Select Committee on Home Affairs Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum by the British Shooting Sports Council



  1.  The British Shooting Sports Council (BSSC) is the umbrella organisation for all the major sporting shooting organisations. Member associations are the representative bodies for target shooting, country shooting and the gun trade.

  2.  Shooting is one of the most popular and safe sports in the UK. It caters for all regardless of race, gender, age or physical disability. The various forms of shooting provide various benefits for the UK—medals at major sporting championships, positive contributions to the conservation of the countryside, and significant benefit to the UK economy.

  3.  Those participating in shooting sports are controlled by the current legal framework, self-regulation and good practice. The legal framework is one of the strictest in the world. This is underpinned by a system based on proper training and education in the safe use of firearms, detailed Codes of Practice and effective disciplinary procedures.

  4.  The Council believes the fundamental problem of gun crime rests with the use of illegal guns by criminals. We would strongly recommend measures to address this serious problem, including better co-operation between the police and HM Customs and Excise and securing of funding.

  5.  The Council believes additional restrictions to the current strict legal framework are not justified. However, greater attention should be paid to better education and enforcement of the existing legislation.

  6.  The Council suggests improvements in the way the licensing system is administered. Improvements would include the creation of a National Firearms Control Board, further civilianisation of licensing procedures within each police force, Home Office guidelines to police forces on best practice in administering the system and on which firearms fees can be fairly and transparently calculated, the creation of specialist tribunals to hear appeals against refusal or revocation of Certificates and implementation of the recommendations of the Firearms Consultative Committee.


  1.1  The British Shooting Sports Council (BSSC) is a forum for the major shooting sports associations. The member associations can be divided into three sectors—country (live quarry) shooters, target shooters and the trade. There is an overlap between each of the sectors and shooters often belong to more than one of these main associations. There are other smaller associations, usually based on a specific discipline or region. Associations in membership of the Council are:

    Association of Professional Clay Target Shooting Grounds

    British Association for Shooting and Conservation

    Countryside Alliance

    Clay Pigeon Shooting Association

    Gun Trade Association

    Muzzle Loaders Association

    National Rifle Association

    National Small-bore Rifle Association

    Shooting Sports Trust

    Sportsman's Association of Great Britain and Northern Ireland

    United Kingdom Practical Shooting Association

  1.2  The Council does not have a large secretariat or any regional structure. Its Chairman is Sir Patrick Lawrence CBE DL and its Secretary is Patrick W Johnson BEM.

  1.3  The aims and objectives of the Council are to:

    (a)  Promote and safeguard the lawful use of firearms and air weapons for sporting and recreational purposes in the United Kingdom amongst all sections of the community.

    (b)  Co-ordinate and present the views of member associations and other bodies concerned with the lawful manufacture and use of firearms, air weapons and ammunition in the United Kingdom in any negotiations or on any other appropriate occasion in such a manner as the Council may, in its discretion, see fit.

    (c)  Formulate and keep under review a national policy for the lawful use of firearms and air weapons.

  1.4  The Council is consulted on issues concerning the sport by the Home Office and other Government Departments, the Association of Chief Police Officers, the British Standards Institute, the Health and Safety Executive, the Health Service Executive and other statutory and non-statutory bodies. It is a fundamental tenet of the Council that it should seek to co-operate with the relevant authorities in ensuring that a legitimate sport operates without prejudicing public safety. This work is supplemented by the work of the member associations, which have individual and regular contact with the various police forces throughout the United Kingdom and with officials at the Home Office.

  1.5  The Council is a major contributor to the work of the Firearms Consultative Committee. The Council is appreciative of the work of the Committee and hopes that it will be permitted to continue beyond its present term.

  1.6  The Council is a founder member of the World Forum on the Future of Sport Shooting Activities which handles matters at the United Nations level. The Forum is an international organisation representing some thirty hunting, sport shooting and commercial groups from all over the world. Each of the members of the Council participates in international bodies, some of which are Non-Governmental Organisations in their own right.


  2.1  Shooting is one of the few remaining amateur sports and preserves the best of the amateur virtues. It caters to all regardless of race, gender, age or physical disability. The ethos of responsible use of firearms is all-pervading and paramount.

  2.2  The lawful use of firearms for sport and recreation has a long and honourable history, and has proven value in national emergency. Shooting is a major popular participation activity. The Living in Britain Survey of sports, games, and physical activities showed that 3 per cent of all adults over 16 had shot, equating for frequency with horse riding, cricket and skiing, and above several popular sports such as rugby, hockey and track and field athletics.

  2.3  The largest target shooting association, National Rifle Association (NRA), was formed in 1859 with the object of promoting marksmanship in the defence interest. The Ministry of Defence continues to acknowledge the value of civilian marksmanship to national defence and efficiency of the armed services. Target shooting is recognised by the Sports Council and receives grant aid through the Great Britain Target Shooting Federation which comprises the National Rifle Association, the National Smallbore Rifle Association, the Clay Pigeon Shooting Association, the Muzzle Loaders Association of Great Britain and the United Kingdom Practical Shooting Association.

  2.4  Target Shooting has particular characteristics which mark it as a beneficial sport. There is an absolute standard by which progress and success can be measured, which brings a sense of achievement and progress. The safety record of target shooting ranks with the best sports in the UK. In addition, it makes a net contribution to the financial health of the home countries.

  2.5  There are two associations concerned with country shooting. Members participate in game shooting, rough shooting, wildfowling, pest control and deer stalking.

  2.6  The largest country shooting association is the British Association for Shooting and Conservation (BASC). BASC which is recognised by a variety of agencies as having wide expertise in firearms matters, was founded in 1908 as the Wildfowlers Association of Great Britain and Ireland and has a membership of over 125,000.

  BASC is a conservation NGO and has a close, constructive and productive working relationship with all four Country Conservation Agencies. Through a commitment to the principles of sustainable use, BASC seeks to integrate properly regulated sporting shooting with the sound management of wildlife and habitats. BASC employs a team of ecologists who advise the shooting community in the UK on all aspects of wildlife management and habitat conservation. The Association has an extensive education programme which enforces the message of safe and responsible shooting.

  2.7  The Countryside Alliance was formed in 1998 by the amalgamation of the British Field Sports Society, the Countryside Movement and the Countryside Business Group. It campaigns for the retention of countryside sports within the context of a thriving rural economy. The Alliance has a membership of 80,000 of which some 45 per cent indicate that shooting is their primary country sport.

  2.8  The country shooting community helps in a number of ways to conserve wildlife and biodiversity. These can be summarised as follows:

    Long history of involvement and expertise in habitat and species conservation

    Local knowledge of fauna and flora

    Large numbers of participants in the process of conservation

    Custodians of a wide range of habitats and species

    Incentive for active conservation

    No or little additional public sector costs

    Wide range of partners in the conservation field

    Local, national and international contacts

  2.9  The country shooting community has direct influence over the management of large areas of countryside, both on special sites and in the wider countryside. The incentive provided by shooting for the retention and positive management of habitat such as native woodland, ponds and upland moorland is well documented and widely recognised.

  2.10  In Great Britain in 1996 over 700,000 people shot game and wildfowl and over 14,000 stalked deer. These activities supported 12,000 full time jobs with an additional 14,000 jobs being sustained by the expenditure in associated trades and services (Cobham Report of the Standing Conference on Countryside Sports, 1997).


  3.1  There is a long tradition of collecting firearms and ammunition. Historical firearms societies while having relatively small memberships, have established themselves as respected, learned societies. Collecting is a mechanism for charting social history, a record of the nation's heritage and a catalogue of the styles and intricacy of the work of gunsmiths.


  4.1  The gun trade in the United Kingdom is heavily regulated by the police, the Home Office and HM Customs & Excise. Firearms manufacture for sporting purposes is no longer a major industry in the United Kingdom, with most such firearms, and the ammunition, being imported. There is, however, a very successful UK business in the manufacture and sale of fine guns commanding high prices, especially for game shooting purposes.

  4.2  The movement of sporting firearms within the European Union is controlled by member states and an EU Directive. The Home Office has a responsibility for monitoring applications for Visitors Permits to bring sporting firearms into the country. The understanding of the Council is that the export of other firearms is controlled by HM Government with production of an end-user certificate being an essential requisite.


  5.1  Shooting has a very good safety record. Typically there are 8,000 fatal accidents annually in the home and in traffic accidents. By comparison there are 150 deaths in sporting activity. The last recorded fatal accidents in shooting were in 1988. In non-fatal accidents, shooting figured in only one case in 730 accident injuries in outdoor sporting activity (OPCS Monitor, DH4 93/3). Most shooting clubs and shoots include compulsory personal and public liability insurance in their membership packages.


  6.1  There are currently three kinds of control which govern participation in shooting sports. These are (a) self-regulation including the domestic rules of the sports' governing bodies, (b) the legal framework provided by various Firearms Acts and guidance issued by the Home Office, and (c) Codes of Good Practice. We consider these three in turn.


  6.2  The member associations have a proud record of self-regulation. Each of them has a part of their Constitution devoted to the question of discipline and has a disciplinary machinery with powers to impose punishments for all matters relating to the conduct of any member wherever occurring. The decisions of these Disciplinary Committees are widely promulgated amongst the membership. Home Office statistics would seem to indicate that this self-regulation is effective and keeps to a minimum the number of cases in which the police seek to revoke certificates. There is anecdotal evidence that unsuitable candidates are dissuaded even from applying for a firearms certificate either because they fail the preliminary hurdle of passing a probationary membership period as a member of an approved rifle club, or because they do not have access to land suitable for use of a sporting rifle. It is therefore likely that only well-founded applications reach the police licensing departments.

  6.3  The importance of close collaboration between the clubs and police is illustrated by the fact that Central Scotland (Dunblane) police had no established relationship with the officials of clubs in their area at the time of the incident. Indeed, when Central Scotland first issued Hamilton with a firearms certificate he had not fulfilled the criteria which would be demanded for membership of a club.

  6.4  All the associations have various codes of practice to ensure the safety and welfare of not only participants but also those who might come into contact with the sport. Some of these codes are accredited as NVQs and accreditation is being sought for many of the others. Currently the Council and the Clay Pigeon Shooting Association are engaged in protracted negotiations and research into a code of practice to monitor and control noise at clay shooting grounds. The development of codes of practice is an on-going exercise with the various associations.

  6.5  Training is an essential to all shooting in order to develop expertise. Sporting shooting is indistinguishable from other sports in the efforts of its participants to maximise their personal potential. Allied to this personal objective is a desire of the sport to provide a safe environment in which to carry out the sport. All the associations engage in long term education programmes, both for particular disciplines and for safety generally. In this latter category, the Gun Trade Association and its members seek to ensure that the law is understood by those purchasing firearms and ammunition by including explicit material with purchases.

Legal Framework

  6.6  Existing controls on the possession of firearms and shotguns are very tight—a fact not generally understood other than by those who either administer the licensing system or are certificate holders themselves.


  6.7  The law begins with a negative in that chief officers of police are advised under what circumstances they must not grant a certificate [Section 27(1) Firearms Act 1968 and Paragraph 6.6 Guidance to the Police]. Having overcome this hurdle, the onus of proof is placed on the applicant to justify the details of his application. The applicant is obliged to show "good reason" for having a certificate while the chief officer of police has to show merely that he has "reason to believe" that the applicant is unfitted to be entrusted with a firearm. This process places much greater demands upon the applicant. Even when he has demonstrated suitability, the applicant has to provide justification for each individual firearm he may require in pursuit of his sport. The system, if efficiently operated provides the police, in exercising their discretion, with absolute control, with only an appeal to the Crown Court against a chief officer's decision open to the applicant. The evidence is that there are relatively few such appeals. Certificates can be revoked if the Chief Officer of Police is satisfied that the holder is no longer fitted to be entrusted with firearms.

  6.8  When the application is for a certificate for a firearm for target shooting the applicant has an additional hurdle to overcome. As part of his "good reason", he must show that he is a full member of a shooting club. This is not only a hurdle for the applicant, but also places a burden on the club itself. If the club has reservations about the applicant, it must deny him or her their support. This is a responsibility which clubs take very seriously and is a prime example of self-regulation which normally goes unrecognised.


  6.9  Whilst there have been firearms controls since the early part of the century, shotguns were not included until 1967. Shotgun certificates are the mechanism of control for those smooth-bore guns which do not require a firearm certificate [Home Office—Firearms Law, Guidance to the Police]. It differs from a firearm certificate in that it does not require approval for individual guns which the holder is authorised to have in his possession or to acquire.

  6.10  Application is made to a chief officer of police on the prescribed form accompanied by photographs and a countersignature. The chief officer of police has discretion to make enquiries into the application and shall not grant a certificate unless he is satisfied that there is:

    (a)  no reason to believe that the applicant is prohibited, or

    (b)  that the application does not have a good reason for possessing, purchasing or acquiring a shotgun.

  6.11  Judged against the criteria required by this Government in its "Better Regulation Guide", the Council would contend that there is no evidence to suggest that the present system has failed the primary objective of contributing to public safety. Any additional requirement, for example to bring shotguns into line with firearm procedures, would impose additional workload on the police for no tangible improvement in public safety, and would be a drain on police resources which might be more beneficially applied to illegal firearms and their miscreant owners.

  6.12  In respect of shotguns the Council would contend that the existing system has proved to be effective and has presented no administrative problem to the police. The Council therefore recommends no change.

Good Practice

  6.13  It is in the interests of both the BSSC and the police to continue a policy of liaison in pursuit of good practice and uniformity of practice. In 1995 the BSSC Secretary and other representatives visited three forces in pursuit of uniformity and joint press releases were circulated. We believe the police service, and especially the firearms administration officers in the individual police forces, appreciate the value of the seminars which the Council has arranged. The most recent took as its theme the Inspectorate's Report on Administration of the Firearms Licensing System. We anticipate holding another seminar later this year, but still await an indication of support from ACPO.

  6.14  It has been long standing practice for the associations to host visits by the police firearms administration staff and the British Association for Shooting and Conservation [BASC] and the National Rifle Association [NRA], in particular, regularly hold familiarisation sessions. This practice has been extended to the Firearms Consultative Committee which has chosen to meet at Bisley [NRA] and Marford Mill [BASC] where members were given the opportunity to see "inside" those organisations. The evidence from Firearms Administrative Officers themselves is that the opportunity to meet with appointed members of the shooting community has been beneficial to them in their work. Further, the exposure to views and opinions other than of the in-house staff has enabled them to carry out their duties in a more customer friendly manner.

  6.15  Club officials and the national associations co-operated fully with the Home Office Research and Planning Unit in compilation of the Corkery Report which has been considered by the Firearms Consultative Committee. This Report [Research and Planning Unit, Paper 79] was called for by the Home and Scottish Offices. It was carried out by the Home Office Research and Planning Unit in order to determine the effects of the recently revised criteria had been upon club membership and public safety. To quote from the Report "In summary, shooting clubs wanted better consultation, communication and clarification".

  6.16  We believe there is room for better communication between the police and shooting groups. The Council therefore recommends that liaison in this area should be formalised and that meetings, at which representatives of the Home Office would be present, be held on a regular basis.


  7.1  Airweapons are used extensively for pest control on agricultural land and for target shooting: Air rifle target shooting is an Olympic sport and is very popular. It is particularly popular amongst disabled shooters because air weapons generate very little recoil. In the 1996 Atlanta Paralympics, British disabled shooters won gold and silver medals in air target shooting events and set a new world record.

  7.2  Air guns are also an ideal vehicle for training youngsters and newcomers to the sport in basic firearm safety. The National Smallbore Rifle Association, who will be making their own submission, has a long record of involvement with training young people through such organisations as the National Association of Boys Clubs, the Army Cadet Force, the Scout Association and the Duke of Edinburgh Scheme. Other member associations of the BSSC also run safety and training programmes for youngsters and newcomers.

  7.3  The Council recognises that there are a minority of criminals who misuse air weapons. However, to provide a context for the level of misuse we would refer the Committee to the House of Commons Adjournment Debate on 23 June 1999, during which the Minister said: "From 1987 to 1997, the most recent period for which figures are available, the incidence of injury caused by air gun misuse has shown a steady year-on-year decline. In 1997, there was a significant reduction in the number of injuries from air gun misuse in comparison with those recorded in 1987—from 1,782 to 1,194. In addition, only 125 of the incidents in 1997—less than 11 per cent in total—consisted of an injury more serious than superficial bruising." (Hansard col 1263)

  7.4  There have been calls for air weapons to be licensed to solve the problem of misuse. However, the police are struggling to administer Certificates at current levels. Indeed, ACPO in its evidence to the 1996 Home Affairs Select Committee inquiry into the Possession of Handguns argued that "the high level of airgun ownership would require disproportionate resources if a decision were taken to bring airguns within the certification system." (Home Affairs Committee report on the Possession of Handguns, 1996, page xl, paragraph 8)

  7.5  The Council therefore recommends that greater attention is paid to education and to enforcement of the existing legislation, rather than the introduction of additional legislation which proves impractical to enforce.


  8.1  In examining the sport of shooting it is fundamental to differentiate those engaged in lawful pursuit of a time honoured activity from those involved in criminal acts. Misuse arises principally from criminals using illegal firearms and shotguns for criminal purposes.

  8.2  One hundred and sixty-five thousand Firearm Certificates [FACs] and 686,000 Shotgun Certificates are on issue in Great Britain. All but a few air guns can be legally held without the need for any form of certification. Some 18,500 large calibre and 2,000 smallbore pistols remain on certificate under exemptions in the post Dunblane legislation. Apart from 7,200 muzzle loading pistols used for target shooting, almost all the remainder will be held as tools of the trade, eg by veterinary surgeons, and are subject to control as Section 5 firearms. Automatic firearms and many other types of weapons, including large magazine shotguns and handguns, are prohibited in Great Britain.

The overriding problem of illegal guns

  8.3  Estimates of the size of the pool of illegal guns vary widely, but there are as many illegally held as certificated firearms. Evidence to Lord Cullen's inquiry suggested that the number of illegal weapons in the UK ranges from 1 to 4 million (Cullen report, paragraph 9.5 page 107). Many of the types used in crime are not available on certificate eg semi-automatic rifles were prohibited in 1988.

  8.4  The Council is concerned at anecdotal evidence of suspicion and lack of a uniform approach by the agencies involved in "policing" the illegal market—the police and HM Customs and Excise. Each has its own agenda resulting in conflicting claim and counter claim. To outsiders it would seem that the battle for primacy in the field of investigation and enforcement, especially the public relations battle, is a handicap to the primary objective of public safety.

  8.5  We would draw the Committee's attention to the recommendation of the Home Affairs Select Committee Inquiry into the Possession of Handguns: "We believe that the problems posed by illegally held firearms are on a far larger scale than those posed by legally held firearms . . . We do not expect HM Customs and Excise officers to be 100 per cent efficient in preventing the illegal importation of firearms by determined criminals, but, clearly, the searching procedures are far from adequate, since so many of the guns used in crime must have entered the country through ports of entry. We believe this to be one of the most significant factors to be considered . . . Since it is almost impossible to prevent the circulation of unlicenced firearms in this country, much more needs to be done by HM Customs and Excise to detect and prevent their illegal importation." (Fifth report, 24 July 1996, page xxxiv) The Council has seen no evidence that this recommendation has been actioned.

  8.6  We would strongly recommend that during the course of this inquiry the issue of better inter-agency co-operation and the securing of funding to fight the tide of illegal firearms, which have nothing to do with the legitimate sport, is closely examined.

The need for systematic recording of crime involving guns

  8.7  In 1996 firearms were used in 1 per cent of recorded cases of violent crime in England and Wales. Because the method of recording statistics groups real firearms with supposed, imitation, and deactivated firearms, fewer than half the reported instances concern guns capable of being fired. There are very few recorded cases where legally held firearms are used, and these do not differentiate between firearms on certificate, firearms lawfully held by the Armed Services, and air guns.

  8.8  The statistical material on the link between crime and availability of firearms which the Home Office was able to provide during the Parliamentary and judicial inquiries which followed the Dunblane massacre was inadequate and significantly flawed. The number of FACs has dropped by over one-third in 30 years and the firearms licensing system has been revised and strengthened, but armed crime has risen by a factor of at least 10. There is a significant absence of official research on the correlation between armed crime and availability of lawful firearms, and the extent to which the statistics prove a causal relationship. The usefulness of foreign comparisons is severely limited by historical, cultural, and political differences.

  8.9  Official figures tend to exaggerate the risk of legally held certifiable firearms falling into criminal hands by theft. This is because statistics include replicas, starting pistols, deactivations and air weapons. Only 10 per cent of "stolen" firearms quoted in a Home Office paper in 1994 should have been on a firearm certificate, and 36 per cent on a shotgun certificate. This failure to provide adequate statistics creates difficulties, as was recognised by the Home Affairs Committee of the House of Commons in 1996 when it was unanimous that "policy on firearms control appears to be formed without the benefit of statistical material which we believe to be highly relevant" [Home Affairs Select Committee Fifth Report 1995-96 recommendation 2 and paragraph 35]. The Committee went on to recommend that records should be kept of the source of firearms recovered after crime.

  8.10  We would also draw attention to Lord Cullen's observation on this matter: ". . . there is unfortunately no systematic recording as to the extent to which legal, as distinct from illegal, firearms are used in the commission of crime in Great Britain; and there is no routine research into this subject." (Cullen report, paragraph 9.4, p106). It is understood that the current situation for recording the source of firearms recovered after crime is still less than satisfactory.

  8.11  A proposal to examine each recovered firearm used in crime to establish its origin has been put forward during recent deliberations of the Firearms Consultative Committee. Until the Annual Report of the FCC is published later this year its considered opinion on this potential solution will not be known. However, our understanding is that the proposition received support, but little practical assistance appears to have been rendered. We would recommend to the Committee that this research is carried out expeditiously.

The problem of "gun culture"

  8.12  Every reasonable person should be concerned if this country were to become subject to a growing "gun culture". The BSSC, and those of the member associations of the Council which will be submitting evidence in support, reject the suggestion that the lawful pursuit of sports shooting has any connection with what is popularly perceived as "gun culture". Such an assertion is a myth which cannot be substantiated by evidence. Rather, that concept relates to those individuals who seek a career in crime and, in so doing, make use [inter alia] of firearms which have not been available to the sporting shooter for over half a century. Shooting sports in the UK are largely irrelevant to the problem of criminal activities. We agree with the Report of the National Crime Squad that while there is much time and money spent on police monitoring of the legal firearm owner the evidence suggests that "Britain's firearm control laws are only effective in regard to legally-held firearms". (Annual Report of the National Crime Squad, published 1999). Speaking at the release of the NCS's annual report, its Director General Roy Penrose said; "Smuggling guns from abroad posed a major problem". [Police Review, 10 September 1999]

  8.13  In its Report "More Cruelty and Violence 4", the National Viewers and Listeners Association highlighted the concerns of many who felt that the media played a large part in giving negative messages about violence, especially with firearms—messages which cause those with little knowledge of the sport to link all firearms with violence. Worse, it is possible, even probable, that the impressionable may actually be encouraged to use firearms in violent criminal activity—the so called "copycat" syndrome. The Council shares the strong feeling that the restriction of the portrayal of violence on television should be the subject of a thorough and detailed enquiry as to its effect on those who view it.

The distinction between urban and rural areas

  8.14  As with other criminal activity, the problem of misuse of guns lies mainly in urban areas. There has been some suggestion that if legally held guns were not permitted, or restricted, in towns this situation would not arise. During the Second Reading of the Firearms (Amendment) Bill Chris Mullin MP said: "Everyone understands that farmers need shotguns to deal with pests. It is more difficult to understand why someone living on a housing estate in the middle of Sunderland needs a shotgun in his home. I favour a big reduction in the number of shotgun licences, starting with those in urban areas." (Hansard, col 218, 12 November 1996). This proposition is fundamentally flawed. First, it ignores the fact that the misuse of guns derives, as described above, from illegally held guns, not from properly licensed shotguns. Secondly, it presupposes that only rural dwellers take part in the sport. This, of course, is untrue. Urban dwellers form a significant proportion of clay pigeon and live quarry shooting.

  8.15  Perhaps even more important, the proposition is an untenable invasion of personal rights. We are unaware of any law which differentiates between persons as to their right to participate in a lawful activity on grounds of where they reside. A person who has gone through the rigorous process of being certified by the police to own and possess a shotgun or firearm causes no greater danger to public safety by virtue of living in an urban area. It would be irrational and grossly unfair to introduce a restriction on those who use firearms for legitimate sporting purposes and who have been licensed by the police to do so. If the Committee were to pursue this proposal, they will doubtless take advice as to whether it would be in breach of legislation relating to human rights and equality of treatment.


  9.1  It is perhaps inevitable that events such as Hungerford and Dunblane, which involved the use of legally held weapons, will produce such a powerful public reaction that emotion rather than rational and factual analysis should become for the time being the basis of policy development. The Council regrets this, but recognises why it happens.

  9.2  In the context of a Select Committee which has the opportunity to assess the evidence at a less pressured time, however, it may be considered appropriate to put these two major incidents in their context. In respect of Hungerford the full facts were never made public, whereas after Dunblane there was at least a Judicial Inquiry. Even so, few will have heard of the evidence produced at the Inquiry. They will not be aware that Hamilton was probably better known to the authorities than any other firearms certificate holder in the United Kingdom. Equally they will not be aware that the senior police officer responsible for approving the renewal of Hamilton's certificate [in the face of a direct request from a junior officer that the certificate be revoked] was simultaneously writing to the local authority to tell them that Hamilton could not be trusted. They might not know that the senior police officer subsequently resigned over the issue. Lord Cullen believed that in view of the evidence available to the police at that time, Thomas Hamilton's certificate should have been revoked: "On balance I consider that there was a case for revocation of Thomas Hamilton's firearm certificate and that it should have been acted upon." (Cullen Report, paragraph 6.64 page 76-77).

  9.3  Lord Cullen, who sifted all this evidence, made his considered recommendations which were generally welcomed by the shooting world. However, a ban on pistols was still implemented in spite of Cullen's recommendations. The ban implemented in 1997 has been effective in removing handguns which were used legally for sporting purposes. Regrettably, the evidence seems to be that the criminal community has not been hampered in its efforts to continue to use handguns in the furtherance of criminal activities. The recent spate of shootings by criminals using handguns at least raises the question as to whether the time and expense involved in legislating against the disciplined and severely regulated sport of pistol shooting brought any worthwhile benefit. Indeed, it may be that the legislation gave rise to a false sense of security which detracted from the search for those whose only reason for possessing a handgun is the promotion of criminal activity.

  9.4  Because of incidents like Hungerford and Dunblane, the British system of firearms licensing has developed in an ad hoc manner. Whilst recognising the circumstances in which additional controls have come about, there has never been an objective assessment of the system to establish whether a correct balance exists between administrative measures designed to ensure public safety and unnecessary bureaucracy. Our proposals aim to address that balance as we believe that many aspects of the present system are unnecessarily bureaucratic.


  10.1  There have been a number of reviews of the administration of the firearms legislation, including one by the police themselves, the Multi-Force Firearms Scrutiny [known as the Campbell-Beattie Enquiry] conducted by the Devon and Cornwall Police on behalf of ACPO. Regrettably, the Council has neither been allowed sight of that Report nor invited to participate in the subsequent Home Office Working Party which considered its recommendations. However, reference in a subsequent Report by HM Inspectorate for Police [The Administration of Firearms Licensing 1993] highlighted some of the deficiencies and variations still to be found in individual police forces.

  10.2  The Council believes that one of the problems facing the system is a lack of consistency. Great power lies, quite properly, in the hands of chief officers of police, in determining whether to approve the grant or renewal of a firearms certificate. The Council does not seek to reduce hurdles which are relevant and effective, but does seek to ensure that there is uniformity of application throughout the United Kingdom. The current licensing system has been described by the Chief Inspector of Constabulary as open to too much local interpretation and application.

  10.3  The BSSC supported Government proposals for the establishment of a National Firearms Control Board. The Council believes that it would improve uniformity of application and would release fully trained policemen from an administrative function and enable them to devote scarce resources to the fight against crime. Lord Cullen did not favour the change on the grounds that "there should be an integration of the carrying out of enquiries and the taking of decisions within a single organisation; that the police are in the best position to collect and assess information bearing on the suitability of applicants or holders, which is at the heart of the certification system; and that there is inevitably a close link between the certification system and questions of enforcement." (paragraph 8.5, page 85). The arguments of Cullen are powerful but not conclusive. It is not suggested that the Board's officials and the police would not communicate, any more than traffic wardens or DVLA staff do not co-operate. The police can input criminal record and evidence of unreliability. The key issue is whether the chief officer can rely on the Board to present him with a proper assessment of the applicant's background on which he can make a decision.

  10.4  The main reason the Board did not proceed was because the Government rejected the financial implications, a ground not shared by Lord Cullen. BSSC believes that the creation of a National Firearms Control Board would be a considerable improvement. The Council urges the Committee to recommend the establishment of a National Board.

  10.5  Although coming to a different conclusion on the merits of a Firearms Control Board, Lord Cullen recognised that improvements to the licensing system should be made: "This is not to say that I do not consider there is room for improvement in achieving a standard of expertise and consistency which is worthy of the system." (paragraph 8.6, page 85). We believe that further civilianisation of licensing procedures within each force would contribute to an increase in expertise and consistency. Much progress has been made in this direction, but there is still room for the employment of knowledgeable civilian administrators. It is the view of the Council that the police could make better use of the skills of their highly trained police officers in gathering and interpreting intelligence about the use of illegal firearms.

  10.6  Another aspect of concern to the shooting community is the way Firearms Fees are calculated. There is at present no transparency in the method used. The Home Office is currently examining the level of the fee but as yet has not sought representations from end-user (shooting) groups. The Council believes that any increase in the licensing fee must be linked into administrative best practice. We therefore recommend that the Home Office reviews the way the fee is calculated based on clear best practice guidelines drawn up in consultation with police and end users.

  10.7  There has not been an evaluation of the licensing system since the 1993 thematic inspection carried out by Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary. The 1997 Firearms Acts have been implemented since that time and the Council believes that a new evaluation of the system by HMIC is now appropriate.

  10.8  A recurring source of friction between the police and the shooting community is the one to one relationship between a police enquiry officer and an applicant for either the issue, renewal or variation of a certificate. We have stated earlier our belief that properly trained dedicated civilian staff are an essential component in seeking to improve and maintain good relationships in such situations. But there will always be room for disagreement with a topic so varied and complicated as firearms.

  10.9  Currently the only means of resolving seemingly intractable problems is recourse to law—an expensive and time wasting procedure for both parties. The Council believes many of these minor confrontations could be avoided if there was a body to which one might refer complicated issues. Previously, a Working Party was formed under the auspices of the Firearms Consultative Committee in an attempt to classify hybrid firearms but unfortunately that mechanism has not been used again.

  10.10  The Council therefore favours the transfer of the task of hearing appeals against refusal or revocation of firearm certificates to a specialist tribunal, with swift and inexpensive determination by persons particularly knowledgeable about firearms, their use and their licensing. Such a body could be an ad hoc Sub-Committee of the Firearms Consultative Committee with members appointed by the FCC on the basis of the issue to be resolved and the expertise of the individual tribunal member. The value of such a body has become apparent in current consultations with ACPO and the Home Office on the question of individual certificate holder's firearms security. With such a body the potential for a hardening in relationships between police and a law abiding section of the community would be diminished.


  11.1  The Firearms Consultative Committee has examined, in detail and on a number of occasions, the various aspects of firearms licensing and administration which the Committee is examining. The Annual Reports of the Firearms Consultative Committee contain many recommendations as a result of detailed examination over a long period. The Council endorses those recommendations, almost without exception, but little progress has been made on their implementation. The latest attempt to quantify those Recommendations can be found in the 7th Annual Report of the Firearms Consultative Committee which we attach[19]. (Annex B, Summary of Recommendations 1989-1995). It would be a valuable contribution if the Committee felt able to recommend action on those recommendations which have yet to be implemented in the 7th Annual Report and subsequent Annual Reports of the FCC.

  11.2  The life of the Firearms Consultative Committee is due to expire on 31 January 2000 and its future is currently under review by the Home Office. The FCC was established in 1988 to advise the government on firearms matters. Its membership has expanded over the years to be more representative of all points of view. Its membership now includes representatives of the police, Customs and Excise, user groups and those campaigning for stricter gun controls. The Council believes the FCC performs a vital function in bringing together interested parties to discuss issues of public safety and the proper administration of the law. We therefore recommend that the life of the FCC is extended beyond 31 January 2000.

  11.3  At the turn of this decade the Council was keen to launch a programme intended to replicate the Firearms Consultative Committee within each police force, seeing it as an extension of the requirement to consult laid down by Lord Scarman in his Report on the Brixton Riots and Section 106 of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act. However, the Association of Chief Police Officers rejected this offer of help. It is ironic that these would have been the links which Lord Cullen recommends in his Report. However, until the relationship between ACPO and the sports shooting community, through the Council, are once more on track there is no point in resurrecting this programme.


  12.1  The Council notes that the existing system of control is made up of components often introduced piecemeal in an attempt to assuage public feelings rather than based on an identified need. It has not been subject to rigorous examination to determine its effectiveness and efficiency. Although much of this system has been justified on grounds of public safety, it has failed to address the central issue that public safety is put at risk by illegal arms and not by those of law-abiding sportspersons. The Council therefore does not believe that further restriction can be justified.

  12.2  Much can be done, however, to streamline the procedure, make it apply consistently and fairly across the country, limit the cost to the shooter, and reduce the burden on the police at a time when their resources should be committed to ensuring public safety in the context of increasing rates of armed crime. Proposals put forward in this paper may help the Committee to achieve this end.

19   Not printed. Back

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