Select Committee on Home Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 300 - 319)



  300. There is not much prospect of that happening, it seems to me, the prospect of them trying to resist further controls. You really rather dismissed the question of the illegal weapons, if I may say so. We received evidence last week that virtually all crime, apart from domestic crime, involving firearms involves the use of illegally-held weapons. Indeed the statistics show that since the draconian ban on handguns there has been virtually no change in the number of crimes involving the use of firearms. Are you seriously suggesting that we should—notwithstanding the fact that those who hold weapons legally are largely not involved in crime and their weapons are largely not involved in crime—ban them and not address the real issue which faces this country, which is that of illegally-held weapons?
  (Mrs Marshall-Andrews) Not at all. We are saying that illegal weapons are a big problem. We accept they are a big problem. The police accept there is a big problem and I very much hope the police are given the necessary resources to deal with that problem. What we are saying is that it is not possible to make a clear-cut distinction between the legal, on the one hand, and the illegal on the other.

  301. Why not?
  (Mrs Marshall-Andrews) As I said before, most illegal weapons have started out legal. The gun laws in a society have an impact upon the totality of firearms in that society. It is very clear, it is the totality of guns in society, legal and illegal, that have a correlation with the level of gun violence.

  302. You mentioned that guns or weapons come in illegally into the country from abroad because of conflicts round the world. I can tell you, if you go Pesha"war, up near the border by Afghanistan, you can get any weapon you like made there in a matter of days. I am afraid we have no jurisdiction over that part of the world these days. Are you suggesting that simply because weapons can come in from there or come in from conflicts in the Balkans that we should therefore penalise those, if I can quote Assistant Commander Hart, "Who are mature, responsible people who pursue whatever activity they have for their firearm in a lawful way."? We should penalise those people, is that what you seriously suggest? It is a major, major infringement on the rights of people in this country simply because we cannot stem the flow of illegal weapons coming into the country.
  (Dr North) I do not think we said anything like that at all. I do not think we mentioned anything about the Balkans and Pesha"war.

  303. Mrs Marshall-Andrews referred to weapons coming in because of conflicts around the world.
  (Mrs Marshall-Andrews) I think the point I wanted to make is that most weapons start out legal, wherever they are, wherever they are manufactured they are mostly legal.

  304. Most of the legal weapons in this country do not end up in the hands of criminals, do they?
  (Mrs Marshall-Andrews) The police are very concerned about two ways in which there is slippage from the legal into the illegal, one is theft and the other is through deactivation and then subsequent reactivation. Those are the two major sources, in their view, of illegal weaponry in this country, not imports from other countries.

  305. We heard that thefts do not amount to a huge number in numerical terms. After all you yourself said that numbers are important, although the police dismiss that. If there are relatively few weapons or a very small proportion of legally-held weapons being stolen and thereby used or deactivated and reactivated, by definition there is an increase in the supply of weapons coming in from abroad?
  (Mrs Marshall-Andrews) We are not in a position, again, to say what the police have said. Their information is what we would go by. If they are saying that imports from abroad are not the problem then we would agree with that. We are not in a position to say they are wrong, indeed I do not think there is better evidence than theirs.

  306. Can I ask you two other brief questions? When you said you are in favour of a minimum age limit of 18 for ownership/possession/use of all kinds of guns, are you extending that to the Army Cadet Force and to all other military cadets? Are you suggesting they should not be taught how to use guns?
  (Mrs Marshall-Andrews) Yes, I think our position is that we want to see the age of 18 as the age at which people can handle weapons legally.

  307. So people should be able to join up in the Army at the age of 16 but not be entitled to handle a firearm at 18. Is that not nonsensical?
  (Mrs Marshall-Andrews) There are anomalies. Perhaps one could put it the other way round, that you do not recruit into the Army until the age of 18. That would be a possibility. I do not want to go into this because I do not think it is a big issue.

  308. Do you not think particularly with young boys who have, in my experience having two sons, a natural affinity towards playing with guns, that it is much better the parents should be able to teach them at the earliest possible age how safely to handle guns and therefore reduce the risk rather than try to flow against the tide and stop them?
  (Dr North) I would be worried about your expression "playing with guns", I think it hints at something which concerns all of us.

  309. It is a fact, Dr North, is it not, that children at an early age get cowboy outfits and things like that. You suggest the expression "playing with guns" is somehow sinister, but it was not meant in that way. I am saying that is what I did when I was young, it is probably what you did as a child—
  (Dr North) I did not.

  310. But it is quite usual for children to have done and they will continue to do so, and it is much better they should be taught how safely to handle them.
  (Dr North) I am sorry, I disagree entirely with that. I do not think an expression like "playing with guns" conveys the right image about what are later on lethal weapons.

  311. So you would ban cowboys and Indians?
  (Dr North) No, I would not ban cowboys and Indians, but—

  312. That is playing with guns.
  (Dr North) If I had a boy I would not encourage him to play cowboys and Indians.
  (Mrs Marshall-Andrews) What you are talking about is replicas really. If you are talking about the water pistol which does not look anything like a gun, then we do not have a position about that. We do have a concern about the kind of guns which look to the lay person like the real thing. There are a lot of airguns which look to most people in the street like the real thing, they do not know they are airguns, they might be shotguns or rifles. There is not general awareness of what different guns look like.

  313. So you would like to ban that (indicating), would you? It is a BB gun, do you know what a BB gun is?
  (Mrs Marshall-Andrews) I have read about it—I know you produced one or talked about it in your evidence last week.

  Mr Howarth: I did and I am as good as my word, I produced it today. It is a BB gun which fires a little plastic pellet about 30 yards, and a lot of young boys like to play with these and—

  Mr Linton: And older boys as well, I think!

Mr Winnick

  314. And a lot of MPs as well probably!
  (Mrs Marshall-Andrews) If you produced that in a balaclava or something to a sub-postmaster over a counter or appeared to threaten somebody in a vulnerable position, I think they would be very alarmed. You smile—

Mr Howarth

  315. Would a knife not have the same purpose?
  (Mrs Marshall-Andrews) We are not talking about knives, we are talking about firearms. Something which is capable of threatening or appearing to threaten life is of concern and it is not a funny issue. It is not a matter for jokes. You may think they are toys, your boys may think they are toys, but for most people they would be regarded as something which could possibly kill them.

  316. If they were abused, I would accept that, but if a car is abused it is a far more lethal weapon, it kills infinitely more people than guns ever kill. I am trying to pursue the logic of your argument. Can the three of you tell us whether you have visited a rifle club, because there are of course no handgun clubs any more?
  (Mrs  Marshall-Andrews) I have seen a demonstration of the British—

  317. Have you been to a rifle club?
  (Mrs Marshall-Andrews) Yes.
  (Dr North) I have not, I would not wish to.
  (Professor Taylor) Yes, I have.

  318. Was it well organised?
  (Professor Taylor) The one I went to was reasonably well organised.
  (Mrs Marshall-Andrews) Yes. I went as a member of the Firearms Consultative Committee and it all seemed perfectly all right.

Mr Winnick

  319. I do not know if you, Mrs Marshall-Andrews or your two colleagues, have met any of the parents who lost their children at Dunblane, but do you think that if you did meet them they would take a rather light-hearted attitude to what we have just been hearing?
  (Dr North) Mr Winnick, I am one of the parents.

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