The Submission to the Home Affairs Committee
Inquiry into Controls over Firearms
1. As a result of the tragedy at Dunblane
and Lord Cullen's subsequent Inquiry, 1997 saw the introduction
of two Acts of Parliament, enacted by different governments, which
transformed shooting legislation in this country. Two years afterwards
the impact of some, but not all, of this legislation can be assessed.
2. To identify weaknesses within existing
firearms legislation and recommend improvements.
3. Specific areas of scrutiny are:
3.1. Air weapons
3.1.1. the extent of the problems caused,
in both urban and rural areas, by misuse of air weapons,
3.1.2. any inadequacies in the existing
controls designed to prevent their misuse;
3.1.3. what further controls, whether by
licensing or by additional restrictions on their use, might usefully
3.2.1. the extent of the problems caused,
in both urban and rural areas, by misuse of shot guns,
3.2.2. any inadequacies in the existing
controls designed to prevent their misuse;
3.2.3. what further controls, whether to
the present licensing system or to existing controls on their
use, might usefully be introduced.
3.3. Other Firearms
3.3.1. the extent to which the bans introduced
in 1997 have been effective in removing handguns from circulation
including the means of disposal of guns that have been surrendered;
3.3.2. in respect of other firearms requiring
a firearm certificate, whether any further changes are needed
to the licensing system or to the existing controls on such weapons.
3.4. Criminal Use of Firearms
3.4.1. The availability of firearms to criminals
and the source of such weapons,
3.4.2. The extent to which lack of controls
over deactivated weapons allows them to be reactivated and used
3.4.3. The extent to which some replica
firearms and air weapons can be converted to working firearms
and the problems caused by imitation firearms generally.
4. Air weapons, (unless especially dangerous,
ie with kinetic energy over 12 ft/lbs for rifles and over 6 ft/lbs
for air pistols) are not subject to control. It is not possible
to estimate with any accuracy the total number in Great Britain
but it is likely to be several million.
5. In 1997 there was a total of 12,410 firearm
offences. Of these 7,506 involved air weapons, about 60 per cent.
In 98 per cent of these offences, the weapon was fired and resulted
in slight injury in 14 per cent of the cases and serious injury
in 2 per cent of the cases. About one third of the offences related
to assault and about half were committed in public and other open
spaces. (Home Office Criminal Statistics England and Wales 1997,
published November 1998.)
6. A thirteen-year-old boy was killed in
Wrexham in July this year by an air weapon. (Annex A and B)
7. It has not been possible to distinguish
between misuse in urban and rural areas. Misuse has tended to
be constant with animals, vehicles and property being shot at
and loaded air weapons being carried in a public place. Offences
are usually perpetrated by youngsters.
8. Air weapons (and associated pellets/darts)
are licensed in Northern Ireland and it may be appropriate for
a comparative study to be conducted. The resource implications
would need to be quantified.
9. ACPO are strongly in favour of conducting
a national hand-in scheme for unwanted air weapons in the immediate
10. The United Kingdom is the only country
in Europe which differentiates between shotguns and firearms for
certification. In general terms, a firearm (eg. rifle) is likely
to be more lethal than a shot gun at longer ranges but a shot
gun is likely to be more dangerous than a rifle at close range.
To distinguish whether one is more dangerous than the other is
irrelevant in terms of the licensing process. There are approximately
five times as many shotgun certificate holders (623,100) than
firearm certificate holders (133, 600). There are four times as
many shotguns (1,344,000) as firearms (305,000). (Firearms Certificate
Statistics, England and Wales 1997, published November 1998.)
While the use of shotguns in firearms offences reported to the
police fell markedly between 1987 and 1999, they were still involved
in 580 offences in 1997; including 16 homicides and 31 serious
injury crimes. Also of concern is that fact that 539 shotguns
were stolen during the same year. The essential differences in
the criteria to be met before either is granted are set out below:
Applicant must "demonstrate" good
reason. Specifies the numbers of weapons and ammunition that the
holder is entitled to purchase/possess.
Certificate required for firearm, component
parts and ammunition.
Conditions may be specified by Chief Officer
Shot Gun Certificate
Applicant must "state" good reason.
No limit on the number of shot guns or ammunition
which can be possessed.
Certificate only required for the shot gun.
Needs to be shown to purchase ammunition.
Only statutory conditions are permitted.
11. Lord Cullen in his report identified
inconsistencies in firearms legislation in revoking firearm and
shotgun certificates. The Firearms (Amendment) Act 1997 went a
long way to redress this problem. Nevertheless, a shotgun certificate
can only be revoked if the holder is a danger to the public safety
or to the peace. A firearm certificate can also be revoked if
the holder has no good reason for possession, or is unfit to possess
firearms. If an individual possesses both firearm and shot gun
certificates and the police revoke the firearm certificate they
can be left with difficulties in proving despite say, irrational
behaviour, that the individual is actually a danger to the public
or to the peace. This is a potentially dangerous anomaly.
12. There is no right of entry to a certificate
holder's premises to inspect security at any time. There should
13. The police receive a number of anonymous
unsubstantiated reports (occasionally malicious) about certificate
holders. There is no intermediate stage of validity for firearm
or shotgun certificates. They are either granted or revoked. There
needs to be a defined period, (say 28 days), for the police to
suspend a certificate and seize firearms to conduct enquiries
to establish the truth of any allegations whilst minimising any
danger to the public or to the peace.
14. It is illegal to sell shotgun cartridges
without registering the premises under the Explosives Act 1875.
It is not illegal to possess them without a certificate. Shotgun
cartridges are not subject to prescribed condition on the certificate
with regard to security. They should subject to certification
in the same manner as ammunition.
15. Component parts of shotguns are not
subject to certification. They should subject to certification
in the same manner as component parts of firearms.
16. The demonstration of proof by the applicant
for good reason to possess a firearm is not applicable in the
case of shotguns. This is an anomaly. Similarly there is no restriction
on the number of shotguns that can be possessed.
17. The police have looked at whether persons
living in urban areas have the same requirement to possess shotguns
as someone living in a rural area. It has not been possible to
quantify urban and rural possession of shotguns in the time available
but the consensus of opinion is that it would be extremely difficult,
if not impossible, to police. A number of certificate holders
living in urban areas do travel to the country to shoot and this
does not appear to pose a particular problem.
18. Since the conduct of two Firearms Compensation
Schemes (full bore handguns and small bore handguns) the number
of certificate holders remains largely unchanged with most shooters
requesting authority to acquire muzzle loading handguns (which
are exempt prohibition). The number of firearms too remains largely
unchanged although there is uninformed opinion that the number
of firearms in circulation increased in 1998. This cannot be confirmed
until the publication of Firearms Statistics later in the year.
Changes are anticipated when renewals recommence on January 2000
when licensing authorities will examine usage of firearms, particularly
those for target shooting.
19. Section 21 of the Firearms Act 1968
defines persons prohibited from possessing firearms. However,
this does not apply to persons receiving a suspended sentence
for the reason that the period of prohibition commences on the
date of release from prison. It is difficult to accept that this
was the intention of Parliament.
20. The police have established parameters
in conjunction with the Home Office for guidance in respect of
"fitness to possess firearms" in light of Lord Cullen's
recommendations (Annex A).
An area of difficulty is in the assessment of previous convictions.
It is the considered opinion of the police that a firearm and
shotgun certificate holder must be of exemplary character. It
is ludicrous that a court should consider the possibility of someone
with 103 convictions being suitable to possess a shotgun. Even
with one conviction, even if committed in adolescence, it is not
possible to determine whether it is an isolated instance or whether
it reveals a fundamental flaw in an individual's character which
may surface under stress at any time in the future. Approximately
10 per cent of certificate holders have previous convictions.
21. The requirement of fitness to possess
firearms does not apply to dealers. It should do.
22. Section 25 of the Firearms Acts deals
with young shooters. It is so complex that licensing authorities
dealing with firearms legislation on a daily basis still need
an aide-memoire (Annex D*). Legislation requires simplifying,
in that under the age of 18, certificate holders are to be supervised.
23. Section 57 of the Firearms Act defines
various words and terminology. Target shooting is accepted as
good reason for the possession of firearms but the term is not
defined. The police accept the reason of competitive marksmanship
in relation to target shooting but do not accept the need for
practical shooting disciplines of simulated military or law enforcement
techniques which involve unorthodox positions or firing from vehicles.
Interest now appears to be centred on using .50 calibre for target
shooting (Annex E). There is no current accepted shooting discipline
for this calibre and as with other esoteric firearms shooters
will invent a discipline.
24. Shotguns are now becoming available
with 20 and 30 round drum magazines. The police question the good
reason for possession of firearms such as this. Where Section
5 of the Firearms acts defines which weapons are prohibited perhaps
legislation needs to define which firearms are acceptable for
a given usage. For example the Deer Act (Scotland) states that
rifle will be used but in England and Wales application are regularly
received to shoot deer with handguns (long barrelled revolvers
which are exempt prohibition and muzzle loading handguns) each
one which must be contested.
25. Submission was made to Lord Cullen about
the systematic abuse of varying certificates. A certificate holder
may apply to have his or her certificate varied, for which there
is a fee, (currently £26). However if the variation does
not increase the number of firearms then no fee is payable. It
is believed that it was the intention of Parliament to allow a
certificate holder to change an existing firearm on the certificate
whether old or non-functioning for a new one but certificate holders
may relinquish a firearm and apply for one of a totally different
calibre for a totally different purpose which may require an extensive
enquiry. Lord Cullen suggested that this issue is best resolved
26. There is no control over component parts
of ammunition. Anyone can buy primers, cases, propellant and bullets
(the missile) without any form of certification. Primers need
to be made subject to certification. There is evidence that the
hand-gun ban has led to a shortage of ammunition available to
criminals and there is evidence that criminals are using home-made
ammunition. This gives greater support to the argument to make
some of the essential component parts of ammunition subject to
27. The Firearms (Amendment) Act 1997 prohibited
the use of expanding ammunition but the Deer Act requires it to
be used and an exemption was made where it is used in connection
with wildlife. Because target shooting with handguns (other than
muzzle loaders) is now banned completely the police would question
the necessity of retaining this section which is costly in administrative
terms requiring all firearm certificates conditioned for shooting
deer, vermin or humane killing to include the expanding ammunition
28. Collecting (functioning) firearms and
ammunition is accepted as good reason for possession. The police
would suggest that the most appropriate location for collections
is in a museum not in a private household.
29. The purpose of section 7 of the Firearms
(Amendment) Act 1997 was to allow prohibited handguns of historic
interest to be collected rather than destroy shooting heritage.
If ammunition was readily available for that calibre then they
could be held at a site designated by the Secretary of State,
if ammunition was not readily available then they could be held
at home. There are now exhibitions of these collector's items
being moved around the country with one dealer (in Durham) importing
handguns for collection.
30. Immediately the prohibition of handguns
was announced there was a marked increase in application for muzzle
loading handguns which were exempt the prohibition. However this
seems to have reached a peak as shooters of revolvers and pistols
either found the discipline radically different or lacked the
patience to load the powder, wad and ball.
31. There is no clear definition of antique
although the Home Office has issued a list for guidance. Section
58(2) states that an antique may be held as a curiosity or ornament
but one police force interpreted that possession as a curiosity
or ornament did not prohibit firing it.
32. An applicant for a firearm certificate
for target shooting must be a member of a club for three months.
He or she must have received safety instructions on a one-to-one
Shooting is normally conducted at static targets
on ranges where MoD have issued a certificate of safety. However
an applicant for a firearm certificate for vermin control, shooting
foxes or deer shooting, which may be for an identical weapon for
target shooting, may shoot on land assessed by the police as being
commensurate for the calibre however could be unsupervised and
untrained and potentially shooting at swift moving targets. The
police strongly support the proposal of a certificate of competence.
This is used in other EU states, notably Germany. There is the
question of who would assess competency and the police would be
agreeable to reputable national associations and organisations
conducting such tests. Most organisations already have some form
of examination eg BASC Proficiency Award Scheme, the BDS Deer
Management course. They could be regulated in the same manner
as Home Office approved clubs.
33. Section 11(4) of the Firearms Act permits
any person to run a miniature rifle range without the requirement
for certification. The provision for good reason or fitness does
not need to be met as with other firearm certificate applicants.
In Bedfordshire a revoked firearms certificate holder did just
this in 1998. The loophole needs to be closed.
34. Criminals acquire weapons according
to particular need and also availability. Trends change over time
and whilst the shotgun (in sawn-off form) was once the favoured
weapon, the trend now is the hand gun with members of drug gangs
often using machine guns to protect themselves and their drugs
interests. Few of these weapons are legally held, although some
will have been so at some time.
34.1 Source of Weapons
34.1.1. The source of the weapons to criminals
are stolen weapons, smuggled weapons, deactivated weapons, converted
or manufactured weapons and imitations. Whilst there must be concern
over any stolen weapon because of the potential to fall into the
wrong hands, the availability of reactivated and converted weapons
is of greater concern. There is anecdotal evidence of large quantities
of firearms being smuggled in from abroad but there is no evidence
of this. Equally, there are suggestions that there are vast quantities
of illegally held weapons available for criminal use but evidence
that individual weapons are being used by different criminals
over time suggests there is not a surplus of weapons available
34.1.2. Deactivated weapons
The origin of "deactivated" weapons
is in the Firearms (Amendment) Act 1988 which enabled a wide variety
of guns to be deactivated and thereby cease to be subject to control.
It is impossible to determine how many deactivated weapons there
are in the U.K. but it is estimated that there are about 120,000.
Some of those weapons, including hand guns and machine guns have
since been reactivated illegally and used in crime. Almost all
sub-machine guns recovered by the police (96 per cent) have been
As a result of the recovery of reactivated machine
pistols the technical standards of de-activation for machine pistols
(only) were made more stringent in October 1995. However this
did not apply retrospectively and the standards for deactivating
other guns were not raised at the same time. There are a number
of solutions to this problem ranging from the banning or licensing
of deactivated weapons and/or buying back weapons, to increasing
the deactivation standards for revolvers and self loading pistols
and machine guns deactivated to pre 1995 standards. The police
believe increased deactivation standards should be introduced
without delay and steps taken to reduce the pool of weapons deactivated
to lower standards.
34.1.3 Replica and Imitation Firearms
The police view the availability of replica
and imitation firearms as a real risk to public safety. Replica
and imitation firearms are regularly (at least 25-30 per cent
of cases) used in crime to threaten victims. It is not an offence
to carry a replica or imitation firearm in a public place in circumstances
which may cause alarm or distress. Police are often called to
incidents where a person has deliberately or recklessly displayed
a "firearm". Apart from the waste of police resources
this presents a risk to the person concerned whilst armed police
officers carry out an investigation. A number of fatal shootings
have occurred because police officers believed they were facing
a real firearm only to discover later the weapon was in fact an
imitation. The police believe these weapons should be subject
to strict controls or banned.
34.1.4 Conversion of Imitation or Replica
Firearms to Functioning Firearms
The 1982 Firearms Act was designed to make imitation
firearms which could be readily converted into firearms fall within
the relevant parts of the firearms legislation.
The problem lies in the definition of "readily
convertible". The two following examples which fall outside
the legislation highlight the problem.
(i) Brockock Tandem Air Cartridge Type Air
In September 1998 a 16 year old youth was fatally
shot while pretending to play Russian Roulette with what he thought
was an empty gun. In the subsequent Police enquiry, officers recovered
the weapon involved which was an unaltered Brocock Air Revolver
which is readily available without any certificate. The cartridges
with the gun had been altered to receive .22 bullets thus converting
this air gun to a five shot revolver and a prohibited handgun.
This was not an isolated incident and there have been several
other similar recoveries in the last two years.
(ii) Converted Derringer Blank Firers
Over the last two years converted double barrel
blank firing derringers have been recovered from offenders. The
guns are replicas, and do not require any licence, but have had
the barrels replaced and held in a cast of resin. The weapons
accept .22 ammunition and are fully functioning. Both the above
examples clearly demonstrate that a gun can be made very easily
using the basic raw material of an "innocent item" which
currently fall outside firearms controls. The police seek increased
controls which would allow the Secretary of State to declare such
weapons which are shown to have been readily converted to be subject
to the same controls as if they had been manufactured for that
35. The fundamental purpose of licensing
firearms is to improve public safety. Regrettably, there can be
no guarantees. As has been shown many weapons (deactivated, replica
and imitation firearms) fall outside of the current licensing
regime. Licensing procedures need to be applied in layers; for
the individual, for the weapons or potential weapons and ammunition
and for the land or other circumstances of possession. It is inappropriate
to rely upon an assessment of whether the holder is suitable or
not at one moment in time. Of course safety lies with the shooter
at the moment the trigger is squeezed but it is imprudent not
to have further safeguards.
Prepared by the ACPO Administration of Firearms
and Explosives Licensing Sub-Committee and the ACPO Criminal Use
of Firearms Sub-Committee on behalf of ACPO.
James Hart QPM BSc PhD
City of London PoliceSecretaries
PS Geoffrey Fallows
Mrs Sara Coker
City of London Police
Summary of recommendations
|1.||Study feasibility of bringing air weapons into firearms licensing controls
|2.||Conduct Hand-In Scheme for air weapons
|3.||Single certificate for firearms and shotguns
|4.||Right of entry to inspect security
|5.||Suspension of certificates
|6.||Control of shotgun cartridges
|7.||Control of component parts of shotguns
|8.||Good reason for possession of shotguns
|9.||Fitness for possession of shotguns and dealers
|10.||Simplification of legislation for young shooters
|11.||Definition of target shooting
|13.||Variation of firearm certificates
|14.||Control of constituent parts of ammunition
|17.||Certificates of competency
|18||Miniature Rifle Ranges
|19.||Increased deactivation standards
|20.||Replica and Imitation Firearms
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