Firearms Act 1968 Section 57(I)
This gives every appearance of being widely
drawn so as to include virtually every firearm capable of being
produced. This broad approach is, however, devalued by other provisions
within the Act which result in weapons of equal lethality being
3.2 The prime example is, of course, shotguns
which are separately defined, apparently for the sole purpose
of creating a separate but less rigorous system of certification.
The Police Federation would argue that this artificial distinction
has merely served to diminish the emphasis paid to (potentially)
the most dangerous of firearms. This diminished importance is
reflected in the criteria, decreed by Parliament as having to
be met, before a shotgun certificate can be granted as compared
to the criteria that must be met before a firearms certificate
can be granted. These differences are essentially as set out below:
|Firearms Certificate||Shotgun Certificate
|Applicant must "demonstrate" good reason.
||Applicant must "state" good reason.
|Specifies the numbers of weapon and ammunition that the holder is entitled to purchase/possess.
||No limit on the number of shotguns or ammunition which can be purchased/possessed.
|Certificate required for firearm, component parts and ammunition.
||Certificate only required for the shotgun itself, not for its component parts.
|Needs only to be shown to purchase ammunition.
|Conditions may be specified by the Police.
||Only statutory conditions are permitted.|
3.3 These differences are also reflected in the grounds
for revocations of certificates where the differences are again
as set out below.
|Holder is of intemperate habits or unsound mind or otherwise unfit to be entrusted with a firearm.
||Continued possession will cause danger to the public safety or peace.
|Continued possession will cause danger to the public safety or peace
|A good reason to possess no longer exists.
3.4 This disparate approach has led to the ridiculous
and potentially dangerous situations in which a Chief Officer
of Police has revoked a certificate holder's firearm and shotgun
certificates only to see the latter restored on Appeal to the
Crown Court, whilst the revocation of the former has been upheld.
Whilst recent tragedies may be assumed to have had an impact upon
such apparently perverse decisions, the Police Federation would
point to a case decided by Cardiff Crown Court as recently as
April 1999, when precisely this result occurred.
3.5 If these differences were eradicated so that shotguns
were treated in the same manner as firearms to which Section 1
of the Firearms Act 1968 applies, the following benefits would
(a) A consistency of approach that would be a reward in
(b) An ability to ensure that a "good reason"
to possess the shotgun(s) concerned actually exists.
(c) The ability to impose comparable conditions, when
issuing a certificate whether for a Section 1 firearm or a shotgun.
This current disparate approach results in target shooters being
required to prove membership of an authorised rifle club before
being granted a certificate. However, there is no ability to impose
a comparable test of competence in respect of the use of weaponsfirearms
or shotgunswhich must surely be a minimum realistic requirement
in view of the quarry being live animals.
NB In the same way that safe use of firearms is taught
to target shooters by existing rifle club members a similar role
in respect of sporting firearms or shotguns is envisaged for an
external body such as the British Association for Shooting and
(d) The ability to produce a single firearms certificate
detailing all firearms, each with separate appropriate conditions,
ie the excellent system currently used in Northern Ireland.
(e) To ensure total parity between the treatment of shotguns
and firearms, we would also urge that the ability to limit the
amounts of firearms ammunition purchased or possessed at any one
time should also be extended to cover shotgun cartridges.
4. AIR GUNS
4.1 We find the approach to air weapons similarly inconsistent.
Whilst the most powerful are defined as weapons to which Section
1 applies and therefore subject to certification, it must be remembered
that the vast majority of less powerful air weapons are still
firearms, ie capable of causing death. To regard such weapons
as glorified toys exempt from the provisions of certification
appears inconsistent with the need to encourage respect for firearms.
4.2 It is worthy of note that despite air weapons being
the lowest powered type of firearms they are still the class of
weapon most subject to misuse. This point is emphasised by the
Home Office Report detailing the Criminal Statistics which indicate
that they were responsible for 1,194 injuries in 1997, ie approximately
60 per cent of all the injuries caused by all types of firearms.
Similarly, despite only the most powerful being subject to certification,
they still account for far and away the largest number of offences
with any type of firearm.
4.3 It must be remembered that the figures quoted in
the Criminal Statistics Report only relate to Notifiable offences.
It follows that a large raft of non-notifiable offences involving
the use of air weapons is excluded from these figures.
4.4 Although our approach will, no doubt, be derided
as excessive, we believe that as with all other firearms that
meet the current definition, the self same system of certification
5.1 The next principle deficiency in the current legislation
is the approach adopted in relation to the ages at which various
different types of firearm can be purchased/possessed and the
various exceptions that are permitted. They are inconsistent,
difficult to understand and are, therefore, brought into disrepute.
To aid understanding we attach at Annex "A" a chart
which reveals these inconsistencies at a glance.
5.2 As any firearm (as currently defined) is capable
of causing death the lack of consistency in the ages of minors
allowed to possess/use them is difficult to explain, still less
5.3 The Police Federation makes no specific recommendation
as to the age(s) at which firearms may be purchased/possessed/used.
It would however urge that the approach adopted is clear, consistent
and designed to ensure both respect for firearms by the user as
well as public safety.
6. FIREARMS CONSULTATIVE
6.1 We note the existence of the Firearms Consultative
Committee but, despite previous suggestions made by it concerning
its composition, the Police Federation does not enjoy membership
of it. We are fully prepared to accept that it provides a forum
for beneficial discussion between all interested parties, but
believe it necessary to point out that a consensus view on difficult
issues of interpretation cannot always be achieved, leaving such
issues to be resolved by the Courts. Similarly, it must be accepted
that a failure to agree should not lead to a situation where one
view is accepted as correct thus negating the proper role of the
Court to interpret legislation.
6.2 Although we realise that membership of the Committee
is by direct invitation from the Secretary of State, it appears
anomalous that the two senior police officers invited to represent
the Service does not include the Chairman of the ACPO Committee
on Firearms Administration, ie the officer with functional responsibility
on behalf of the Police Services of England and Wales to deal
with such issues.
7. FIREARMS OF
7.1 This, at first sight, non-conventional area, unfortunately,
provides an example of what can happen when the role of the Courts
is negated by questionable executive decisions.
7.2 By virtue of Section 7, Firearms (Amendment) Act
1997, firearms of historic interest can be kept at the owner's
homeproviding no ammunition is availableor at a
site designated by the Secretary of State. Despite the references
to "at home" when this matter was debated by Parliament
the Home Office has agreed that these weapons can be moved from
place to place for the purposes of exhibition.
7.3 The Police Federation would contend that this lax
approach is responsible for the situation in which the owners
of one of the sites specified by the Secretary of State is now
importing handguns of historic interest for sale to collectors.
It is our belief that it was the intention of Parliament to ensure
that existing weapons of genuine interest could be retained, for
their historical value not that their numbers would be supplemented
by imported weapons.
8. PUBLIC REACTION
8.1 We feel it quite likely that many of the most vociferous
and extreme members of the firearms fraternity may well protest
at our proposals. Despite that, we believe them to be well judged
and in tune with public opinion. The average "man in the
street" has been appalled by the recent tragedies involving
the use of firearms and has been very supportive of Parliament's
efforts to impose constraints so as to prevent their reoccurrence.
We believe that the general public will be equally supportive
of the measures that we advocate; in fact, we will go so far as
to suggest that many regular firearms users will equally welcome
our proposals as a means of controlling those whose opinions and
activities bring their sport into disrepute.