Home Affairs Committee Inquiry into Controls
In 1997 a joint submission was made to Lord
Cullen's enquiry into the events at Dunblane Primary School on
Wednesday 13 March 1996 by the Association of Chief Police Officers
in Scotland, the Association of Scottish Police Superintendents
and the Scottish Police Federation. The joint submission represented
a considerable body of work undertaken by the Scottish Police
Service as a whole. Many of the recommendations contained in the
joint submission have since been implemented in legislation by
Government and by way of guidance issued by the Home Departments.
A copy of the joint submission is enclosed.
A paper was submitted to the Firearms Consultative
Committee on airguns and this is enclosed.
Statistics for Recorded Crimes and Offences
Involving Firearms issued by the Scottish Executive for the last
10 years is also enclosed and it can be seen that although there
is a drop in airgun offences the majority of those relate to damage
to property. Regrettably injuries inflicted by reckless discharge
of air weapons are often of a serious nature.
To prevent their misuse we are strongly of the
opinion that no person below the age of 18 years should be allowed
to be in possession of an air weapon unless supervised by a responsible
adult aged 21 years and over. Responsibility for custody of the
weapon when not in use should rest with the adult.
To further simplify legislation it is recommended
that the current age of 17 years be raised to 18 for young persons
who use air weapons as members of shooting clubs and shooting
The development of automatic air weapons, which
it may be claimed, are exempt in terms of the Firearms (Amendment)
Act 1997 is also of serious concern. These type of weapons are
particularly attractive to the criminal fraternity and any measure
that may assist in controlling these particular weapons would
be welcomed by ACPOS.
The licensing of air weapons is not supported
unless of course they are of the foot poundage that necessitates
them being held on certificate as at present.
I draw your attention to the joint submission
paper and in particular to the matter of a single certificate
with reference to Para. 2.2.215 and Paras. 2.2.218 to 2.2.223.
It is recommended that multi capacity smooth
bore guns be raised to the prohibited category and a paper previously
prepared on use of large capacity smooth bore shot guns is enclosed.
Reference is also made to Paras. 2.2.243 to 2.2.256 of the joint
There may be little or no benefit in restricting
storage of shot guns in urban areas as these certificate holders
travel outwith cities and towns to participate in the sport.
The 1997 ban certainly has been effective in
removing hand guns from circulation but it is agreed there is
still a problem with illegal firearms. Surrendered guns are being
disposed off by forces in line with the compensation scheme but
there are still a number of weapons in Police storage awaiting
confirmation that claims have been settled. Weapons that can be
disposed off are done so by having these destroyed under strict
In Scotland weapons are destroyed either by
smelting in foundry furnaces or inserting them in crushing machines.
A paper that was prepared by the police service
to assist officers when considering applications for muzzle loading
weapons and carbines is enclosed. This paper was also submitted
to the Firearms Consultative Committee.
There is a need to consider further controls
on firearms that previous hand gun owners have now sought authority
to acquire. These include muzzle loading revolvers which are accurate
and there is no doubt the use of spare cylinders certainly enhances
the rate of fire.
There has been an increase in the number of
authorities for carbines commonly referred to by the National
Rifle Association as a gallery rifle. These weapons mainly .38/.357
calibre are multi capacity and have a fast rate of discharge.
There is also a tendency now for firearm certificate
holders to acquire .22 calibre semi-automatic rifles for use in
target shooting disciplines. These .22 rifles can now be fitted
with 100 round capacity magazines. In fact in the September 1999
issue of the Shooting Sports Magazine (copy attached) there is
an advertisement for a .22 semi-automatic rifle adaption that
permits 2 x 30 round capacity magazines to be fitted to the rifle.
The magazines are clipped together in such a manner they are readily
It is strongly recommended .22 semi-automatic
rifles be moved to the prohibited category similar to those in
the 1988 legislation.
If these weapons were not moved to the prohibited
category then perhaps there is merit in listing magazines as component
parts. This would serve to bring magazines within the scope of
Section 27 of the Firearms Act 1968 which provides, inter alia,
that the Chief Constable must be satisfied that the certificate
holder has good reason for having in his possession, or for purchasing
or acquiring, the firearm and that in all circumstances the person
can be permitted to have the firearm in his possession without
danger to public safety or to the peace.
Restricting magazine capacities would also assist
in controlling those persons who at the moment do acquire large
capacity magazines. The genuine sportsman certainly has no use
and will not acquire large capacity magazines for rifles.
ACPOS members also express concern at the relative
ease with which trigger units can be adapted into "home made"
firearms and feel that it is appropriate to recommend that trigger
units also be classed as a component part of a firearm.
It is recommended the points raised in para.
2.2.157 of the Joint Submission to Lord Cullen which dealt with
the revocation of firearm and shot gun certificates be given consideration.
Further, persons who have firearm or shot gun
certificates refused or revoked in many instances appeal and when
the appeal is upheld in favour of the chief constable, the aggrieved
persons immediately submit a fresh application. In other legislation
there is already the proviso that persons eg taxi cab licensing,
cannot re-apply until after a certain period of time has lapsed.
It is recommended that firearms legislation
have the proviso that any person having a firearm or shot gun
certificate refused or revoked on the grounds of unfittedness,
intemperate habits or danger to the public safety or to the peace,
be restricted to a period of a least three to five years before
any further applications require to be considered by the chief
officer of police. There would of course require to be an exemption
for those who fell into the category "lack of good reason",
eg no longer had suitable ground or allowed membership of approved
target shooting club to lapse etc.
In relation to the fees paid by persons who
have their application refused there is a need to consider retention
of the fees by the chief constable. Fees are meant to recompense
the cost of having a civilian support staff member or police officer
make enquiry into applications. In these cases fees are normally
returned at no cost to the applicant despite the considerable
time and effort taken to make enquiry into these applications.
It is also recommended that consideration be
given to target shooting disciplines. At the present time regardless
of whatever controls are placed on firearms, the intent of the
legislation is circumvented by the introduction of new shooting
disciplines using existing firearms.
It is also ACPOS intention that any discipline
which simulates the shooting of persons should merit close examination.
The essence of our submission has centred on
the introduction of a single certificate and the application of
common standards as to suitability and good reason.
Reduction in the current 5 year validity period
of certificates to that of 3 years is also recommended. ACPOS
are concerned that 5 years is too long in view of the changes
that invariably take place and on many occasions do not come to
attention until renewal enquiries are instigated.
Since Dunblane the Scottish Police Service has
been represented at ACPO Administration of Firearms and Explosives
Licensing Sub-Committee meetings and we work closely to ensure
consistency throughout Great Britain.
It is an offence to possess a loaded air weapon
in a public place (Section 19).
It is an offence to trespass with an air weapon
It is an offence to possess an air weapon with
intent to cause fear of violence (Section 16a).
By their very nature, these crimes of vandalism
and assault go undetected.
The Firearms Act 1968 disbars any child under
14 from holding a Section 1 firearm certificate. There are strict
guidelines determining when a child under 14 can be in possession
of a Section 1 firearm and is limited to using it as a member
of a shooting club approved by the Secretary of State, in connection
with target practice.
Air Weapons including air rifles and air guns
are more strictly governed by the Act. Ownership of an air weapon
is unlawful by a child under 14, and there are strict rules for
Children under 14 years are not allowed to possess
an air weapon, except:
(a) as a member of a shooting club for target
(b) at a shooting gallery, or
(c ) under the supervision of a person of
21 years or over and
(i) In publicin a securely fastened cover
to prevent firing (Air rifles only), or
(ii) On private premises where no missile may
be fired beyond the premises boundary.
Children under 17 are not allowed to possess
air weapons in a public place except:
(a) as a member of a shooting club for target
(b) at a shooting gallery where only air
weapons or miniature rifles not exceeding 0.23 inch calibre are
(c ) in a securely fastened cover to prevent
firing (Air rifles only).
Air rifles are now available which can be adjusted
to produce kinetic energy of up to 95 ft.lbs (129 joules) which
equates to some .22 rimfire rifles using Subsonic ammunition.
Other air rifles are being developed to produce
a kinetic energy of 150 ft.lbs or more. In addition it is believed
that a form of Automatic air weapon is being developed by the
Although the Firearms (Amendment) Act 1997 and
the Firearms (Amendment) (No. 2) Act 1997 placed most pistols
and handguns in the category of "prohibited weapons"
provision was made for the exclusion of air weapons and muzzle-loading
This produced an anomalous situation whereby
one type of easily concealed handgun was prescribed against but
another type was noteven though such weapons are known
to be used in the execution of criminal acts as outlined above.
Because of the concern expressed that air weapons
are being used by both Young Persons and Adults for criminal activities,
it is in the interest of Public Safety to introduce stricter control
over the possession, use and classification of Air Weapons.
There should be a common lower age limit of
18 years for the possession and use of any air weapon by a Young
Person, unless supervised by a suitable qualified adult, over
the age of 21, with proven experience. Such a change in the law
should also render the supervising adult liable in the event that
the air weapon is misused. This degree of commonality should be
extended to the use and possession of other types of firearm.
This would also harmonise with the legislative controls as applied
in most European Community States.
A Standard for the Testing of Air Weapons should
be introduced to provide uniformity consistent results of kinetic
energy which could also accommodate and ensure a Standard Power
Limitation. This would necessitate a Standard for the missiles
to be used in every test.
In tandem with any such change in legislation
the Police Service are willing to facilitate the collection and
destruction of any unwanted air weapons.
This paper has not considered this type of Air
Weapon. However, it is a recommendation that when dealing with
this matter the Committee should consider the inclusion of air
pistols into a category which restricts use to target shooting
only with a Home Office approved club thereby preventing misuse
by Young Persons in criminal acts.
The rapid development of air weapons should
be a matter for urgent consideration by the Firearms Consultative
Committee with a view to prohibiting/restricting automatic air
weapons or the manufacture of those capable of adjustment to discharge
a missile producing kinetic energy above an appropriate level.
The consideration of Public Safety must be paramount.
Carbines and Muzzle-Loading Pistols
In the initial paper on this matter it was attempted
to set out the various concerns including the way in which the
muzzle-loading exemption had been portrayed to Parliament and
the way in which carbines were being introduced into target shooting.
Since then consultation has taken place with
the two lead bodies in these areas and this paper sets out the
results of that consultation and provides guidance with applications
for carbines and muzzle-loading pistols.
The Muzzle Loaders' Association of Great Britain
recognises that the exemption of muzzle-loading pistols from the
handgun ban was made on the basis of the nature of the sport at
that time and they have no wish to see it changed or corrupted
into something that is no longer acceptable. The MLAGB feels that
preserving the traditional form of muzzle-loading is as much in
its own interests as it should be in that of the Police, the Government
and the public in general.
The MLAGB is averse to innovation either in
the firearms themselves or in their use, particularly where this
is devised to circumvent the intent of the Firearms (amendment)
Act 1997. The items which clearly give concern and which the MLAGB
and the Police feel needs consideration are as follows.
Because of the complexities of the sport there
are scores of established competition disciplines within the Muzzle-Loaders'
Association which covers rifles, muskets, shot guns and pistols.
The latter, in the main, can be broken down into sub-disciplines
of single shot percussion pistol, smooth-bore flintlock pistol,
percussion revolver and free pistol. These arms are generally
shot in slow fire competitions of 13 shots in 30 minutes and there
are usually separate classes for original arms and replicas made
in the "Spirit of the Original". The MLAGB also shoot
timed fire turning target events with both single shot pistols
and percussion revolvers. A small number of free pistol competitions
are held for arms such as revolvers with non-contemporary adjustable
Most small clubs would be unable to sustain
a competition programme as diversified as that of the MLAGB and
there can be few shooters who do not either belong to the MLAGB
or to one of its affiliated clubs (in order to be eligible for
postal and league events) who could justify participation in the
full range of events.
Following the increase in interest in muzzle
loading the MLAGB do not see any harm in muzzle-loading pistols
being used in a much wider range of precision competition disciplines,
including many originally developed for modern cartridge pistols,
provided that the competitionsand not the pistols or loading
practicesare modified to cater for the slower performance
of the muzzle-loading pistol. The MLAGB does not approve of the
use of two or more pistols to improve the rate of fire in competitions,
spare cylinders, pre-formed powder charges to speed loading or
practical shooting with muzzle-loading pistols.
In the 19th Century, a spare cylinder was occasionally
supplied with a percussion revolver, but the generally accepted
way of increasing fire power in action was to carry two or more
Neither the MLAGB nor the MLAIC (the world governing
body of muzzle-loading) permit the use of spare cylinders in competition
and have no events which warrant their necessity. Almost all national
and international competitions are 13 shots in 30 minutes and
this can be accomplished, without undue haste, using conventional
19th Century loading procedures. It is not permissible in competition
to remove the cylinder for loading nor to use any other rammer
than that fitted as a standard part of the arm.
The MLAGB recognises that, for some clubs with
limited range space, (for example a club with only 3 firing points
and 30 members), there may be a case for avoiding delays between
shooters by loading cylinders away from the firing point and,
for the same reason, spare cylinders may be deemed justified.
This is, however, a practice that would require strict safety
procedures. In other circumstances, the acquisition of a number
of spare cylinders can only be seen as a method of increasing
firepower far beyond that normally attainable with a percussion
The MLAGB feels therefore that the Police should
be giving careful consideration to applications for spare cylinders
and note that they have it within their authority to make refusal
where applications are not warranted.
Until now the Police service have not accepted
that spare cylinders are justified in any circumstance. However,
the argument based on limited range space is entirely new and
Forces will require to use their own judgement in these instances.
It should be noted that to shoot in MLAGB pistol
competitions one could justify at least four main types of firearm
and this number could be doubled if one intended to compete in
both original and replica classes. This variety of competition
is unlikely to be encountered outside of the MLAGB and most clubs,
other than those affiliated to the MLAGB and competing in MLAGB
Postal Leagues, would operate only perhaps two or three basic
disciplines, with no distinction between originals and replicas.
The reason to possess two or more pistols of
the same calibre needs consideration. An application for a variation
for such may be justified as a genuine desire to possess both
an original and a replica of the same pistol, or to have both
flintlock and percussion versions of a single shot pistol. The
MLAGB believe that this could be investigated by the police at
the time of the application and the variations qualified accordingly
(ie one original percussion revolver/one flintlock pistol etc.)
Some shooters claim they require an identical "standby"
pistol in case of breakage in competition which has a certain
logic that has not been prevalent in muzzle-loading to date. The
MLAGB believe that while the Police must make a judgement in each
case they should be wary of granting variations (particularly
for revolvers) where the underlying intention is simply to increase
the individual's firepower, either by using both pistols at once,
or by gaining the use of a spare cylinder taken from the second
Since "standby" pistols have not normally
been recognised in muzzle-loading competitions the Police service
do not believe that any argument can now be proffered to the contrary.
The pistols generally permitted to be used within
the MLAGB are either of original manufacture (almost exclusively
made in either the 18th or 19th Century) or modern replicas in
the "Spirit of the Original". This almost self-explanatory
phrase means that replicas, if not exact reproductions of original
arms, have closely to follow original designs. Modern style sights,
coil springs and other innovations that confer an advantage over
originals are not allowed.
There have in the past been examples of replica
pistols that do not fully comply with the "Spirit of the
Original" rule, such as the Ruger Old Army .45 calibre revolver
which had been available for over thirty years, and other revolvers
fitted with adjustable sights. These are permitted in a very limited
number of "Free Pistol" competitions within the MLAGB
but are totally excluded from international events. Stainless
steel revolvers are permitted as the material confers no advantage
in competition over originals.
Following the 1997 Act, an increasing variety
of muzzle-loading pistols have been imported and a proportion
of these make no concessions to 18th or 19th Century design. They
may be regarded, in every respect, as sophisticated modern target
arms, often featuring anatomical grips, barrel weights, and other
technological advantages. Whereas these may fit the technical
definition of a muzzle-loading pistol, the MLAGB believes them
to be undesirable. The Police agree and could deter their acquisition
by ensuring that figure variations for muzzle-loading pistols
state that they should be "of original manufacture or a close
replica thereof" or, more simply, "of a design to accord
with the Rules of the MLAGB".
Pre-pressed pellets for black powder have now
entered the market from abroad. These pellets are classified UN349
and require an explosives certificate.
The National Rifle Association, to whom the
MLAGB is affiliated, also run competitions for what they generally
refer to as "historic arms". Disciplines other than
(and as well as) those noted above are organised. The "other"
competitions include such things as the UIT International Centre
Fire Competition, the Police Pistol 1 and the Service Pistol "B"
competitions. The NRA state that the Centre Fire Competition can
be adequately shot with a muzzle-loading revolver. Here, no calibre
restrictions are imposed but, other than that, the course of fire
is the same as the World Commonwealth European Championships.
This, the NRA argue, gives our National Squads an opportunity
(albeit in muzzle-loading form) to practice under the same match
conditions as they will meet at those championships. Police and
Service pistol competitions have been very popular in the pistol
shooting world for a number of years. These competitions can,
in the NRA's view, carry on in muzzle loading form with traditional
muzzle-loading revolvers with some adoptions (increases) to shooting
timings and obviously much longer times allowed for reloading.
None of these competitions require more than
one cylinder per revolver and all take account of the fact that
muzzle-loading revolvers of traditional design take some considerable
time to load correctly and safely.
The Shooting Committee of the NRA have considered
carefully the future use of the pistol ranges at Bisley and replacement
competitions for matches previously shot with centre fire pistols.
It is well known that the NRA regard one possible
alternative to be lever action rifles, commonly known as carbines
or in some cases, gallery rifles. The NRA have taken into account
the large variety of these rifles which are commercially available
and have prepared a detailed specification for the rifles and
procedural limits on competitions. The intended effect of the
specification is to limit magazine capacity, ensure that the rifles
are not easily concealable, that design is conventional, and that
"combat" practices are not permitted.