed to invite trade from people under the age of 18?
  (Mr Gill) This concern is outside a farmer's remit. It is The Gun Trade Association who should be concerned about that. As a father of four children I am concerned about a whole raft of unsolicited personal information that comes in almost daily nowadays. I do not know where they get their access to data from. There should be full reviews. The Gun Trade Association obviously is a key area and others giving evidence may want to comment on that. The key point I referred to is from my perspective on farms.

  201. As a farmer you would not need to have a pistol or an air rifle that was designed to look like one of these weapons, would you?
  (Mr Gill) No, not to carry out the control of vermin that I have talked about.
  (Mr Johnson) The Gun Trade Association equally view some adverts which appear in all sorts of odd places with some trepidation and they have a code of practice which says that they do not support those sorts of adverts. Of course, not every man who advertises an air weapon is necessarily a member of The Gun Trade Association.

  202. Should we prohibit adverts such as this?
  (Mr Johnson) I am not sure what "such as this" amounts to, Chairman and that is always the difficulty. In adverts where the word "ban" appears, we would be happier if these adverts were not couched in those terms, but there is a legitimate market, as there is a legitimate market in everything else, for air weapons and it is legitimate for people to advertise air weapons. The Gun Trade Association is working hard to try and ensure that offensive adverts do not appear.

  203. Should we prohibit the sale of these weapons by phone?
  (Mr Johnson) Your colleague, Mr Linton, raised this question of phoning in and there are questions there that need to be answered and it takes us back to what Mr Hoare and others have said and the thing that we base our whole paper on. In many of these areas what is needed is better education and not further legislation. Further legislation will increase the pool of potential offenders and what we need to do is address the issues in the way that the liquor licensing people and the cigarette people have done. There has been evidence gained through The Gun Trade Association to show that where they have taken steps to improve education and publicity through gun shops and through materials which are sold there are improvements. That process needs to be developed and it needs to be developed jointly. It needs to be a joint enterprise between the shooting community and the government and the police, not simply one element trying to address an issue in isolation.

  204. Is there any one of you who would prohibit the sending of unsolicited mail advertising lookalike air pistols for sale by phone? Would any of you advocate the prohibition of that?
  (Mr Harriman) Most of these things you are showing here are non-lethal and they fall under the legality threshold, so effectively they are no more than children's toys.

  205. The ultimate fun gift indeed.
  (Mr Harriman) That is a matter of taste for whoever has sent that out. Their potential to do harm is about the same as Britain's toy cannon which fires—


  206. Did you hear the police last week explaining how they react when they turn up to complaints that these weapons are being used?
  (Mr Harriman) I did, sir.

  207. You get your head blown off before they have checked whether it is lethal or not.
  (Mr Harriman) The police will react when any firearm is mentioned, whether it looks like one of those or nothing like it or whether it is a conventional break barrel air pistol which looks nothing like an air rifle. They will react because when the words "There is a man with a gun" go to that operational room they can do nothing else.

Mr Stinchcombe

  208. Am I right in thinking that not one of you would say that these kind of advertisements should be prohibited?

  (Mr Johnson) I do not like the word "prohibited", Chairman, that is the stumbling block. If all we can speak about are bans and prohibitions then we are failing to address the issues. I am sure there are mechanisms which could be advanced and developed which look at these, as The Gun Trade Association has done and as a result of those sort of consultations it may be possible that areas which the Government might wish to take an interest in come up. 209. I will give you a particular example, the ban on sales by phone. Surely to goodness that would at least enable you to know that the person you were selling to was going to be actually over 18 rather than simply say they were over 18.
  (Mr Oliver-Bellasis) Mr Stinchcombe raises a very specific point and I think it is quite difficult in that we do not have the advert in front of us and so on. There are some very real issues of concern to all of us that need looking at by professionals to come up with a proper mechanism for managing the problem. I believe that Mr Stinchcombe has eloquently articulated the need for this review which could provide proper answers to a particular problem, which certainly I would feel uncomfortable making a comment about without having seen what the law is, what the advert is and I am not an expert.

  210. I thought you were the experts.
  (Mr Oliver-Bellasis) Not in toys. We deal in the real weapons.
  (Lt Col Hoare) It is an offence to sell an air gun to someone under age and that is what should be monitored and that is what I suggested in my evidence. I certainly would not countenance that sort of advert coming from my organisation or any of those associated with my organisation.

Mr Fabricant

  211. Mr Johnson, I can reassure you that I will not be talking about bans and prohibitions. A little bit earlier on you were talking about the need to focus on the individual rather than the weapon and I think many of us would agree with that. You also talked about the need for consolidation of the legislation which is rather messy at the moment, in answer to Mr Linton's questions. I want to move on to the subject of shotguns. Shotguns can be lethal. Surely a good way to consolidate legislation is to say that shotguns, as indeed air weapons, should be classed as a schedule 1 weapon.
  (Mr Johnson) I am going to pass your question on to Mr Harriman who is a shotgun expert. Whatever proposals are made, they have got to be seen to be effective and they have got to be seen to improve public safety. We have seen no evidence that the distinct separation of shotguns and part 1 firearms actually leads to any different levels of public safety from those two weapons.

  212. No, but you yourself said it is messy, there are different forms of licensing and you explained very eloquently earlier on how police officers have to deal with different types of weapon in different ways. If nothing else, would it not be a tidying up exercise?
  (Mr Johnson) And that is exactly what we are saying no to, Mr Fabricant. Tidying up is not what is wanted in the sense that from time to time the Government tidies up this little bit, it tidies up that little bit and it tidies up another little bit either through legislation or through advice from the Home Office. When it does so we end up with more anomalies than when we started.

  213. Is not consolidation a form of tidying up?
  (Mr Johnson) It would make things simpler as it would put things under one statute with nowhere else to look. It would eliminate some of the errors that are made. Our colleagues in the Police Federation quoted in their evidence an Act which has been superseded and it is an administrative error that needs correcting, but it does not necessarily lead to saying, "Because we are tidying up what we need to do is do this and this or the other".
  (Mr Gill) What we are asking for is that there is a full and proper review. There have been a number of reviews since the original Act of 1920, which has resulted in undue complexities and inconsistencies. It is not a matter of tidying up little bits of the legislation it needs a total review so that we can establish an effective way of taking matters forward into the years ahead.

  214. Are you saying a review of all types of weapons, air weapons, rifles, pistols, the lot?
  (Mr Gill) Yes, but that should not presume that you move them all into one category. We need to have consistency of application across the country and a way that allows for a proper exchange of information between the relevant bodies, between police forces and between appropriate representative bodies so that there is a better exchange of information to address the key issue, which is ensuring the user is a proper and fit person to use the firearm.

  215. I take that point, Mr Gill, but would it not be fair to say that the only category that counts is not how the mechanism works but the effect of the mechanism and by that I mean a lethal weapon or a non-lethal weapon? In fact, one could even argue if it is non-lethal it is not a weapon anymore. Should they not be the only two categories that really count?
  (Mr Gill) I do not believe that is the case because there are a string of other issues which need to be considered, for example the effective range of the weapon. There are different requirements for the different categories of weapons available which can me met under existing arrangements already in place.
  (Mr Harriman) The way in which shotguns are licensed at the moment is arguably the only efficient and rational part of the licensing regime because it goes back to what we have spoken about already, which is licensing the person. There is no evidence whatsoever to show that this system is not rigorous in any way and the use of shotguns in crime is small and it halved between 1987 and 1997. Chief constables have a very wide-ranging power to refuse shotgun certificates and also to revoke them if they think that the applicant is a danger to public safety. I think on that basis there is simply no case to change the way in which shotguns are licensed. They are very different from section 1 firearms. A hunting rifle designed for shooting deer has a projectile which goes several thousand yards, carries a lot of energy and is capable of causing death or injury. Shotguns are rarely fatal to human beings at ranges of in excess of 20 yards. They are capable of causing injury with a bird shot at about 100-150 yards and their theoretical maximum range with a number six shot, which is about the most popularly used, is 220 yards. That is a mathematical formula and in reality it is less than that, they are very different things. I think the way in which they are licensed at the moment causes no problems. We heard from the Scarman Centre, wrongly, that European countries treat shotguns in a different way from we do and that we are unique and there is some sort of anomaly, but that is not correct. If it would help the Committee, I have here a note on the way in which other jurisdictions deal with shotguns and if you would like me to hand it up to your learned clerk, I would be happy to give you that.

  Chairman: Thank you.

Mr Fabricant

  216. I have heard that in France and elsewhere shotguns are handled differently. I like neatness. You advocated very well how the licensing arrangement works for shotguns. I have used a shotgun and I have used an SA assault rifle and it depends on the range, as Ben Gill has said. If the licensing regime for shotguns is so good, and I am not arguing that it is not, why not use that for schedule 1 firearms?
  (Lt Col Hoare) For certain schedule 1 firearms you could quite easily use the same regime. A target rifle, either a .22 or a 7.62, which is bolt action and no magazine, has never been a favoured weapon of the criminal. It would be ludicrous to hold up a bank with a .22 single shot rifle; you would be laughed out of the bank. Now that handguns are no longer able to be held legally in Great Britain that removes the last obstacle to remove the rigour of the firearms regime from some items of schedule 1 firearms.

  217. Would anyone else like to add anything about that point?
  (Mr Oliver-Bellasis) The only thing I would like to add, Mr Fabricant, is that with schedule 1 firearms there is the tendency for police forces to assign a territorial condition. It would be extraordinarily difficult for people helping on farms if a territorial condition were assigned to a shotgun, if it was deemed necessary to put shotguns on to schedule 1 firearms.

  218. Indeed, some of the evidence we received last week tended to imply that there was no direct correlation between numbers of legally held weapons and illegally held weapons and the amount of crime conducted with weapons.
  (Mr Oliver-Bellasis) We need that information very badly.

  Mr Fabricant: It makes me wonder whether any legislation is effective. Thank you very much, Chairman.

Mr Stinchcombe

  219. The 1997 handgun ban took 160,000 weapons out of circulation. Has that simply led to some handgun owners replacing those handguns with other legal weapons?
  (Lt Col Hoare) There has been some transition of those handgun owners to other disciplines who have remained with muzzle loading pistols or with what is known as gallery rifles or lightweight small rifles. These are rifles which use the same course of fire as pistols but come under a different definition.
  (Mr Johnson) It is very unusual that a certificate holder holds one firearm. You have seen the statistics, it is 2.4. Take any sport, a man will not merely run 100 yards, he might run four forties or what have you. A golfer will have a variety of clubs. The statistics about transference are not clear at all mainly because in the first place the police did not have the evidence themselves. Although they hold all the information, they could not even tell the Home Office what particular firearms were held on what particular certificates. The notion that there has been a wholesale dash to buy other forms is difficult to identify let alone quantify. Most of these people will have had a number of firearms to shoot in a number of disciplines, each bringing its own particular individual use and the transference would be a natural consequence. If you banned 100 metres racing tomorrow you are not telling me the athlete would not choose to do something else which is within his capabilities and abilities. There is certainly no evidence of the wholesale purchase of other firearms to make up for these.
  (Lt Col Hoare) There is more evidence to show that more people have walked away from the sport because of the stigma which attached itself during 1996, 1997 and 1998. For example, some of the Great Britain National Squad have emigrated to Jersey.

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