Select Committee on Home Affairs Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence

Home Affairs Committee Inquiry into Controls Over Firearms


  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 galleries etc.

  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 submission paper.

  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 Police supervision.

  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 interchangeable.

  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.

Air Weapons

  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 (Section 20).

  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 possession.

  Children under 14 years are not allowed to possess an air weapon, except:

    (a)  as a member of a shooting club for target practice, or

    (b)  at a shooting gallery, or

    (c )  under the supervision of a person of 21 years or over and

    (i)  In public—in 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 practice, or

    (b)  at a shooting gallery where only air weapons or miniature rifles not exceeding 0.23 inch calibre are used, or

    (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 industry.

  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 guns.

  This produced an anomalous situation whereby one type of easily concealed handgun was prescribed against but another type was not—even 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 sights.

  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 competitions—and not the pistols or loading practices—are 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 pistols.

  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 revolver.

  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 revolver.

  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.

October 1999

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2000
Prepared 13 April 2000