Submission from the Police Superintendents'
Association, Humberside Branch
I refer to Bob Pattison's letter dated 5 August
1999 with attached correspondence and my comments to those areas
to be addressed are as follows.
The most common problem with air weapons is
that of causing a nuisance rather than criminal. Young persons
obtain possession of them and do not receive the appropriate supervision
whether being used within the confines of their own home or elsewhere.
The firing of air weapons outside the perimeter of their own gardens
or on land at wild birds is a common cause of complaint. The impression
I have gained is that the users believe, because the weapons do
not need certification, that there are no controls over the use
of them. There is also a misguided view, even by adults, that
air weapons do not present a danger because of their relatively
low power. However, deaths and serious injuries have resulted
from their misuse.
Air rifles and guns are dangerous, there should
be greater controls to prevent them being possessed by immature
individuals who do not appreciate nor understand the safety issues
or legal implications.
I believe that the acquisition of air weapons
should be by certification and in the same manner as shotguns
and firearms. A minimum age limit of 17 years for unsupervised
possession should be applied and a fee levied for the certificate.
Police enquiries could be kept to a minimum, ensuring the applicant
is a fit and proper person and has a good reason to possess the
air weapon, ie vermin control or target practice as a member of
an approved target shooting club. Land surveys would be unnecessary.
This will prove to be the only means of exerting
control of possession of such weapons.
It is appreciated that such control will in
all probability reduce the number of air weapons being sold, thus
affecting the trade of those shops selling them. It will add to
the administrative burden of the Firearms Licensing Sections,
however, this action will eventually ensure air weapons are possessed
only by mature sensible persons who have a reason to do so.
It would be possible to send out guidance/safety
advice to those issued with air weapon certificates.
I am unaware of any real problems that exist
as far as shotguns are concerned, including their misuse.
However, I do find it difficult to understand
the ease with which shotgun certificate holders are able to lawfully
acquire as many shotguns as they wish with the opportunity to
build up an arsenal of shotguns, which at short range can be more
lethal than firearms. It is not unusual for a shotgun certificate
holder to possess five or six shotguns and there are some who
possess eight or nine. I do believe that individuals should be
required to obtain permission to acquire each and every shotgun
as is the requirement for firearm certificate holders. The "good
reason" test should apply for each and every shotgun required
and this would reduce the number of shotguns held by some individuals.
A person who has been granted a shotgun certificate,
and has attained the age of 15 years, may lawfully possess and
use a shotgun without being supervised. Although there are mature
persons of that age, I take the view that the unsupervised age
should be increased to 17 years when individuals have become more
mature and safety conscious.
Section 30(1)(2)(3)(4) of the Firearms Act 1969,
as amended by the 1997 Act, permits the Chief Officer of Police
to revoke a firearm certificate. However, the Chief Officer has
far more limited powers to revoke a shotgun certificate under
Section 30(1)(a), 2(b), (3). I believe the same powers should
be available in revoking a shotgun certificate as exist for revoking
a firearm certificate. Both firearms and shotguns are lethal weapons
and the powers of revocation should be the same.
The Firearms (Amendment) Act 1997 has been very
successful in significantly reducing legally held handguns from
circulation but it has no effect on those illegally held. A small
minority of firearm certificate holders have turned to acquiring
carbines, muzzle loading handguns and long barrelled revolvers
as replacements for handguns they surrendered but to date these
firearms have not become popular within the shooting fraternity.
In the Humberside Police area, very few handguns
which became prohibited have been retained by individuals, this
being because of the limited number of exemptions permitting them
to do so. Additionally, only a very small number of handguns were
exported. The remainder of the handguns surrendered have been
or will be destroyed, with the exception of those which are claimed
by the Museum Consortium.
My comments in relation to juveniles possessing
shotguns unsupervised at the age of 15 years apply also to firearms,
particularly in view of the longer range at which they remain
David J F S Hunter
Detective Chief Superintendent
Head of CID
Crime Management Branch
24 September 1999