Submission from the Police Superintendents'
Association, West Yorkshire Branch.
I am writing in response to Superintendent Pattison's
letter dated 5 August 1999 concerning the above subject and requesting
views from Branches upon it.
My response will be by individual category of
firearms as follows:-
1. Air Weapons
There is no doubt that the illegal use of air
weapons is the single largest problem category in respect of firearm
abuse. In West Yorkshire for the period January to June 1999,
there were 525 crimes involving the use of air weapons. This misuse
is of course aggravated by the fact that many of these crimes
end up with a Police Firearm Tactical Response to them which involves
a considerable use of valuable Police resources. It also has the
potential for the person in possession of the air weapon to be
shot, dependent upon his or her actions when challenged and the
ability of the Police officers being able to identify the type
Subject to the muzzle velocity of the air weapon,
which could then change its classification to a Section 1 firearm,
or the actual use to which it was being put, or the age of the
person who possesses it, there is no legislation to control the
purchase or acquisition of air weapons.
Whilst new legislation will be effective in
controlling the sale, acquisition or transfer of new air weapons,
the problem remains of the thousands of them that are in circulation.
Whilst an amnesty may help in this regard, it would not, I feel,
solve the problem of those that are currently in use. A parallel
in respect of this relates to in 1988 when the make, type and
serial number of every shotgun had to be included on shotgun certificates
for the first time. Many shotguns were not declared and remained
in what was then illegal possession. Most of the shotguns currently
recovered from crimes cannot be traced as having a legal owner
due to the fact they were never registered with the Police when
this requirement was introduced.
Additionally, many people currently get enjoyment
out of the lawful use of air weapons, which if legislation were
introduced, would make it harder for people to participate without
first having to go through a certification process. (It needs
to be remembered that there are air weapon shooting events in
both the Olympic and Commonwealth Games).
It follows, therefore, that whilst some form
of licensing might assist in the control of air weapons, it would
not remove the difficulties that the Police currently experience
in dealing with crimes involving their use since there are so
many in the possession of people who would not register them.
Evidence for the period January to June 1999
shows that within West Yorkshire the misuse of shotguns is very
limited. There were only nine shotguns used in crime. Additionally,
a further nine sawn off shotguns were used, which would always
be classified as prohibited firearms.
It is clear from the evidence in West Yorkshire
that a change in legislation is not supported, as least when based
upon the criminal use of shotguns. However, I personally feel
that shotguns (Section 2) should be brought in line with other
Section 1 firearms to enable the Police to impose standards of
security that are enforceable and to require the applicant to
show good reason why he or she wanted a shotgun. This, I feel,
would be a prudent step to take and would allow for a combined
firearm and shotgun certificate to be introduced as an alternative
to the current separate certificates.
3. Other Firearms
It is clear that the bans introduced in the
Firearms (Amendment) Act 1997 in respect of handguns have not
worked, in that for the first six months of 1999, 59 handguns
have been used in crimes in West Yorkshire. Clearly, these handguns
could not be lawfully possessed and therefore must have been illegally
imported into the country or already be in the unlawful possession
of someone. These facts tend to support those shooting organisations
who were opposing the ban of handguns at the time the above Act
was proposed in that handguns in the lawful possession of those
involved in target shooting were rarely used in criminal activity.
There is very limited evidence within West Yorkshire
to suggest that the use of either full bore rifles, small bore
rifles or muzzle-loading firearms have ever been misused. For
the first six months of 1999, only eight rifles have been used
in crimes and even then I am unable to identify whether these
were actually in lawful possession or not.
In conclusion, there are no further changes
required in legislation in connection with firearms requiring
I trust the above is of use in preparing a District
response for Bill Patterson's further deliberations.
N R A Sutcliffe
9 August 1999