Memorandum by the British Shooting Sports
CONTROL OVER FIREARMS
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 UKmedals 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. THE BRITISH
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 sectorscountry
(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
British Association for Shooting and Conservation
Clay Pigeon Shooting Association
Muzzle Loaders Association
National Rifle Association
National Small-bore Rifle Association
Sportsman's Association of Great Britain and
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
(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,
(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. THE LAWFUL
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
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
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
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
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. THE TRADE
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
6. CONTROLS ON
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
6.6 Existing controls on the possession
of firearms and shotguns are very tighta 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 OfficeFirearms 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.
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
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. AIR WEAPONS
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
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 1987from
1,782 to 1,194. In addition, only 125 of the incidents in 1997less
than 11 per cent in totalconsisted 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. THE PROBLEMS
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 marketthe
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
The need for systematic recording of crime involving
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 firearmsmessages 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 activitythe
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. THE APPROACH
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 lawan 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. THE FIREARMS
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.
(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
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
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