Select Committee on Home Affairs Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


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 treated differently.

  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 CertificateShotgun 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.


FirearmsShotgun

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 be obtained:

    (a)  A consistency of approach that would be a reward in itself.

    (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 weapons—firearms or shotguns—which 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 Conservation.

    (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 should apply.

5.  AGES

  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 justify.

  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 COMMITTEE

  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 HISTORIC INTEREST

  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 home—providing no ammunition is available—or 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.

October 1999


 
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