Select Committee on Home Affairs Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


APPENDIX 5

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[12] regarding the sale of de-activated firearms so I will not repeat the points raised by him, other than to endorse the issues raised.

GENERAL

  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 offences

  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 welcomed.

AIR WEAPONS

  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.

SHOTGUNS

  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 1 firearms.

  A person must present a good reason for wanting to possess a shotgun.

  Greater power for Chief Officer of Police to revoke licence.

  Introduce a mandatory sentence for the possession of a "sawn-off" shotgun.

OTHER FIREARMS

Certificated Weapons

  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 illegally.

  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 of weapons.

De-activated weapons

  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.

Imitation/Replica Firearms

  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.

William Paterson

Chief Superintendent

Chairman

Operational Policing Advisory Committee

14 October 1999


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