THE FIREARMS (AMENDMENT) ACTS 1997
114. The provisions of the Firearms (Amendment) Act
1997 entered into force between March and October 1997, and those
of the Firearms (Amendment) (No. 2) Act 1997 entered into force
in February 1998. Between them these Acts effectively prohibited
the private possession of all calibres of handgun, save for a
few exemptions (for example, by vets for the purposes of humane
slaughter of animals). The surrender of handguns, and the payment
of compensation, took place during 1998. As of 19 January, 162,198
handguns had been surrendered and a total of £89 million
had been paid in compensation;
748 cases of compensation remained to be settled.
The vast majority of surrendered handguns were destroyed, though
some 4,600 considered to be of historic interest have been kept
115. The National Audit Office reported in February
1999 on the operation of the hand-in scheme and the payment of
compensation, and the Public Accounts Committee subsequently delivered
its verdict on the administration of the scheme.
Initial police figures had estimated 187,000 handguns in private
hands: the Government explained that the apparent shortfall was
due to some non-prohibited firearms (such as muzzle-loading handguns
and handguns for the humane slaughter of animals) being included
in the figure; as well as to the other methods of disposal open
to handgun owners (such as export, sale, deactivation or destruction).
116. The Home Office stated that the handgun ban
was only intended to address the threat to public safety from
legally held handguns.
In this respect, it noted that 305 handguns were stolen or otherwise
misappropriated in 1997 (presumably entering the pool of illegally-held
weapons): very few handguns can have been misappropriated in 1998
or 1999. It further noted an 11% drop in crime committed with
weapons other than low-powered air weapons, from 8,490 offences
between January 1996 and June 1997 to 7,532 offences between July
1997 and December 1998. As these figures were not broken down
by type of weapon used, it is not known how many of these offences
were committed with handguns. The latest annual data available
shows that since the ban there has been no significant decrease
in the number of firearms offences. These figures, as ACPO told
us, include an unknown number of offences committed with replicas
which may have been mistaken for real firearms.
excluding air weapons
Source: Home Office Criminal
Statistics, 1998 (Cm 4649).
117. The Government rightly paid tribute to "the
co-operation of the overwhelming majority of shooters" in
the implementation of the handgun ban.
However, the individual representations we have received have
left us in little doubt of the genuine sense of grievance in the
shooting community over the ban, particularly given the widespread
perception that the use of illegally held handguns in crime has
not diminished as a result.
118. The Gun Control Network welcomed the implementation
of the ban. The removal of 162,000 firearms from private hands
represented a significant step towards its objective of a reduction
of the numbers of all types of firearm in private hands. Moreover,
it believed that the introduction of legislation prohibiting the
private possession of a class of firearm sent out a strong message
about the acceptability of the private possession of all firearms.
119. It is too early to establish with any certainty
whether the prohibition on the private ownership of handguns has
had any effect on the use of handguns in crime. Certainly the
opportunity for misappropriation of handguns into the illegal
pool of weapons has been drastically reduced. However, there remains
the potential for reactivation of a number of handguns deactivated
to pre-1995 specifications and presently held without a firearm
certificate. We further examine the issue of deactivated weapons
at paragraph 165 below.
190 HC Deb, 19 January 2000, col. 466w. Back
HC Deb, 1 February 2000, col. 514w. Back
HC Deb, 19 January 2000, col. 466w: we have received no
indication that any of these handguns have been, or are to be,
Firearms Surrender and Compensation, HC 225, 1998-99;
Home Office: Handgun Surrender and Compensation, HC 354,
Appendix 1, section D. Back
Appendix 1, section D. Back
QQ 83-85. Back
Appendix 16 and Q 296. Back