Select Committee on Home Affairs Minutes of Evidence


Examination of Witnesses (Questions 280 - 299)

TUESDAY 14 DECEMBER 1999

MRS GILL MARSHALL-ANDREWS, DR MICK NORTH AND PROFESSOR IAN TAYLOR

  280. Finally, what measures would you advocate to tighten up already what you describe as a double standard for legally-held firearms? What would you advocate could be done about stopping the spread or reducing the number of illegally-held firearms?
  (Mrs Marshall-Andrews) You have our paper and there are a number of legislative proposals we would like to see. We want to see a minimum age of 18, we want to see a ban on replicas, that is replica weapons which look like the real thing and are designed and marketed to look like the real thing. Holland does this and we see no reason why this should not happen here. There is no real purpose for a replica weapon. Why would you have a replica weapon except to frighten somebody? It seems bizarre. We want to see shotguns brought into section 1 licensing, for the reasons which the police have rehearsed already, I think. We would want to see airguns brought into the system of licensing on a common basis with all other weapons, recognising that airguns are not toys, they are guns and they should be licensed.

Mr Fabricant

  281. Just before I get on to my main small area of questioning, Mr Singh asked you about your organisation and you said you were set up after Dunblane but I am still not clear in my mind—and I suspect Mr Singh and others feel the same—exactly who you are. We know who the RSPCA are, the NFU and we know who their members are. How many members do you have?
  (Mrs Marshall-Andrews) We were set up after Dunblane in July 1996 as a voluntary organisation with an executive committee of seven. We had families of people from the Hungerford tragedy as well as academics and lawyers.

  Mr Fabricant: How many members do you have now?

Mr Winnick

  282. Can I just say, Mrs Marshall-Andrews and your two colleagues—and I hope you do not believe we are in any way being impolite—if you do maintain your voice at a certain level Mr Fabricant and I, who I hope do not suffer acute hearing problems generally, will be unable to hear you. You are giving evidence in public and if you could maintain your voice level, it would help all concerned, including I am sure the Chairman.
  (Mrs Marshall-Andrews) Sorry.
  (Professor Taylor) I am interested in the reason for the question.

Mr Fabricant

  283. I do not have to give a reason for a question, I want to know how many members you have. Do you know how many members you have?
  (Mrs Marshall-Andrews) Can I just explain a bit of the background to the organisation? We set up with an executive committee of seven, we decided not to have a public membership of this organisation, and on the advice of some Canadian colleagues who had set up a similar organisation and found it infiltrated by shooters and had to stop and restart again with a very, very small group, we decided to remain as a very small group, and that is what we are still.

Mr Winnick

  284. Financed by whom?
  (Mrs Marshall-Andrews) We started off by being financed by a trust which came to us after Dunblane with an unsolicited donation, and that helped us over the course of our major campaigning until the legislation took place. Since then, we are just operating on a voluntary basis, occasionally we have small donations by trusts but we are a very small group.

Mr Fabricant

  285. Can you tell us which trust?
  (Mrs Marshall-Andrews) No. It was asked that the donation should remain anonymous. It is a charitable organisation.

Mr Winnick

  286. A registered charity?
  (Mrs Marshall-Andrews) Yes, they are a registered charity. We are not a registered charity.

Mr Fabricant

  287. I am not quite sure of your legitimacy then if there is only a small group of you. I do want to ask another question about consolidation. Were you present when we were asking the previous witnesses on the question of whether firearms legislation ought to be consolidated, such as the shotgun legislation should be treated the same as Schedule 1 of the firearms legislation?
  (Mrs Marshall-Andrews) We were present.

  288. So do you take that view?
  (Dr North) Yes.
  (Mrs Marshall-Andrews) We take the view that shotguns should become section 1 firearms.

  289. So you would take the view, as we were talking earlier about air weapons, that really the differential should be between whether a weapon is a lethal weapon or, if there is such a thing, a non-lethal weapon?
  (Mrs Marshall-Andrews) Our view is that if it is a gun and it is capable of killing, or it looks like one which is capable of killing, then it should be registered.
  (Professor Taylor) I am just wondering what lies behind that question as well. If the argument is a replica weapon, for example, because it is not lethal, should not be subject to regulation, then with respect, Mr Fabricant, I think the majority of people in this country would disagree with you enormously. One of the major factors in all current criminological studies of fear of crime in our cities is the sighting of weapons of various kinds, whether knives or guns, and it is very well established that the people who see guns and knives in various kinds of situations in our cites are not able to distinguish between the real and the replica.

  290. Indeed we heard last week that the police are unable to distinguish as well. That is not the question, and I think you are actually pre-judging where I am coming from, if you do not mind me saying so. The point I am asking is how you would actually prevent these weapons getting into illegal hands? Are you actually suggesting an all-out ban on replica weapons?
  (Mrs Marshall-Andrews) Yes.
  (Dr North) Yes.
  (Professor Taylor) Yes.

  291. Thank you.
  (Mrs Marshall-Andrews) Could I say one other thing in response to the questioning about our membership? We have a large database of supporters, if that is what you mean. We would not call them members but they are people who approached us, and the Snowdrop petition, in the course of the campaigning—many hundreds of people on a database who have expressed their support of our organisation, but they are not members.

  292. Now you have brought it up, how many have contacted you in the last year?
  (Mrs Marshall-Andrews) I cannot tell you, maybe 100 perhaps.

  Mr Winnick: If I could make the point, Mrs Marshall-Andrews, it would be useful if you could give further consideration after today's session about those who are involved in your organisation and give the financial backing. I think it would be useful to the Committee. If, however, you came to the conclusion afterwards that you would not wish to do so, so be it. I can only give my own view point that we would like to know from organisations who belong to such organisations and any financial backing, but that is a decision which you yourselves must obviously take.

Mr Fabricant

  293. Would it be helpful, in fact, if you gave that information in confidence to the Committee? That can be done constitutionally within the Committee and it would not be released as part of the report, it would only be made available to members of the Committee.
  (Mrs Marshall-Andrews) We have no problem about that at all.

Mr Winnick

  294. I did not think you would have, Mrs Marshall-Andrews. You said in reply to a question from Mr Singh, if I understood the answer correctly, that in many respects Britain is the envy of other countries which do not have our system of controls. That is so. Therefore the question inevitably would be that if indeed we are the envy certainly of those who want stricter controls, first and foremost in a country like the United States, why should there be an argument for even further controls bearing in mind what the previous Government did and the present one following the terribly tragedy at Dunblane?
  (Professor Taylor) I think Gill gave a very useful answer earlier to a similar question, which is as an organisation we are committed to issues of public safety but more importantly and in a very, I hope, contemporary way, we are trying to look at the question of risk. I think it behoves a Home Affairs Committee of this Parliament to be looking at the whole question of how do you manage risk in this very risky area at the end of the 20th century. We, despite the relative small size of this organisation, are making presentations to you this morning which are attentive to danger and risk in our society and, with respect, those we heard earlier this morning seem to be rather silent on that question. The private ownership of lethal weaponry in households and elsewhere is a highly risky activity. As an organised society we spend a lot of attention looking at all kinds of other areas of risk. It is not the case we are arguing for a one-off piece of new legislation to prohibit this or prohibit that, what we are saying as an organisation is that here is an area of risk and danger in which there is enormous public interest and it behoves a Committee of this kind to be taking its responsibilities in that area very seriously. There is a whole series of matters that we would like to see happen with respect to the inspection of gun clubs.

  295. You know, of course, that Hungerford and Dunblane deeply shocked the country. At least after Dunblane action was taken. Do you believe that if the sort of controls that you want to see had been in existence before Hungerford, 1987 or before Dunblane, 1996 those tragedies could have been avoided?
  (Dr North) Very positively yes. I am convinced that had more been done after Hungerford with respect to handguns then Thomas Hamilton would not have armed himself. I know there are some who are convinced he would have gone into a pub in Glasgow and got an illegal weapon, I do not see any evidence that supports that. He would not have been continuing to shoot over those years. I am convinced that had there been tighter changes after the Hungerford massacre that the Dunblane massacre would not have taken place.

  296. That is the view, obviously, of all of you.
  (Professor Taylor) If we take the American example as some kind of indicator, it is the provenance of handguns in civil society—handguns in particular—that is seen by most commentators to be the source of the mayhem in cities in that society. We have removed 162,000 of them from this one.

  297. As you know the gun lobby and the shooting lobby, albeit in the United States or here, echo the view constantly that it is humans who kill not guns. What would your response to that be?
  (Dr North) Mine would be that it is a combination of the two, men with guns.

Mr Howarth

  298. Can I apologise for not being able to be at the Committee right at the outset? I have listened to the Gun Control Network. Can I put it to you, first of all, you attacked those who enjoy shooting for recreation purposes, perhaps even those who use guns for vermin control, as a minority, but it seems to me you are a rather small minority, perhaps, moved by your own personal experience, as we well understand. You have a particular standpoint but it is our job to look at this issue in the round. Cars are dangerous in the hands of the wrong people. Assistant Commander Hart, who came last week, said to us—contrary to what you said that less guns make a safer society -"I do not think the number of weapons held are a threat to public safety." How do you respond to that assertion?
  (Dr North) I think in terms of looking at things in the round, I have spent a long time thinking about it and I consider that my response and that of the Gun Control Network is a measured response. I think, although you are saying that we are a minority, we do reflect a much broader view within society in a better way than the shooting enthusiasts reflect a broader view in society.

  299. You suggest that the shooters are constantly trying to pressurise us into repealing such laws that already exist, frankly that is not my experience. My experience is that all the pressure is coming from you people to tighten up the law and make it more difficult for those who either wish to use shotguns, particularly farmers using it for their jobs or those who shoot for recreational purposes. The pressure is all coming from your direction and not from them. They may be trying to resist what you are trying to do. I do not get letters from people saying we should repeal this and that.
  (Mrs Marshall-Andrews) My understanding was that there was a group of the shooting fraternity who were taking the Government to the European Court of Justice to try to get the handgun ban repealed on the basis that it removed the civil right of an individual to own a gun. I think certainly from where we were sitting, behind the shooting witnesses, earlier it seemed very clear to me that they were resisting and would resist any further controls of any kind and, indeed, would be extremely happy if the controls were made more lenient.


 
previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2000
Prepared 13 April 2000