Memorandum by the Police Superintendents
Association of England and Wales
The Superintendents Association has canvassed
the views of its members throughout England and Wales and I summarise
these below. Although the observations include some subjective
opinions, these are based on the experience and judgement of senior
police officers. The majority of comments concern air weapons
as it is felt that this is an area requiring specific attention.
I enclose a copy of a number of the responses
which contain more detail and additional information. I am aware
that you have already received a submission from Detective Superintendent
Ashby from Derbyshire
regarding the sale of de-activated firearms so I will not repeat
the points raised by him, other than to endorse the issues raised.
The criminal use of firearms continues and distinction
must be drawn between such offences and the lawful possession
of weapons by firearms certificate holders.
Demands on police to respond to calls involving
the sighting or use of firearms remain and are rising. In the
Metropolitan Police area alone, the number of police firearms
deployments has increased steadily in the last three years (up
39.8 per cent in 1998) and has already exceeded 1,000 in 1999.
Whilst all these incidents are not all attributable to section
1 firearms or shotguns, the overall trend is a matter of concern.
It is felt that the time is right to introduce
an Act which consolidates all the anomalies existing around firearms.
Within any new Act powers to control all firearms should be rationalised.
This would include conditions over security, standardising the
age at which a person can hold a licence (eg over 17 years), itemising
all weapons possessed, and a power to revoke any licence at any
time if police identify a risk.
The availability of replica firearms and air
weapons which closely resemble Section 1 firearms makes it difficult,
where no weapon is recovered or shots fired, to determine the
number of instances where a real weapon is used in crime. It is
not therefore possible to determine the full extent to which one
specific type of firearm is used in the commission of criminal
Police officers who respond to an incident where
a person is alleged to be in possession of a firearm are always
placed in a difficult position especially when confronted with
a suspect who is brandishing what appears to be a lethal weapon.
It is often impossible to determine whether the object is a section
1 firearm, an air weapon or imitation until the item is examined.
Any legislation which can reduce the volume of such copied articles
being freely available to the general public would be strongly
There is a need for stricter controls over the
sale and possession of air weapons. A number of Forces suggest
that these should be similar to those relating to Section 1 firearms.
A person should have to show a reason for possessing
any air weapon and there must be a greater emphasis on ensuring
the weapon is properly secured in a public place. Some Forces
suggest that possession should be restricted to persons who are
members of approved gun clubs.
Whilst a significant number of calls to police
regarding air weapons are described as "nuisance" there
are also frequent occasions where weapons are fired, resulting
in injury to persons or animals, or criminal damage.
There is a general concern over the misuse of
air weapons by children and young persons. Many have uncontrolled
access to these and do not receive any form of training as to
their use or the associated dangers when firing them. Supervision
by adults is often lacking.
There is a view from a number of Forces that
the possession of air weapons should be the subject of licensing.
A person would have to be over 17 years and required to hold the
licence prior to acquiring a weapon, with police having the opportunity
to comment on the individual's suitability.
The similarity in appearance between certain
air weapons and Section 1 firearms may encourage young persons
to possess them. There is also the opportunity for such air weapons
to be used for criminal purposes if they cannot readily be distinguished
from a section 1 firearm. A view is put forward that any such
weapon should be clearly identifiable as an air weapon, however
changes to section 1 firearms, particularly the increasing use
of coloured plastic parts, may make this difficult to achieve.
The importing of air weapons into the country
raises further concerns. There have been occasions where the power
of an actual weapon is far greater than advertised.
There is a need for better definitions particularly
relating to Ball-bearing guns which have a "poundage"
so small that they are not deemed as firearms.
One of the main concerns is not misuse by certificate
holders but weapon security due to poor standards. This provides
opportunities for easy access to criminals through burglary or
other theft. Security for shotguns and ammunition to be increased
to same standard as Section 1 firearms.
The licensing conditions for shotguns should
be similar to those for a section 1 firearm.
The number of weapons held by any person should
be specified and details recorded in a similar manner as section
A person must present a good reason for wanting
to possess a shotgun.
Greater power for Chief Officer of Police to
Introduce a mandatory sentence for the possession
of a "sawn-off" shotgun.
The ban on handguns introduced in 1997 has undoubtedly
removed a source of legitimately held firearms but it is not possible
to state whether this reduced the number of weapons available
In parts of the country firearms certificate
holders who disposed of handguns following the introduction of
the restrictions, appear to have replaced these weapons with rifles
and carbines. Thereby not significantly reducing overall numbers
The conversion of de-activated weapons into
a state capable of being fired continues and must be prevented.
It would seem that if trade in de-activated weapons is to remain
the best way to regulate would be to require the owner to possess
a firearms certificate.
The production of imitation weapons capable
of firing blanks or other replicas which are accurate reproductions
of firearms allow for these legitimately purchased items to become
aids to committing crime. There are Forces which would like to
see a total ban on such sales and others who propose controls
to be introduced, perhaps a form of licence.
I trust the above comments and the additional
information contained in the attached reports are of assistance
to the Committee.
Operational Policing Advisory Committee
14 October 1999
12 Not printed. Back