Select Committee on Home Affairs Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


APPENDIX 19

Memorandum by the Firearms Consultative Committee

INQUIRY INTO CONTROLS OVER FIREARMS

Contents

Chapter 1:  Introduction
Chapter 2:  The work programme of the FCC for 1999
Chapter 3:  Controls on air weapons
Chapter 4:  Young People and Firearms
Chapter 5:  Controls on shotguns
Chapter 6:  The 1997 Handgun Bans
Chapter 7:  Other certificated firearms
Chapter 8:  The future of the FCC
Annex A:  Section 22 Firearms (Amendment) Act 1988
Annex B:  Membership of the FCC 1999
Annex C:  Work programme of the Committee 1999
*Annex D:  Firearms (Amendment) Acts 1997
*Annex E:  Muzzle-Loading Revolvers (1998)
*Annex F:  Gallery Rifles (1998)
*Annex G:  Expanding Ammunition (1998)
*Annex H:  The future role and composition of the FCC (1998)

  *Not printed:

CHAPTER 1: INTRODUCTION: THE FIREARMS CONSULTATIVE COMMITTEE AND THE MEMORANDUM OF EVIDENCE

  1.1  The Firearms Consultative Committee (FCC) is a statutory body set up under Section 22 of the Firearms (Amendment) Act 1988 (reproduced at Annex A). Members appointed to the Committee are chosen from those who appear to the Home Secretary to have knowledge and experience of either the possession, use (in particular for sporting or competition) or keeping of, or transactions in firearms or weapons technology, or the administration or enforcement of the provisions of the Firearms Acts.

  1.2  Under Section 22 (8) of the 1988 Act the Committee initially existed for a period of five years from 1 February 1989. The life of the Committee was extended by Order for a further three years until 31 January 1997, and then again by a further three years until 31 January 2000. Paragraph 2 of the Firearms (Amendment) Act 1988 (Firearms Consultative Committee) Order 1996, which extended the Committee's life, is included at Annex A. Mr David Penn is the current chairman of the Committee. Secretariat functions are carried out by the Operational Policing Policy Division (OPPU) of the Home Office.

  1.3  Members of the Committee have been appointed for periods of up to two years which may be renewed. There have been a number of changes to the Committee's complement over the past year and a list of current members is at Annex B.

  1.4  The statutory role of the Committee is to advise the Secretary of State on the operation of the Firearms Acts 1968 to 1997. This is important to emphasise, as it places limitations on the response of the FCC in relation to the Home Affairs Committee (HAC) inquiry. Where a choice must be taken between delivering a prompt response to a matter raised by the HAC, and a more considered response to the Secretary of State, the FCC's statutory duty is to the latter.

  1.5  Nor would it be useful for the FCC to set out its ongoing discussions to the HAC on matters where it has not reached a firm conclusion. We trust that the HAC will understand that, in the absence of such conclusions, the FCC can add little to the material that will no doubt be put before the HAC by other parties. It is to be hoped that the Annual Report of the FCC will be presented to the Secretary of State and laid before Parliament in good time before the conclusion of the HAC's inquiry.

  1.6  It is also important to bear in mind the relationship between the members as ad hominem appointments by the Secretary of State, the Committee as a whole, and the other bodies to which members may belong. By its nature, the FCC has a membership drawn from a wide range of interest groups with strongly held opinions. It is wholly proper for members to put forward to the FCC their views both as members or officials of particular bodies, and as private individuals. It is proper that these should be recorded, and it would be wrong to present a consensus on the FCC where none exists.

  1.7  It is also wholly proper for members to seek to put forward their own views outside of the FCC. Most of the organisations whose members are included on the FCC will be submitting evidence to the Inquiry on their own account, and may be requested to appear before the HAC to discuss their evidence. It would be wrong for the FCC to seek to influence these, or to claim that the FCC speaks on behalf of all the organisations to which its members belong.

  1.8  However, if the FCC is to serve a useful purpose it must be greater than the sum of its parts. To present a series of minority reports on behalf of each member of the FCC would be pointless. It would also distort the actual discussions of the FCC to date and the considerable degree of consensus between the shooting community and the enforcement authorities that had been reached on a number of points.

  1.9  This memorandum therefore seeks to reflect the views of the FCC as a body wherever it is appropriate to do so. We trust that the Home Affairs Committee, in view of its own role and composition, will understand and appreciate the nature of the evidence that the FCC should properly present.

  1.10  This memorandum is set out on the understanding that the HAC is seeking to confine its discussions to a limited number of areas in reasonable depth, rather than to conduct a full inquiry of every aspect of firearms controls. The FCC would be willing to comment on any aspect of its work programme on which the HAC would welcome further information. However, where the FCC feels that its other work should be raised with the HAC to bring its own interests into perspective, we have done so.

CHAPTER 2: THE WORK PROGRAMME OF THE FCC FOR 1999

  2.1  Within its statutory role, the FCC has generally sought both to address any matters put before it by Ministers and other matters raised by members and other interested parties. At the start of this year the Home Office Minister of State, Paul Boateng MP, wrote to the then Chairman, Lord Shrewsbury, to request that the FCC look at a range of issues over the coming year. The Committee accepted these and other matters raised by members as its formal work programme for the year. A full list of the subjects to be addressed is at Annex C.

  2.2  Many of these issues are ones that the FCC has considered in some depth in previous years. While the FCC will wish to take a fresh look at all these issues over this year, if HAC members have a particular interest in any of these issues they may wish to refer back to the earlier Reports of the FCC. References to these are therefore included in Annex C, and we understand that copies of the Reports are held in the Libraries of both Houses.

  2.3  The FCC acknowledges that the agreed work programme was far larger than any such in previous years. To a large extent this problem has been dealt with by the use of sub-groups, to whom consideration of the more complex and technical issues can be delegated with a view to them reporting back to the main FAC. This measure has allowed non-members of the FCC who have particular knowledge and experience of the matters under consideration to join the discussions and bring their expertise to bear. The FCC is grateful as a body for the hard work and discussion to which sub-group members have contributed.

  2.4  The FCC also adopted an over-arching aim and a general theme for the year's work programme, and it would be helpful to bring these to the attention of the HAC.

Public Safety

  2.5  The aim of the FCC in considering the year's work programme was to see how controls might be improved to protect public safety. Superficially, this may seem an obvious point, and we would not wish to suggest that we have overlooked this in previous years. However, it is important that the FCC is clear on this aim. It would be easy to adopt a position that all firearms are equally and unacceptably dangerous and that any measures against these is to be supported for its own sake. Equally, it would be easy to adopt a position that no measure that impedes private gun ownership is acceptable, amounting to an unfettered "right to bear arms". Finally, it would be open to all parties to adopt a position of administrative convenience, that hard work by any of the parties should be avoided, and measures should not be adopted if they are troublesome.

  2.6  The FCC as a body rejects all of these positions as prejudiced, unhealthy in principle and damaging to its role as a consultative body and as a discursive forum. It is important that proposals put before the FCC should be measured against a clear benchmark, and the maintenance of public safety was chosen as such.

Illegal Firearms

  2.7  The underlying theme of the FCC's work for this year was the illegal possession of firearms by criminals, and what steps might be taken to prevent this. The tragic events at Hungerford and Dunblane have concentrated debate in the recent past on the misuse of legally-held firearms by certificate holders, and it was important that the Government and Parliament should have addressed this issue. However, the FCC would echo the Government's view that the vast majority of certificate holders are honest and law-abiding, and possess their firearms without incident. The FCC would also agree with the general understanding that the vast majority of serious firearms crimes are committed using firearms that are not licensed and are owned illegally, often by people who would never be granted a certificate if they applied for such. Serious shooting incidents in London and Manchester over the past year have illustrated this issue.

  2.8  It is not the role of the FCC to become involved in police and HM Customs operations against organised crime. However, the FCC's interest over this year has been to seek to find ways of impeding criminals from obtaining firearms through legitimate sources. Within this context we would wish to make two observations to the HAC.

  2.9  The first is that discussion of firearms crime is impeded by a lack of clear information as to where criminals obtain their firearms. The extent to which firearms are readily available to ordinary criminals is fiercely debated, but in many ways the effectiveness of controls on firearms rests on this uncertain point. The effectiveness of measures to prevent criminals from obtaining firearms from domestic sources, for example, is dependent in part on the ease through which criminals can smuggle in arms from abroad. The FCC would make clear that it believes that proper debate on firearms controls would be greatly assisted by more information about sources of illegal firearms. Several members of the FCC have offered their expert services in a mooted project to attempt to establish the sources of illegal firearms by a study of those arms seized by the police. The costs of such a project would be limited, and the Government may wish to bear these if they feel that research in this field is sufficiently important.

  2.10  The second point is that additional controls on the legitimate possession of firearms should not be assumed to have a significant direct effect on the illegal use of firearms. The FCC notes that the HAC inquiry appears to be directed against the misuse of licensed or otherwise legally held firearms and has responded on this basis.

  2.11  However, the FCC would caution the HAC against the tacit assumption that changes to the law will deal with those who are not inclined to obey such. There have been many times during the discussions of the FCC over this year in which the enforcement of the existing law, rather than any changes to the law itself, has been advocated as the best way forward. The FCC would suggest that legislative change, while often appropriate, should be one of many rather than the first option for dealing with problems. On several occasions when the FCC has itself proposed legislative changes, Parliamentary time has not been found to consider these.

Deactivated and replica firearms

  2.12  In particular, the FCC would wish to draw the attention of the HAC to its proposals on deactivated and replica firearms. The former are firearms that have been deliberately and extensively modified so that they cannot work and cease to be "firearms" for legal purposes. The latter are imitations of real firearms incapable of firing live ammunition. There has been considerable concern about the misuse of these, both to frighten people and through their conversion to fire live ammunition. The more casual misuse of replicas to threaten and the re-activation of deactivated pistols and sub-machine guns by professional criminals have been of particular concern.

  2.13  The proposals adopted by the FCC were drawn up by a sub-group including those interested parties who have a legitimate use for such items, such as the film and television industries and re-enactment societies. These seek to accommodate both legitimate use and the practicalities of controlling unlicensed items. In adopting these, the FCC would suggest that a range of targeted measures may be more effective in dealing with problems than through legislation alone.

  2.14  In view of concerns about the use of replica and re-activated firearms in crime, it is worthwhile setting these measures out in some length. The proposals are:

    —  A new, tougher deactivation specification for handguns, perhaps with an alternative specification to allow moving parts to be retained but with greater internal damage.

    —  Encouragement to other European countries to adopt the UK specifications as a good standard for de-activation work.

    —  Primary legislation should provide that future deactivations must be to specified standards and certified accordingly by the Proof Houses, and that the certificate should accompany the item as supporting evidence.

    —  The Proof Houses should only provide replacement certificates to guns de-activated to the current standards. At present, the Proof Houses could provide owners of pre-1995 de-activations with replacement certificates to confirm their validity and there was scope for abuse of this.

    —  Careful inspection of dealers' records of de-activated firearms in consultation with the Proof Houses to prevent guns being registered as "de-activated" and diverted to criminal hands.

    —  The Home Office should consider the scope for buying in the open market de-activated firearms, particularly those regarded as posing a serious threat to public safety (such as handguns and sub-machine guns de-activated to the pre-1995 standards). This might remove such weapons from circulation without encouraging the trade in such to go underground.

    —  Continuing co-operation between the police, the Forensic Science Service and the gun trade to identify those types of replica gun or air weapon liable to conversion by criminals and to restrict or bring under control the sale of these.

    —  Consideration to restricting carriage of replicas in a public place in circumstances likely to cause alarm or distress. This could be adapted to accommodate parades, theatre and historical re-enactment and similar legitimate purposes.

    —  Better education about the dangers of possession and casual misuse of replicas, whilst avoiding glamorising these items.

  2.15  In the light of the comments made in chapter 1 about the current and future role of the FCC, we would emphasise that these measures show the scope for positive co-operation between the authorities and the responsible gun-owning community, and the value of the FCC in this work.

CHAPTER 3: CONTROLS ON AIR WEAPONS AND YOUNG SHOTS

Air weapons

  3.1  The FCC has considered controls on low-powered (not subject to certificate) air weapons in previous years and most recently during this working year. The following is intended to set out the conclusions of the FCC on this subject.

  3.2  The FCC acknowledges that air weapons are misused more often statistically than other firearms: in 1997 there were 7,506 recorded offences in England and Wales involving airguns as opposed to 4,094 involving other firearms. These have included damage to property, the death and injury of wild or domestic animals, and injuries and even death to people, especially children. The FCC would in no way wish to detract from the prevalence and seriousness of some of these incidents or the distress and suffering caused. However, the risks of death or serious injury from these items should not be exaggerated or taken out of context from other likely causes of injuries.

  3.3  The FCC considered whether any changes to the existing power limits of uncertificated air guns might be needed. At present these were set by the Dangerous Air Weapons Rules as six foot pounds for pistols and 12 foot pounds for air rifles and other air guns. The FCC considered that these limits were acceptable. The six foot pound limit for air pistols was such that it seriously reduced the risk of a fatal injury being inflicted. The 12 foot pound level for air rifles fell well below that of a .22 rimfire rifle, the nearest comparable firearm, but was the minimum needed to kill rabbits and other small game and vermin cleanly and humanely. To reduce the limit would lead to more need for those involved in these activities to use powerful air rifles, .22 rimfire rifles and shotguns for this purpose.

  3.4  Other than on the age of possession (see Chapter 4) the FCC in general does not favour any changes to the law on air weapons in themselves. It is noted that only the Gun Control Network favoured certificate controls on airguns. However, the certification of air weapons would require considerable resources that might better be spent on other policing matters. As air weapons were currently unlicensed, it would be difficult for the police to detect and locate many air guns owned by private individuals. In many cases these items may have been forgotten about by their owners and emerge from attics and cupboards over the years with the clear potential for misuse. The police have suggested that a well-publicised "amnesty" for those airguns that owners no longer needed might help remove "surplus" guns from circulation, though a small financial incentive might be needed to encourage owners to hand these in.

  3.5  Compared with the estimated four to seven million airguns in circulation, the rate of airgun misuse in recent years was comparatively small and although having risen in recent years was now apparently declining. As with many other measures of control, the burden of obeying a licensing system or other controls was likely to fall upon those law-abiding enough to present their guns for licensing, rather than the hooligan element prone to misuse these weapons.

  3.6  The FCC considered that more effective use might be made of the existing provisions for detecting, prosecuting and sentencing offenders. It was appreciated that this may be incompatible with the overall Government policy towards minor, first time and particularly young offenders. While the latter may be wholly reasonable, the FCC would suggest that its impact on the enforcement of existing and future controls should not be overlooked. If a particular approach is adopted to the commission of serious crimes by young people such as so-called "joyriding", it would be anomalous to adopt a more severe approach to airgun misuse. Most of the active misuse of airguns involved a range of offences against the existing law, and it was not clear if further restrictions would add significantly to the police's ability to deal with airgun crime.

  3.7  The FCC felt that the education of young people and retailers, and supervised use of airguns in legitimate shooting activities, was preferable to uncontrolled use and should be supported. It appeared that much airgun misuse was committed by those who were both unaware of the laws on airguns that they may be breaking and of the potential power and danger of these items if misused. It was arguable that many of the injuries and fatalities inflicted by airguns were unintended and might have been prevented by proper education as to the potential dangers associated with air weapons.

CHAPTER 4: YOUNG PEOPLE AND FIREARMS

  4.1  The issue of young people and firearms is not one on which the HAC has requested evidence. However, the discussions of the FCC dealt with this issue in association with that of air rifles, and it is therefore proper to set the previous chapter in context. In this discussion, we would differentiate between "children", broadly those aged 13 and under, and "young people", those aged 14 to 17. It was noted that in Scotland, young people were regarded as "adults" in law at the age of 16.

  4.2  Setting aside the misuse of air weapons, there was no evidence to suggest that young people had been using licensed firearms in serious crime. The FCC was divided as to the best approach to young people and firearms. The FCC noted the suggestion that young people should not handle firearms at all, but most members did not support this idea. As with many other moral issues, this was a matter on which parents should be free to decide whether their children should become involved in such activities. Target shooting was an established part of the activities of the Scouts and the Cadet forces, recently re-affirmed in the case of the former. The case that shooting sports might be permitted for adults but were unacceptable for young people was not made out to the FCC.

  4.3  The FCC considered that all shooting by children, who might reasonably be distinguished from young people as those under 14, should only take place under adult supervision. Apart from the potential for misuse or dangerous accidents, it was proper within the context of the lawful use of firearms that children should be taught safe and responsible firearms handling. Such a provision would also give the police clear authority to deal with children found in possession of firearms without supervision.

  4.4  The FCC were divided on the issue of whether young people, broadly those aged 14 to 17, should be allowed to handle firearms without supervision. On the one hand, a supervision requirement might allow the police to deal more effectively with airgun crime. As with other offences of possession, for example of knives and offensive weapons, it would allow the police to head off the risk of hooligan behaviour. The chance of being caught while going to or from the site of airgun misuse may help deter hooligans who currently could carry airguns without interference.

  4.5  On the other hand, the police may meet with practical problems in enforcing such a measure effectively. There were occasions where young people might need to carry firearms without supervision, for example while travelling to their local target-shooting club. Many teenagers living on farms were involved in vermin control with air rifles, .22 rimfire rifles and shotguns, almost wholly without incident.

  4.6  It should be made clear that these two positions are not absolutes. Those members who favoured allowing young people to shoot without supervision favoured maintaining or rationalising the existing controls that limited what access young people had to firearms. Those in favour of supervision accepted that there were limited circumstances where this might not be needed. In general, the FCC did not favour any relaxation of the current controls on the use of firearms by children or young people.

CHAPTER 5: CONTROLS ON SHOTGUNS

  5.1  This year the FCC has sought to consider two classes of shotgun as defined by law. The first are those with either no magazine or a restricted magazine, which may be held on a shotgun certificate. The second are those long-barrelled, fixed stock, pump-action or self-loading shotguns with a large magazine, which may be held on a firearm certificate.

  5.2  Discussions about the current controls on the first type of shotguns are ongoing. The FCC has been asked to consider whether these might be placed on the same level of controls as other firearms subject to certification, effectively abolishing the separate shotgun certificate.

  5.3  The FCC are unable to offer views on this subject without further consideration. However, the FCC would note that this is a complex subject with a range of direct and indirect impacts on firearms licensing. As such, it warrants particularly careful consideration before any changes to the law are made.

  5.4  The FCC would note that in its 3rd Annual Report, the issue of licensing the individual rather than the type of firearm was discussed and supported. This may be relevant to the broader consideration of the licensing system as a whole.

  5.5  The FCC would also note that most of the parties with an interest in this subject will be submitting evidence to the HAC inquiry on their own account. We would suggest that there is little or nothing that the FCC could put before the HAC at this stage that will not be provided by other parties.

  5.6  Large magazine long-barrelled shotguns, as they can only be held on a firearm certificate, are discussed under "Other Certificated Firearms" below.

CHAPTER 6: THE 1997 HANDGUN BANS

  6.1  The FCC considered the issues of the Firearms (Amendment) Acts 1997 as part of its work programme for that and the subsequent year. Extracts of the relevant sections of the two reports for those years are included at Annex D[23]. The FCC has received suggestions from members of the public that it should seek to examine the handgun ban with a view to its repeal. The FCC has not taken up this idea.

  6.2  The practical aspects of the surrender of handguns are more a matter for ACPO and ACPO(S) than the FCC. However, the FCC would note that it has received no evidence to suggest that, apart from a handful of isolated cases, any handguns may have been retained illegally.

  6.3  The FCC would also wish to note the numbers of handguns held under the exemptions under sections 2-7 of the 1997 Act. During the past year, the FCC has not received any evidence that these have been misused.

  6.4  During its work programme for this year, the FCC has considered the use of illegally-held firearms in crime, and means to restrict these as far as practical in the interests of public safety. It is understood that from the available Home Office statistics that the handgun is, and remains, the most commonly used firearm in serious criminal activity. Due to its small size and concealability, this is the most sought-after type of firearm for routine carriage by those involved in the drugs trade. Other types of firearm used by criminals over the past year, such as the MAC-10 sub-machine gun and the AK47 assault rifle, are of a type prohibited in the UK since 1934.

  6.5  The FCC appreciates that Parliament did not intend the handgun ban to be a general solution to the problem of armed crime. However, it would suggest that the HAC at least bears in mind the dimension of illegal possession and misuse of firearms, and resists any confusion between the banning of legally-held handguns with the removal of handguns in general from circulation. We understand that the Home Office intend to publish the available firearms statistics for 1998 at the end of October and we look forward to these with interest.

  6.6  In this respect we would draw the HAC's attention to the recommendations on replica and de-activated firearms set out in chapter 2 of this memorandum. It is arguable that the danger posed to public safety by any type of firearm may be measured by the extent to which these are actually used in serious crime, and the FCC would suggest that further consideration of controls on firearms should have regard for this principle.

CHAPTER 6: OTHER CERTIFICATED FIREARMS

  6.1  The FCC intends to consider controls on a number of types of firearm as part of its work programme, and discussions of these are ongoing. The FCC has had an opportunity to consider three types of firearms in particular on which it would like to offer its view to the HAC. These are muzzle-loading revolvers, gallery rifles (pistol calibre carbines) and large-magazine shotguns. In the context of this last class of firearms, it is proper to include the FCC's discussions on the wider issues of practical shooting activities.

Muzzle-loading Revolvers

  6.2  The FCC first considered the issue of muzzle-loading revolvers in its Ninth Annual Report (1997-98). Rather than seek to re-write the comments made at the time, these are reproduced as Annex E[24] to this submission.

  6.3  The FCC committed itself to keep this issue under review, and during this year we have had an opportunity to look again at this issue some 18 months on. We understand from the Muzzle-Loaders Association of Great Britain (MLAGB) that interest in these firearms has reached a plateau over the past year, with some 187 affiliated clubs and 2,278 individual members as of August this year, rising from 70 and 2,047 of these in September 1997.

  6.4  No events have occurred to change the initial views of the FCC that changes to controls on these items are not needed. In particular, the FCC is not aware of any evidence of any increase in crimes being committed using such items, either using legally held or illegal examples. It is understood that some four crimes have been committed using such items in the past 20 years or so, none in recent years, which is minimal in comparison with most other types of firearms.

  6.5  The FCC notes the concerns of ACPO(S) and the GCN that these items are potentially dangerous due to their small size and high rate of fire, though police concerns have been met to some extent by restrictions on spare cylinders. While members would agree that these are comparable to other types of firearms subject to section 1 of the 1968 Act, there was no general support on the Committee for banning these items.

  6.6  In particular, the FCC has sought in previous years to work on the Constitutional presumption that Parliament is assumed to understand its business. Therefore, it would not be proper of the FCC to suggest that Parliament permitted the use of muzzle-loading revolvers through a misunderstanding of the draft Bill, even if the practical aspects of this were in dispute.

Gallery Rifles

  6.7  As with muzzle-loading revolvers, the FCC first considered the issue of gallery rifles in its Ninth Annual Report (1997-98). Rather than seek to re-write the comments made at the time, these are reproduced as Annex F[25] to this submission.

  6.8  The FCC has returned to this issue in order to ensure that it is kept under review. From the information available, the FCC has no reason to change its initial views on this issue.

  6.9  The National Rifle Association (NRA) has organised target shooting disciplines for gallery rifles that have run successfully and without incident over the past two and a half years. The National Small-Bore Rifle Association (NSRA) has organised a parallel set of shooting disciplines for .22 "light gallery rifle". We understand that clubs affiliated to the NRA including the Police Athletics Association (PAA) have adopted the gallery rifle for sporting purposes on much the same basis as the other shooting enthusiasts, as a rifle with a sufficiently low muzzle energy that it can be used safely on target ranges designed for pistols. As with muzzle-loading pistols, we understand that the initial interest in these items has reached a plateau, with an estimated 5,000 shooting enthusiasts owning such rifles.

  6.10  The FCC appreciates the concerns of ACPO(S) and the GCN that gallery rifles are generally shorter than other rifles and with a potentially high rate of fire. However, most "small firearms" were prohibited in 1997 for this reason, and gallery rifles fall well outside the limits of 30cm barrel and 60cm overall length set by Parliament for such "easily concealable weapons". The technology of lever-action weapons with tubular magazines is a Victorian design, largely superseded by more modern designs this century. There has been no evidence to suggest that the growth in legitimate use of these weapons has been matched by any growth in their criminal misuse from a minimal baseline. On this basis, the FCC would recommend that the current level of controls on these items should be maintained.

Large magazine shotguns

  6.11  The FCC have considered the issue of large-magazine, fixed-stock pump-action and self-loading shotguns of the kind subject to Section 1 of the 1968 Act. The HAC will wish to note that pump-action and self-loading shotguns with restricted magazines may be held on a shotgun certificate, and short-barrelled "assault shotguns" were prohibited under Section 5 of the Act. For simplicity, the term "large-magazine shotgun" is used to describe only those subject to Section 1 of the Act. The classification of shotguns has been accepted as a point of potential confusion and the FCC would wish to warn the HAC of the scope for this.

  6.12  Large magazine shotguns of this kind are one of the few classes of firearms subject to Section 1 of the 1968 Act and which have any serious record of use by criminals. These are often sawn down, removing much of the butt-stock and the barrel in order to make them more concealable, and thus taking them into Section 5 of the Act. We understand from the Forensic Science Service that the misuse of such weapons rose in the 1980s, but has remained steady during the last decade. Misuse of the full-length versions of these items has been rare.

  6.13  Apart from "practical" shooting sports, the main use of large-magazine shotguns is for vermin control. There are occasions in dealing with large numbers of vermin, in particular wood pigeon and corvids (rooks and crows), where a comparatively high rate of fire over a short period of time is needed to deal effectively with these pests.

  6.14  The FCC notes that large-magazine shotguns are not permitted lightly for most vermin control where a Section 2 shotgun would be more appropriate. On the other hand, both ACPO(S) and the GCN accept in principle that firearms of this type may have a legitimate use for agricultural purposes. On this basis, the FCC would suggest that a proper balance on this point has been struck and that no change to the law in this area is necessary. The FCC notes that both ACPO(S) and the GCN will be making their own submissions on this issue.

  6.15  The FCC also note that pump-action and self-loading shotguns are more capable than most double or single-barrelled shotguns of handling steel shot and other loads required due to the ban on lead shot over wetlands. In this respect the FCC would suggest that Government policies may be increasing the pressure on shooters to move to such weapons.

Practical Shooting Disciplines

  6.16  Apart from vermin control, the main use of large-magazine shotguns at present is for "practical" shooting disciplines. Discussions about control of these items are likely to centre around their use for this purpose and it may therefore be worthwhile setting out the views of the FCC on this subject.

  6.17  Most shooting activities have their roots in hunting or military training activities. Many of these have become stylised as formal shooting disciplines, with any training purpose taking a secondary or non-existent role. Clay pigeon shooting would be an example of the former, and the Olympic Modern Pentathlon, based on the activities needed of a military messenger at the turn of the century, would be an example of the latter (including running, swimming, horse-riding, sword-fighting and pistol shooting). Most military training and civilian target shooting with rifles involves similar shooting at a known target array, at known distances from a set position.

  6.18  From the 1900s onwards following the Second Anglo-Boer War, however, police and military training in firearms use have involved a greater element of "realism". This included both the shooter moving and targets moving into sight, reflecting the actual circumstances of close combat situations. Some civilian target shooters have sought to adapt this form of training as a sport, and shooting disciplines of this kind are generally referred to as "practical" shooting disciplines. Some of these are modelled on military and police training exercises, some owe much to adventure fiction and the use of firearms in film and theatre, and some are more abstract and closer to conventional shooting disciplines.

  6.19  A number of different points of view were put forward on the acceptability or otherwise of these activities as part of target shooting in the UK. The main groups active in this area are the United Kingdom Practical Shooting Association (UKPSA) and the British Western Shooting Society (BWSS). The BWSS are enthusiasts for "End of Trail" shooting, a series of activities based on what shooting sports cowboys in the "Old West" might have done for amusement, this activity being carried out in appropriate Western costume and with the weapons of the period.

  6.20  ACPO(S) and the GCN take the view that "practical" shooting is unacceptable and should not be permitted. The origins of such practice lay in training in the use of firearms to kill. As such, it was not a fit subject for "amusement", and was likely to attract those with an unhealthy attitude towards firearms and to encourage such an attitude.

  6.21  Other members take the view that the main issues for the authorities were the safety of such activities on the range and the suitability of the participants to possess firearms. If both of these points were satisfied, the authorities should have no concern about the costumes, design of targets and courses of fire involved. If the authorities were concerned, especially about the suitability of the people involved, then these should not be trusted to possess firearms in the first place.

  6.22  The majority of members took a view midway between these. They acknowledged that the vast majority of participants in such activities wished merely to take part in challenging shooting sports. The responsible organisations in this field, such as the UKPSA, had taken steps to restrict and remove those elements of the sport that were considered either distasteful or unsafe. On this basis, members felt it appropriate that the authorities should permit the use of firearms for these purposes.

  6.23  On the other hand, members did not support or condone the more extreme aspects of practical shooting. In particular, scenario-based activities involving simulated bodyguard activities, "house clearance" and firing from moving vehicles were considered both distasteful and potentially unsafe.

  6.24  The recent appeal case of "Lawrence v The Chief Constable of Merseyside", heard at Liverpool Crown Court earlier this year, illustrates the main issues in some depth. The FCC would commend the text of this judgement to the HAC as setting out the main issues in this field and distinguishing between the different aspects of "practical" shooting.

EXPANDING AMMUNITION

  6.25  The FCC would wish to draw the attention of the HAC to its views on the control of expanding ammunition in paragraphs 2.10 and 2.11 of its Eighth Annual Report, as set out at Annex D25 of this submission, and further in its Ninth Annual Report (Annex G25 of this submission). The FCC has received no evidence to alter its views on the continuing problems created by the ban on expanding ammunition and continues to question whether this ban serves a useful purpose.

CHAPTER 7: THE FUTURE OF THE FCC

  7.1  The HAC has specifically asked the FCC to comment on its present role and potential future. This is a matter on which the FCC last commented in its Ninth Annual Report, and its views at the time are reproduced in Annex H[26].

  7.2  This year the FCC has looked again at its role and composition in the light of the changes made by the Secretary of State earlier this year and the Committee's work over this year. In general, the FCC believes that the conclusions it reached last year are valid. It is acknowledged that for any group to press for its own continuation is likely to be met with some scepticism. On this basis, the FCC feels it appropriate to set out its view in some detail.

  7.3  The first issue is whether there is a need for a consultative body of this kind at all. The consensus of the police, officials and shooting organisations represented on the FCC is that it is useful. It serves as a forum for discussion and as a means of achieving greater understanding between all the parties concerned. Given the range of issues continuing and emerging over the years, there is little danger of it standing idle. Even should it meet less frequently, it would be easier for the Secretary of State to gather an existing panel of experts than set one up from scratch. Membership is not paid, and the willingness of members to give up their time for this work may help illustrate its value. The FCC would note that ACPO(S), having expressed concerns about the FCC in the past, now broadly supports the FCC in its present composition.

  7.4  The terms of Section 22 of the 1988 Act by which the FCC was established require its members to have "knowledge and experience" of firearms matters. We believe that this is a valuable provision, and combined with the FCC's statutory authority gives its recommendations a level of standing that would be difficult to achieve by other means.

  7.5  It is noted that groups of experts in any field are prone to reflect the established wisdom of their field and be open to partisan views on their areas of interest. However, the Secretary of State is free within the statutory constraints of Section 22 to appoint any individual or combination thereof that he sees fit. He is also free to disagree with or not accept the advice of the FCC.

  7.6  The FCC considered whether its composition might be altered to move away from an "expert" committee to something more akin to a "jury" of ordinary people. However, the latter role lies properly through Parliament, and the current work of the HAC illustrates this role.

  7.7  The FCC also considered whether the current system of ad hominem appointments to the FCC might be replaced by ex officio appointments, with each member representing a particular body or group. The FCC felt that on balance this was not desirable. Members were already able to bring the views of particular groups to the FCC, but were not constrained to act solely as delegates putting forward a "party line". They were therefore free to debate the issues and bring their own expertise to bear on problems, reaching a consensus that may be of more use to the Secretary of State than a series of sterile confrontations on difficult issues. The proposals of the FCC on de-activated and replica firearms set out in Chapter 2 are a good illustration of what can be achieved through this approach.

  7.8  The FCC would also wish to bring to its attention the use of sub-groups to deal with the more complex and technical issues. Apart from reducing the burden on the main FCC, the sub-groups have allowed the invitation of people from outside the main FCC who bring particular knowledge and experience to discussions. It would be open to the FCC in future years to invite a broad spectrum of interested parties to sub-group meetings in order to ensure that criticisms of controls, for example in the media or by lobbying groups, are properly discussed. The FCC also takes evidence from interested parties and outside bodies, giving it a broader basis of evidence from which to reach its conclusions.

  7.9  The Secretary of State will wish to review the continuation and composition of the FCC later this year. With the proviso that the Secretary of State will properly wish to review both the appointment of individuals and the overall balance of viewpoints on the FCC, we would wish to argue strongly for its retention in broadly the current form.

October 1999


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