Select Committee on Home Affairs Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence

Annex D

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 of firearm.

  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.

2.  Shotguns

  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 certification.

  I trust the above is of use in preparing a District response for Bill Patterson's further deliberations.

N R A Sutcliffe


Branch Secretary

9 August 1999

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