Select Committee on Home Affairs Second Report


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;[190] 748 cases of compensation remained to be settled.[191] The vast majority of surrendered handguns were destroyed, though some 4,600 considered to be of historic interest have been kept for museums.[192]

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.[193] 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).[194]

116. The Home Office stated that the handgun ban was only intended to address the threat to public safety from legally held handguns.[195] 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.[196]


All weapons
All weapons
excluding air weapons
of which

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.[197] 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.[198]

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

191   HC Deb, 1 February 2000, col. 514w. Back

192   HC Deb, 19 January 2000, col. 466w: we have received no indication that any of these handguns have been, or are to be, deactivated. Back

193   Firearms Surrender and Compensation, HC 225, 1998-99; Home Office: Handgun Surrender and Compensation, HC 354, 1998-99. Back

194   Appendix 1, section D. Back

195   Appendix 1, section D. Back

196   QQ 83-85. Back

197   Ibid. Back

198   Appendix 16 and Q 296. Back

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