Select Committee on Home Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 269 - 279)




  269. Good morning. Mrs Marshall-Andrews, would you like to tell us who is with you, please?
  (Mrs Marshall-Andrews) Professor Ian Taylor and Dr Mick North, both founder members of our organisation.

Mr Singh

  270. Just to begin with, although it is self-evident what you stand for from the name of your organisation, would you like to tell us a little about your organisation and why you were established?
  (Mrs Marshall-Andrews) We were established after the Dunblane tragedy and we were set up in order to promote tighter controls over weapons in this country. It is a basic tenet of ours that the number of guns in any society is correlated very closely to the level of gun violence and that includes death, injury, suicide, accidents. Everything that we do is designed to promote a situation in which there are fewer and fewer guns in society, in which guns are less accessible, less attractive, and in that way we hope to promote a safer society.

  271. Thank you. What grounds do you have for stating that the number of guns in society is directly correlated to gun violence? That is legal and illegal weapons presumably?
  (Professor Taylor) Could I draw the Committee's attention to a study published last year, I think probably one of the most definitive studies in this particular area, by Franklyn Zimring of the University of California, who has made a life time's work of studying the relationship between firearms ownership and firearms crime in different countries in a book called Lethal Violence in America: Crime is not the Problem. That includes, amongst other things, a direct comparison of the City of London and New York City and I will just quote the critical paragraph to you. After 25 years of study he has come down now to looking at comparisons between cities and comparisons between countries. "London has more theft than New York City and rate of burglary 57 per cent higher ...", something that perhaps in Britain we do not like to admit, but we do now have a lot more burglary in this country, "... but the robbery rate in London is less than one-fifth of the robbery rate in New York City, and the homicide rate in London is less than one-tenth the New York City rate." Zimring is perhaps the most respected figure, not often quoted by the National Rifle Association, I have to say, but the most respected figure in the established academic study of these kind of relationships, and I think that is a very useful starting point for our discussions. I think our position as an organisation is that one of the great social achievements of this country over many years—actually from probably the 17th century, not from 1920—is that through an interesting mix of forms of social control and consensus as well as law we have managed to be a society in which our social divisions and conflicts are not resolved through the use of gun violence. It is one of the challenges facing this Committee at the end of the 20th century to see how it can contribute to continuing that particular tradition, a great tradition in this country, of actually living in a divided, unequal society but without the resort to firearms in the way which, as we know, across the other side of the Atlantic often happens.

  272. We have been told that the possession of legally-held weapons is not necessarily a problem, and that the real problem and where we should be concentrating our attention is on illegally-held weapons by criminals who are carrying out crime using those weapons. Why do you blur that distinction between legally-held and illegally-held weapons? Why do you believe that legally-held firearms are as prone to misuse or abuse as illegally-held ones?
  (Dr North) I do not think we do say that legal weapons are worse than illegal weapons, but I think it would be denying the reality of the situation to say that there are two clear compartments, one in which there are law-abiding legal gun owners and then another totally separate one in which there are criminals who own guns illegally. That is just not the case.

  273. I do not understand that. If you could clarify why that distinction is blurred and does not exist, I would be grateful.
  (Dr North) I will tell you for why—and I know this is something which some of the shooting enthusiasts do not like—my daughter was a victim at Dunblane, the gun which was used to kill my daughter was a legally-held weapon. I think to say, "Well, there were all sorts of circumstances which did not really make that the same kind of legally-held weapon as these other cases" is just a convenience for those who wish to shoot. I do not think we would ever deny that there is a big problem with illegal weapons but you do not say, because that is the biggest problem we do not look at the difficulties and problems of legal gun ownership.

Mr Singh

  274. Obviously the Committee extends its sympathy to you. I was not aware of your daughter being involved in Dunblane. We are very sorry about that. I still need to pursue this point, what evidence is there of the rate of crime, shootings or violence through guns caused by legally-held weapons?
  (Professor Taylor) Very fundamental to this discussion is the question of what constitutes a legal firearm as opposed to an illegal fire arm in this country. It depends on the system of registration, that we have been discussing. It depends on the degree of credulity with which we operate as to whether or not, through that existing system, it is possible to identify whether a gun that is found at the scene of a crime, for example, is legally or illegally owned. I think you have heard already from police officers in a previous hearing about the difficulties that exist within that system. My understanding, from work I did in Manchester two years ago, is to establish or trace the provenance of an individual firearm in this country would take 51 phone calls around every single police force in this country. It is important we are moderately intelligent about the systems we have. They were established many years ago before we thought we had an emergent crime problem in this area and the system is strained. We do not actually know the provenance of the firearms we find, we do not have a system for tracing them. I think for representatives of the shooting associations to rest their arguments on this clear-cut dichotomy between legal and illegal guns maybe is a bad faith exercise. We do not actually know very much about the individual guns found at the scenes of crime in this country.
  (Mrs Marshall-Andrews) I think there are two points I would like to make. First of all, I think it is true to say that nearly all guns start out legal. They may not start out legal in this country but they do not leave the factory gates illegally. Illegal weapons are basically weapons that have slipped from being legal, they have been stolen, they have been involved in some conflict in areas around the world where there are slack laws. They start out legal. That is one reason for the blur between legal and illegal. I think another very important factor here is that tight gun laws do have an effect on the ethos of society, they give out messages which say guns are, perhaps, anti-social, guns are lethal, they are not toys, they are not to be taken lightly. The tighter the gun laws you have the safer the society and probably the less illegal weaponry you have at the same time. It must be said that our gun laws are regarded internationally as the gold standard—post 1997. Other countries are extremely envious, if you like, of the situation we have.

  275. I am glad you say that because that leads me on to my next question. Arising from the statistics you gave us about New York and London, given the huge gap in gun related crime between New York and London what is the need for a further tightening up of the gun laws in this country?
  (Mrs Marshall-Andrews) There are lots of gaps. There are loopholes in the current legislation. There is also a need to recognise that gun laws have to evolve. The pressure of the shooters is eternal, they will always want to remove legislation; they will always want to undermine it; they will always want to find loopholes and exploit them. That is the nature of the gun lobby, that is the nature of shooting. Manufacturers are trying all the time to develop weapons that circumvent the legislation, you see this a bit with muzzle-loaders. It is going to happen. We cannot be complacent. The fact that we have a gold standard is something to be proud of but we must not feel it is done and dusted. If there were not organisations such as ours or a Government that was on-the-ball about this issue we would find, once again, that the legislation eroded and that it would not be very long before we found that gun ownership was increasing very dramatically and we might even on be on the road to the American situation.

  276. You obviously believe gun ownership in the United Kingdom is too high. I assume you believe that. I think there are 627,600 shotguns certificates on issue, covering 1,343,400-odd shotguns, and 131,900 firearm certificates on issue, covering 295,100 firearms. Presumably that is too high. Is there an acceptable level of gun ownership?
  (Mrs Marshall-Andrews) We would not want to put a figure on it. Our interest is to try to promote progressively tighter and tighter restrictions on guns. We live in a progressively more and more violent society, we know that. We know there are all sorts of other influences, such as television and films, which promote violence and violent reaction to conflict. Therefore it is incumbent upon us as a society to try to remove, as far as possible, the weapons that might turn an incident into a death. Guns are clearly very important in that respect.

  277. In your view are there any legitimate reasons for the ownership of firearms in a civil society like ours, such as sport or occupational reasons? Are there any legitimate reasons at all, in your view, as an organisation?
  (Mrs Marshall-Andrews) I would not say that we were an extreme organisation at all. We recognise there are needs, farmers have needs for vermin control, humane slaughter. Indeed some people may want to shoot at birds and animals for fun. These are a minority interest but we recognise that they are interests. We are not saying ban all civilian uses of guns at all. We are just saying that these are weapons designed for killing. As I say, we live in a violent society and we must get a progressively stronger and stronger grip on who is carrying them and what sort of weapons they are.

  278. You would not want to discourage people who have a justifiable reason for owning a gun from owning a gun?
  (Mrs Marshall-Andrews) The issue would turn on what is justifiable. Our concern is to try and make sure that the young are not exposed to this too early. We believe in an age limit, for use and ownership, of 18. We are not advocating the continuation of Saturday morning gun clubs for children sometimes aged as young as 8 and 9. We know that the shooting fraternity want to continue with airguns and all that kind of thing because it is the next generation of shooters. Our position is that we would like it if there were not a very big next generation of shooters. We are not going to ban them but we hope that shooting as a sport will die on the branch. We hope it will be seen in the next millennium as being an outdated or, perhaps, an old-fashioned sport and people can find other ways of testing their marksmanship through lasers and non-lethal sorts of weapons.

  279. Do you believe in any way that the shooting fraternity cares less about public safety than the non-shooting community?
  (Mrs Marshall-Andrews) I do not want to make generalisations about that. I think that their interest is to promote that sport.

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