Select Committee on Home Affairs Second Report


    (a)  We agree with the Firearms Consultative Committee and with the Home Office that the maintenance of public safety is the vital benchmark for the consideration of all firearms issues. We also believe that any assessment of the risks to public safety must weigh carefully the welfare of the general public against the rights of the individual (paragraph 24).

    (b)  We believe that a firearm's potential to kill ought to be explicitly reflected in any system which seeks to regulate the possession and use of firearms (paragraph 32).

    (c)  We recommend that the Government adopt and implement, as soon as is practicable, the Firearms Consultative Committee's proposal for a comprehensive study of all weapons seized or recovered by police forces and Customs in England and Wales over the course of one year (paragraph 49).The findings of the study should be published (paragraph 49).

    (d)  While we do not believe that any significant further burden should be placed on those shooting activities which operate within a well-regulated framework, we recognise that there is concern over developments in shooting which may foster a "gun culture" (paragraph 52).

    (e)  We recommend that when toy guns are offered for sale, they must be clearly described and identified as toys (paragraph 54).

    (f)  We recommend that firearms control is based on the following principles:
      • Protection of public safety.

      • Simplicity of administration.

      • A uniform test of an individual's fitness to possess firearms.

      • Application to all firearms which have the potential to kill.

      • No undue restriction on the legitimate occupational and recreational use of firearms.

      • Sufficient flexibility to respond to potentially dangerous developments in firearms technology.

      • Efficient administration at no net cost to public funds.

      • Firm and definite strategies to counter the illegal possession and criminal use of firearms (paragraph 56).

    (g)   We believe that the controls applied to section 1 firearms are stringent, and, if fairly and consistently applied, they make adequate and justifiable provision for their safe use (paragraph 64).

    (h)  The possession of shotguns in urban areas does not appear to pose a particular problem, and we accept that urban dwellers should be as able as rural dwellers to hold a shotgun certificate. However, we believe that it is vital that weapons are kept securely, whatever their location. Chief constables of all force areas should be able to satisfy themselves that the shotguns licensed under their authority are being securely kept, especially where they believe there is an increased risk of theft (paragraph 71).

    (i)  We welcome the Government's moves towards a licensing system which concentrates on identifying the suitability of a person to hold firearms. We note, however, that the requirement to provide two detailed character references has not yet been extended to the shotgun licensing system. We recommend that the system of countersignatures on applications for shotgun certificates be replaced by a requirement to provide two character references. (Paragraph 84).

    (j)  We believe that the criteria for assessing of the fitness of an individual to possess any licensed firearm should be identical, regardless of the class of firearm concerned. This test of fitness ought to be the one which presently applies to the possession of section 1 firearms, i.e.

        (iii)  that an individual is fit to be entrusted with a firearm, and is not a person prohibited from possessing a section 1 firearm;

        (iv)  that an individual can be permitted to have the firearm or ammunition in his possession without danger to the public safety or to the peace.

    We neither believe nor intend that this should have any adverse impact on responsible firearm and shotgun users who presently hold shotgun certificates (paragraph 85).

    (k)  We believe that the law should be amended to give a chief constable the power (subject to appeal to the court, as at present) to revoke a shotgun certificate if he believes the certificate holder is "is of intemperate habits or unsound mind or otherwise unfitted to be entrusted" with a shotgun (paragraph 86).

    (l)  We recommend that the notification to the licensing authority by the licensee of all purchases, sales and transfers of weapons covered by a firearm or a shotgun certificate ought to remain mandatory (paragraph 87).

    (m)  We recommend that applicants for shotgun licences should be required to show that they have a good reason to possess shotguns. We do not expect that this will impose a great burden on genuine and responsible occupational and recreational shotgun users: nor do we believe that it should (paragraph 90).

    (n)  We believe that to impose specific territorial conditions on the use of shotguns will place an unreasonable burden on their occupational and sporting use. We do not believe that such conditions should be applied to the licensing of shotguns (paragraph 92).

    (o)  We recommend that a shotgun owner should be required to state at the time of grant or renewal of his certificate the maximum number of firearms he wishes to hold over the period of the certificate's validity. This number may be more than the number of shotguns he holds at the time of application. However, the chief constable must be satisfied that the applicant has good reason to possess the stated number of shotguns, and is able to meet the security conditions for their safe storage. The number of shotguns specified on the certificate should be variable upon application (paragraph 93).

    (p)  We recommend that when new types of firearm are developed which appear designed to circumvent the provisions of the existing law, the Secretary of State ought to consider using the powers at his disposal to re-classify them. If, in his view, long-barrelled revolvers or other form of firearm are being developed in a way which he considers a particular threat to public safety, he should promptly lay an appropriate order before both Houses for consideration (paragraph 107).

    (q)  We recommend that the Home Office, in consultation with all recognised shooting organisations, draw up a list of accepted disciplines for target shooting; and that, subject to present conditions, pursuit of these disciplines alone be considered good reason for the grant of a firearm certificate for target shooting with a particular firearm (paragraph 109).

    (r)  We believe that a well-regulated system of firearms controls should allow the legitimate possession of firearms for lawful activities which do not threaten public safety (paragraph 112).

    (s)  We recommend that the Government establish unambiguous criteria for judging the lethality of a firearm, and undertake the necessary research to provide an authoritative assessment of the power level at which a firearm is considered lethal (paragraph 128).

    (t)  We recommend that the Home Office and the Forensic Science Service introduce a common standard for the testing of air weapons (paragraph 129).

    (u)  We recommend that the Government assess present developments in air weapon technology as a matter of urgency, amend the Firearms (Dangerous Air Weapons) Rules to take into account any particular dangers to public safety, and publicise such dangers. (Paragraph 130).

    (v)  We do not believe that an absolute ban on low-powered air weapons is an appropriate measure to tackle the problem of air weapon abuse (paragraph 143).

    (w)   We believe that a proportion of air weapon abuse committed by juveniles may derive from wider social problems which will not be properly addressed simply by tightening firearms controls (paragraph 147).

    (x)  We recommend that the existing legislation controlling the use of low-powered air weapons should be more thoroughly enforced, and that, where appropriate, local strategies should be devised between police forces, schools and community leaders to reduce the misuse of air weapons (paragraph 148).

    (y)  In addition to the enforcement of existing legislation, we recommend that the Government and police forces should work together on the following initiatives aimed at reducing air weapon abuse:
      • a national air weapons hand-in campaign;
      • a targeted programme of public education on the proper storage and use of air weapons;
      • an encouragement towards a common safety standard for the storage of air weapons;
      • an enforcement of the present restriction on the sale and availability of air weapons, and air weapon ammunition, to those under 17;
      • a requirement on air weapons dealers to include safety literature with all air weapons sold;
      • further development of safe training programmes in association with the National Small-bore Rifle Association (paragraph 149).

    (z)  We do not accept that any lethal weapons should fall outwith firearms licensing, even if—for reasons of practicality—the regime may have to be transitory for the short to medium term. If a system of firearms control is to be consistent and simple to administer, while recognising the lethality of all firearms, it will need to be extended to lower-powered air weapons which are lethal. Licensing will require the air weapon owner to demonstrate fitness to possess firearms and a good reason for wishing to do so: it will also require owners to provide appropriate safe storage for their weapons (paragraph 155).

    (aa)  We recommend that the threshold at which air weapons must be licensed is set at that power level at which the potential to kill is proven by the best scientific evidence. Below that level of lethality, licensing would impose too onerous a burden for too little benefit; above it, however, licensing is necessary—for the safety of the public, and for the integrity and consistency of the licensing regime itself (paragraph 156).

    (bb)  We recommend that there should be a transitional period of eighteen months to two years at the start of the new licensing system for air weapons, during which no licensing fees would be charged for the registration of air weapons owned at the beginning of the transitional period (paragraph 160).

    (cc)  We recommend that the purchase or sale of any imitation firearm by or to persons under eighteen via telephone, mail order or Internet should be prohibited (paragraph 174).

    (dd)  There should be a minimum age limit below which a child should not be allowed to handle a lethal firearm, even under supervision. We are inclined to the view that this age should be at least twelve, and possibly fourteen. This lower limit should apply to the handling and use of firearms in all places, including approved gun clubs (paragraph 186).

    (ee)  We believe that the lowest age at which a young person may have unsupervised use of any lethal firearm on private land should be sixteen (paragraph 187).

    (ff)  We believe that the most appropriate minimum age for the legal possession of a lethal firearm, and the grant of a firearm certificate, is eighteen (paragraph 188).

    (gg)  We recommend that the administration of firearms licensing, and the decision on the fitness of individuals to possess firearms, should remain the responsibility of chief constables and their firearms licensing divisions (paragraph 194).

    (hh)  We recommend that clear Home Office guidance to the police on the operation of the Firearms Acts should be regularly updated and promulgated to all forces, and that chief constables should make it a priority to ensure that the guidance is consistently followed (paragraph 197).

    (ii)  We find it unacceptable that no firm date can be given for the implementation of a key provision of the Firearms (Amendment) Act 1997. We expect the Police Information Technology Organisation (PITO) and the Government to ensure the swift establishment of the national firearms certificate database, and we intend to pay close attention to the progress of this development (paragraph 198).

    (jj)  We are appalled that the national database of certificate holders and applications is not yet in immediate prospect, over two years after the implementation of the Firearms (Amendment) Act 1997 (paragraph 199).

    (kk)  We believe it is equally important for a national firearms certificate database to record the registration details of legally-held firearms. This is an essential requirement if the problems of firearm theft and the illegal pool of firearms are to be addressed effectively. We welcome the Minister's strong commitment to the delivery of this database, and look forward to its implementation (paragraph 202).

    (ll)  We believe that periodic personal contact between the licensing authority and the certificate holder is vital for the safe and effective administration of the firearms licensing system (paragraph 204).

    (mm)  We recommend that renewals of firearm and shotgun certificates should be maintained on a five-yearly basis, but that a home visit by a firearms inquiry officer should be an integral part of the renewal process for firearm and shotgun certificates; and that the practice of postal renewals of certificates should be discontinued (paragraph 205).

    (nn)  We welcome the Minister's stated intention of consulting the British Shooting Sports Council on the new scale of firearms administration fees before laying any amending Order before Parliament. We intend to examine the Order once it is laid (paragraph 208).

    (oo)  We understand that the improvements in the licensing system which we recommend and support have to be paid for. We therefore welcome the Minister's assurance to us that the cost of the national firearms database will not be subject to any form of cost recovery via the fee structure in the future (paragraph 208).

    (pp)  We believe that the fees for the licensing of firearms should continue to be set at levels which enable full recovery of costs. However, we also expect a licensing system which is funded on this basis to provide fair and equal treatment to all certificate holders (paragraph 209).

    (qq)  While we respect the technical expertise of the Firearms Consultative Committee, we conclude that there is merit in constituting a consultative forum with a broader remit, and including representatives of organisations with interests in the safe use of firearms in society. We recommend a two-tier structure:

        (i)    a smaller consultative committee, constituted on a statutory basis and along similar lines to the present model, with a remit to consider the technical aspects of the operation of firearms legislation and to report directly to the Secretary of State;

        (ii)  a broader, non-statutory body, which may include ex officio the membership of (i), composed to reflect the interests of shooting organisations, law enforcement agencies, public safety bodies and other organisations with an interest in shooting issues, with a remit to consider the operation of firearms legislation in the round, with a particular emphasis on public safety (paragraph 217).

    (rr)  We believe that the present Firearms Acts are sufficiently complex and misleading in their practical application to require urgent consolidation. We therefore recommend that the Government prepare a Consolidation Bill for introduction at the earliest opportunity (paragraph 226).

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