Memorandum by the Firearms Consultative
INQUIRY INTO CONTROLS OVER FIREARMS
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)
CHAPTER 1: INTRODUCTION:
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
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
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.
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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