Select Committee on Home Affairs Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum by the British Association for Shooting and Conservation


  1.  BASC is the largest shooting organisation in the UK with over 130,000 members. Our Firearms Department provides research, policy development and technical advice in order to promote the safe and responsible use of firearms in shooting sports.

  2.  Shooting brings benefits to the UK economy and the conservation of the countryside. Total expenditure on shooting in the UK amounts to £653 million per annum and the sport is a major incentive for the protection and management of wildlife habitats. In addition, shooting is an extremely popular sport which is enjoyed by and open to all sections of society. It is one of the few sports where the disabled and able-bodied compete on equal terms.

  3.  There is an important distinction between the responsible use of legal firearms for sporting purposes and the illegal misuse of firearms by criminals. It is the problem of illegal misuse of firearms in crime which needs to be addressed.

  4.  BASC urges better education and enforcement of the existing legislation relating to air weapons to improve safety awareness and prevent potential abuses. We make various suggestions to achieve that end.

  5.  The licensing system relating to firearms and shotguns is extremely rigorous and there is no evidence to suggest that the current arrangements cause any negative impact on public safety. BASC therefore recommends that changes to the licensing system are limited to those designed to improve the efficiency of administering the system.

  6.  Our recommendations to improve the licensing system include: a follow-up inspection by Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary to establish best practice amongst police forces in administering the system, the re-establishment of the Firearms Fees Working Group to create a model on which firearms fees can be fairly and transparently calculated; the creation of a centralised Civilian Firearms Licensing Board to release police resources from administrative tasks; and the creation of a quasi legal appeals tribunal to provide an efficient mechanism for resolving licensing disputes.

  7.  BASC agrees with Home Office guidance relating to young people that they should be properly taught in the safe use of firearms. The current law relating to the possession, acquisition and use of firearms by young people is complicated but poses no threat to public safety. However, we recommend a combined approach which would improve the system without adding unnecessary restrictions.


  The British Association for Shooting and Conservation (BASC) is pleased to submit a Memorandum to the Committee.

  1.1  The BASC was founded in 1908 as the Wildfowlers' Association of Great Britain and Ireland and is the UK's largest shooting organisation with in excess of 130,000 members. It is constituted as an Industrial and Provident Society and is the national representative membership body for sporting country shooting. BASC promotes and protects shooting and the wellbeing of the countryside throughout the UK and overseas, and in particular, promotes good firearms licensing practice, training, education, scientific research and practical habitat conservation. BASC believes that all who shoot must conduct themselves according to the highest standards of safety, sportsmanship and courtesy, with full respect for the law and their quarry, and a practical interest in wildlife conservation and the well being of the countryside.

  1.2  BASC is committed to entering into partnership with statutory bodies and other groups whose interests overlap. Joint Statements of Common Interests backed by action plans have been signed with English Nature, Scottish Natural Heritage, Environment and Heritage Service Northern Ireland and the Countryside Council for Wales. In addition, local accords are regularly entered into, for example that involving the management plan for the North York Moors. BASC has established and maintained close links with police wildlife liaison and rural beat officers as part of its campaign against rural crime and poaching.

  1.3  BASC's expertise in firearms matters is widely recognised and it is routinely consulted by a variety of government departments and agencies (including the Home Office, LANTRA, the Health & Safety Executive) and other statutory and non-statutory bodies. BASC is unique amongst shooting organisations in that it has an integral firearms department. Its personnel are listed below.

    Head of Firearms. Bill Harriman, BSc, MAE. 25 years experience in the industry. Former Territorial Army Officer. Specialising in firearm law, antique and heritage firearms.

    Technical Firearms Officer. George Wallace. 40+ years of experience of sporting firearms. Specialising in rifles and ballistics.

    Firearms Research and Policy Officer. Mike Eveleigh. Former police officer of 30 years service. Specialising in databases and statistical analysis.

    Secretary. Anne Hubbard. Specialising in advice to BASC members concerning certification problems.

  All executive staff are recognised by the Law Society as expert witnesses in the field of firearms, ammunition and ballistics.

  1.4  Over one million people participate in shooting sports in the UK. This is more than in rugby, hockey, athletics, sailing, motor sports, skiing, gymnastics and climbing. A significant proportion of this number participate in country shooting. This includes traditional game shooting, wildfowling, rough shooting, pest and predator control, deer management and clay target shooting.

  1.5  Country shooting brings significant ecological, biodiversity and conservation benefits. These are recognised in the Government document "Biodiversity: The UK Action Plan"[27]. Paragraph 6.89 makes the link between shooting and conservation: "Hunting and shooting in particular influences the management of large areas of land. Many wildlife habitats and landscape features are created or maintained through the action of those sporting estates. For example, extensive upland areas are managed as heather moorland for grouse shooting and deer stalking. Providing game cover is a major reason for retaining and planting woods. Without fieldsports, it is arguable that many copses, certain spinnies and hedgerows would not exist."

  1.6  Wildfowling clubs in England manage over 105,000 hectares of coastal land, 90 per cent of which is within Sites of Special Scientific Interest. Gamekeepers have a management interest in 5.25 million hectares of land, 50 per cent of which has a conservation or landscape designation. Shooting is a major incentive for the protection and management of wildlife habitats. Farmers with an interest in game shooting spend on average 25 per cent more on landscape improvement than those with no sporting involvement.

  1.7  Shooting brings work and revenue into the countryside and contributes significantly to the UK economy. In 1996, direct expenditure on shooting and stalking in the UK amounted to £402 million. Indirect expenditure amounted to £251 million. In 1993, the export of goods associated with shooting and stalking amounted to £39.7 million. The retail value of produce associated with shooting and stalking sold in the UK in 1995 is estimated between £55.3 and £72.4 million[28].

  NB Sections 2, 3 and 4 in this Memorandum are direct responses to the principal questions posed in the Home Affairs Committee's Press Notice dated 14 July 1999. This notice also invites the submission of evidence on related matters. Sections 5 to 13 deal with related matters of interest to BASC.


  2.1  Air weapons or CO2 powered firearms are used extensively for pest control on agricultural land, particularly for the humane despatch of rabbits, wood pigeons, rats and avian predators. They are extremely useful in situations where it would be inappropriate or dangerous to use a cartridge firearm because of its power or noise level. For example, airguns can be used near livestock, in hen houses, other farm buildings and residential dwellings without causing damage to the fabric of the building.

  2.2  Air rifle shooting is also very popular, and at its most advanced proceeds to an Olympic sport. Air weapons are particularly important for disabled shooters since they generate very little recoil. The British Paraplegic Shooting Association (BPSA) says that the sport "not only helps to teach balance and co-ordination between eye, mind and limb, but also increases self-esteem and aids integration into society". (Letter to Peers, Firearms Amendment Bill, 1997). The BPSA estimates that there are 50,000 disabled men and women who shoot. This popularity has led to success for Britain. In the 1996 Paralympics, British disabled shooters won gold and silver medals in air target shooting events and set a new world record.

The extent of the problems caused, in both urban and rural areas, by misuse of air weapons[29]

  2.3  Between the years 1980 and 1994 a total of 9,673 homicides were recorded. During the same period, only nine of these cases of homicide involved an air weapon and in one of those cases, the air weapon was used as a blunt instrument. Discounting this case, the average incidence of homicides involving air guns is one in 1,200 cases.

  2.4  Between the years 1990 and 1996, the number of incidents of serious woundings with air weapons has remained more or less constant at about 200 cases per annum. The incidence of slight woundings has fallen dramatically from 1,853 in 1990 to 1,266 in 1996. These figures may be put into context by comparing them with recorded cases of violence to the person which have risen progressively from 1,847,000 to 2,393,000 over the same period. When seen in the context of violent crime generally, the proportion of offences which involve an air weapon is very small and falling.

  2.5  Between 1990 and 1996, the incidence of criminal damage involving air weapons rose from 3,351 to 5,861. This rise can be ascribed to the effect of inflation on the definition of criminal damage which records all damage to the value of £25 or greater. As such, it is unlikely that this represents a real rise in the abuse of air weapons over this period.[30]

Any inadequacies in the licensing control to prevent their abuse

  2.6  For the purposes of the prevention of crime and the preservation of public safety, air weapons are treated in exactly the same way as other firearms. The Firearms Act 1968 (as amended) contains extensive provisions to deal with offenders.[31] As might be expected in a penal statute, the majority of these offences are drawn on a strict liability basis. Also, on conviction provision exists for heavy fines and/or custodial sentences.

  2.7  The majority of air weapons in the UK fall below the legal limit for certification (these are set at 12 ft lbs and 6 ft lbs for air rifles and air pistols respectively).[32] To put these limits into perspective, the .22 rimfire rifle which uses the smallest commercially produced gunpowder cartridge produces muzzle energy levels of some 140 ft lbs.

  2.8  Although the majority of air weapons in the UK fall outside of the licensing system, they are subject to age limit controls. Persons under the age of 14 can only use an air weapon if supervised by a person of 21 or over. Between 14 and 17, young people may be given or borrow air weapons and may use them without supervision on land where they have permission to be. Those who use air weapons where no permission has been granted, commit the offence of armed trespass as well as other offences.

  2.9  On 23 June 1999, there was an Adjournment Debate in the House of Commons concerning the safety of air guns. The then Minister, Mr Paul Boateng MP spoke at length in that debate and formally noted that the current controls were having a beneficial effect on the number of incidents where people were injured with air guns, showing a steady year on year decline. BASC endorses his further comments: "There is no room for complacency. Our aim must always be to reduce the number of injuries by airguns to none. The figures are encouraging insofar as they go. Compared with the dreadful toll taken on our roads every year by the irresponsible misuse of that most widely owned possession, the motor car."

  On that basis, BASC believes that existing controls designed to prevent misuse are sound in principle and do not contain any fundamental inadequacies.

What further controls, whether by licensing or by additional restrictions on their use might usefully be introduced

  2.10  The most obvious control which might be introduced would be a total ban on possession and use of air weapons. BASC believes that this would be a disproportionate response to the dwindling problem of air gun abuse. Additionally, given that there are some four million air weapons already in circulation, any such retrospective prohibition would simply lead to mass non-compliance.

  2.11  Another potential solution might be to bring all air weapons within the firearms licensing regime. In BASC's opinion, this proposal would be unworkable as it would place massive administrative burdens on the police service for little, if any benefit. Also, BASC believes that senior decision-makers within the police service do not favour this solution for this reason. The comments of Sir James Sharples, former Chief Constable of Merseyside are instructive in this respect: "We are merely saying that with the scale of air weaponry that is around, if you had to extend the regulatory framework to that and the licensing provision to that, then the resources that would have been applied would be disproportionate in our view".[33]

  2.12  A rise in the age limit for unsupervised use has also been proposed in some quarters. BASC does not believe that this proposal would be effective because the small minority of irresponsible people who currently abuse air weapons (urban teenagers) would not obey new legislation in the same way as they already disobey existing law. Increased age limits would only affect the law-abiding majority of air weapon users, with no commensurate gain in public safety.

Potential solutions to the problem of air gun abuse

  2.13  In the recent Commons Adjournment Debate, Mr Boateng identified two limbs for dealing with the problem of air weapon abuse. These were enforcement of existing legislation together with a programme of education. BASC endorses this approach and believes that shooting associations have a major role to play in the education component of Mr Boateng's strategy.

  2.14  Enforcement of existing law is a matter for the police and the courts. BASC applauds the strategy adopted by regional crime squads in targeting potential armed criminals by the use of detailed local and community based intelligence. This appears to have had a significant effect in reducing the number of armed robberies in recent years. This approach could also be applied to air weapon abuse. In addition, the courts must be encouraged to hand down realistic sentences and to regard air weapons as real firearms and not merely toys. The Firearms Acts 1968-97 contain plenty of scope for prosecutions as does the Public Order Act 1988 and other legislation.

  2.15  BASC recommends that the suggestion made by Jeff Ennis MP in the Adjournment Debate about educational videos should be further investigated. In addition, the Home Office air weapon security leaflet and Codes of Practice put out by shooting organisations should be included in the packaging material of each new air gun sold. Such literature should be made available at outlets which sell second hand air guns.

  2.16  A further potential source of education to prevent air weapon misuse lies in the BASC initiative of Air Gun Awareness Days. These events are run in partnership with the local police, clubs and other interested parties. They aim to introduce young people to air gun shooting in a safe and responsible manner as well as discouraging those on the fringes who have an interest in air weapons but who might be tempted to misuse them. The Chief Constable of North Wales Police, Mr Michael Argent QPM, LLB has expressed his delight in learning of the success of such an event held at the North Wales Shooting School in May.[34] BASC commends such events to the Home Affairs Committee and hopes that it will endorse their wider application across all police force areas.

  2.17  BASC believes that the supply of air gun pellets could be better regulated in the case of non-gun trade outlets, eg sports shops and ironmongers. Trading Standards Officers should be encouraged to ensure that such outlets do not sell pellets to people who are under 17 in the same way as they police the sale of alcohol and tobacco.

  2.18  BASC believes that targeting police resources where localised problems of air weapon misuse are identified would be particularly effective in reducing such incidents. As part of that strategy, we therefore recommend that in these areas, community police officers should give presentations on safety and the law to schools, in association with local clubs and shooting groups.


  3.1  At the end of 1997, 686,294 Shotgun Certificates were on issue in England, Wales and Scotland. These Certificates covered more than 1.5 million shotguns, with an average of 2.2 shotguns held per Certificate. Around 250 million shotgun cartridges are used in Britain each year.

  3.2  Shotguns are used for a variety of purposes, including game shooting, wildfowling, rough shooting and pest control. In addition, a significant number are used for clay target shooting. Shotguns are also owned as examples of technological and sporting heritage and learned societies such as the Arms and Armour Society and the Historical Breech Loading Small Arms Association include shotguns in their areas of interest. Approximately 20,000 Shotgun Certificates are held by historical re-enactors.

  3.3  There is an enduring myth that shotgun shooting is a purely rural activity. Comments made by Chris Mullin MP illustrate this misconception. "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".[35] Farmers and gamekeepers use shotguns as part of their work, but most owners of shotguns hold them for sporting purposes. Most clay target grounds are close to urban areas and the majority of their clients are from an urban background. Those who are involved in live quarry shooting are drawn from many walks of life and urban dwellers form a significant proportion. On that basis, there is nothing to support the proposition that those who live in urban areas should be denied the right to possess shotguns and to enjoy shooting sports. Indeed, BASC is unaware of any other legislation that involves the licensing of controlled items which is based on the location or residence of the potential licensee and such a restriction would be totally unjustified.

  3.4  The lawful possession of shotguns depends on the grant of a Shotgun Certificate by the local Chief Constable for the area in which the holder resides. Rightly, Chief Officers have very wide powers of discretion in deciding whether to grant or renew a Shotgun Certificate (renewal is every five years). If a Chief Officer is satisfied that an individual cannot be permitted to possess shotguns without danger to the public safety or to the peace then he must refuse the Certificate. In addition, there are various statutory prohibitions which are designed to ensure that unsuitable persons do not possess shotguns. The criteria for possession includes what might be termed as a test of "negative resolution". This was imposed by the Firearms (Amendment) Act 1988. It provides that no Shotgun Certificate should be granted or renewed if the Chief Officer of Police has reason to believe that the applicant is prohibited from possessing a shotgun or is satisfied that the applicant does not have a good reason for possessing, purchasing or acquiring one.

  3.5  Applicants for Shotgun Certificates must provide a countersignatory who must state that he or she knows of no reason why the applicant should not be permitted to possess shotguns. In processing applications, the police are entitled to consider any factors indicating irresponsible behaviour into their decision making process and have the right to revoke Certificates immediately if the Certificate holder's behaviour gives any cause for concern. Also, as a result of changes incorporated into the Firearms Rules 1998,[36] the police may contact an applicant's doctor to obtain factual information about any medical condition.

  3.6  Each year, a small number of Shotgun Certificate applications are refused by the police (less than one per cent). BASC believes that this small number of refusals indicates that the system incorporates sufficient checks and balances to deter unsuitable persons from making applications for Certificates. Equally, the annual number of revocations of Shotgun Certificates is well under one per cent of the total number of Certificates on issue. Some ill-informed commentators have suggested that this indicates a lax attitude on the part of the police. However, BASC believes that it is proof positive that Shotgun Certificate holders are responsible people who realise that any untoward behaviour will result in the revocation of their Certificates and the subsequent loss of their sport.

The extent of the problems caused, in both urban and rural areas, by misuse of shotguns

  3.7  In terms of armed robbery, the pistol is the preferred weapon of the criminal. During the period 1980 to 1997, robberies involving firearms in England and Wales saw a massive rise from 1,149 to an all time high in 1993. Since then, the number has declined to 3,029, probably as a result of careful targeting of known armed criminals as a result of local intelligence gathered by the police. There is a wide body of research which suggests that robbery is rarely a first offence. Criminals tend to upgrade their activities towards robbery and as such, the majority will be prohibited persons under the Firearms Acts. Ipso facto, their firearms must be unlawfully held.

  3.8  Where homicide is concerned, the shotgun is still the most common firearm although the majority of cases involve shotguns which are illegally owned. A recent Home Office study looked at the numbers of legally held firearms used in homicide between the years 1992-94.[37] During this period, 13 legally held shotguns were used in homicide, primarily in domestic incidents. Whilst the misuse of any legally held firearm is entirely regrettable, in terms of the current number of Shotgun Certificates on issue, the figure for homicide is so small as to be statistically insignificant.

  3.9  Since the passage of the Firearms (Amendment) Act 1988, the number of Certificates on issue have fallen by over 25 per cent. From the official statistics, there is nothing to indicate that the additional restrictions imposed by the 1988 Act have had any discernible impact on armed crime.

Any inadequacies in the existing controls designed to prevent their misuse

  3.10  BASC has been unable to identify any inadequacies in the current shotgun licensing system which might be addressed to prevent shotgun misuse. The misuse of shotguns by Shotgun Certificate holders is already at a very low level. Where shotguns are held unlawfully and are used in crime, it is a matter for the police to enforce current legislation which is more than adequate to deal with offenders. Again, BASC supports and applauds any initiative by the police which targets resources against those persons who seek to use shotguns in crime.

What improvements to the present licensing system or to existing controls on their use might usefully be introduced

  3.11  The perceived problem within the current licensing system is that there is a test of negative resolution of "good reason" for possessing shotguns. This means that unless the Chief Officer can show otherwise, the applicant for a Certificate is assumed to have a good reason for acquiring a shotgun. BASC understands that the police service has concerns about this, but to date no evidence has been put forward to justify any change. It is sometimes argued that the current system allows a Certificate holder to amass large numbers of shotguns without any form of control. But the reality is that the average number of shotguns owned per Certificate is 2.2. In addition, Certificate holders have a statutory responsibility to take reasonably practicable precautions to secure their shotguns from unauthorised access when they are not in use. Most Firearms Licensing Departments are aware of the potential capacity of individual Certificate holder's security measures. If the Chief Officer believes that the Certificate holder is not storing his shotguns in a safe and secure manner, then the Chief Officer is at liberty to revoke the certificate.

  3.12  As previously stated, Chief Constables have the facility of immediate revocation in the event that a serious problem occurs with the Certificate holder.

  3.13  BASC believes that the current regime as it applies to shotguns operates on an efficient basis. The shotgun licensing regime does not seek to licence individual firearms, but makes an overall assessment of the suitability of an individual to own firearms of this particular class. BASC maintains that this is the best model of licensing practice. We therefore recommend that changes to the shotgun licensing system are limited to those designed to improve the efficiency of administering the system.


The extent to which the bans introduced in 1997 have been effective in removing handguns from circulation (including the means by which surrendered guns have been disposed of)

  4.1  During the months of July to September 1997, all Firearm Certificate holders who owned pistols were required to surrender these pistols unless they had been granted authority to retain them under exemptions at Sections 2-7 of the Firearms (Amendment) Act 1997. (These exemptions relate to slaughtering instruments, firearms used for the humane killing of animals, shot pistols for vermin, starting pistols, trophies of war and firearms of historic interest.) The second Amendment Act of 1997, repealed part 2 of the first Amendment Act, thus extending this prohibition to .22 calibre pistols within the strict confines of licensed pistol clubs.

  4.2  As a result of contacts with police licensing departments, BASC understands that the number of pistols held under the exemptions within the 1997 Act is very small. In addition, a small number of pistols have been exported to the continent where their owners continue to use them under foreign jurisdiction. BASC is unaware of any evidence which suggests that Firearm Certificate holders have managed to retain their pistols illegally and that all newly prohibited pistols which were held on the authority of Firearm Certificates have been properly accounted for by the police.

  4.3  On that basis, BASC believes that the 1997 ban on pistols has been very effective in removing them from legal civilian use. However, these bans have been completely ineffective in striking at the use of pistols in armed crime. Comments made by Roy Penrose, Director General of the National Crime Squad, to the effect that Britain's stringent gun control legislation is only effective in controlling legally held weapons are entirely correct.[38]

  4.4  Since the prohibition of the ownership of pistols, this class of firearm has continued to feature unabated in armed crime. High profile shooting incidents such as the murder of Jill Dando with a 9mm pistol in Fulham and the Yardie-style drive-by shooting of DJ Tim Westwood in Kennington confirm that the 1997 ban has done nothing to remove pistols from the criminal arsenal.

  4.5  BASC suggests that the cost of compensating former pistol owners (currently estimated at over £87 million) would have been better allocated to police budgets to target armed criminals, a strategy which clearly produces effective results.


Muzzle loading pistols

  4.6  Those pistols which are designed to be loaded at the muzzle end of the barrel or chamber with a loose charge and a separate ball are not subject to the general prohibition imposed by the Firearms (Amendment) Act 1997. Some of these pistols are of the revolver type, first perfected by Samuel Colt in 1836. Muzzle loading shooting enthusiasts use both originals and modern made replicas for the purposes of target shooting. Concerns have been expressed by some sections of the police service and by anti-firearms campaigners that the continuing lawful possession of such pistols on Firearm Certificates somehow poses a threat to public safety and is a de facto loophole in the overall prohibition on pistols.

  4.7  Percussion revolvers were used from 1836 onwards, but by 1870 were widely regarded as being obsolete, as a result of the introduction of breech loading revolvers using centrefire metallic cartridges. It is instructive to note that when the Canadian Government tried to sell its surplus Colt percussion revolvers in 1872, no buyer could be found as these were regarded as being obsolete, even then. Most muzzle loading revolvers are capable of firing five or six shots in quick succession, but they are complicated and time consuming to load as well as being unreliable.

  4.8  It has been suggested that in allowing an exemption for muzzle loading pistols, Parliament did not intend that multi shot revolvers should be subject to such an exemption. BASC contends that it is untrue to suggest that Parliament did not know its own mind when it passed the 1997 Act. The matter was extensively debated during the passage of the Amendment Bill.[39]

  4.9  Such muzzle loading revolvers are not used by criminals and BASC supports their responsible use in line with codes of practice issued by the governing body for this type of shooting, the Muzzle Loaders' Association of Great Britain.

Rifles using pistol and revolver cartridges

  4.10  Concern has also been expressed by the police service and anti-firearms groups about the use of these firearms. Examples of repeating firearms (normally of the Winchester/Henry lever action type) appeared in the mid 1860s. They are still manufactured today and are legitimately used for hunting or target shooting. The mere fact that they are chambered for pistol or revolver cartridges does not make them inherently dangerous. Their overall length (in the region of one metre) does not make them attractive to criminals. Also, as most use an obsolete tubular magazine system, it is not possible to shorten them for the purposes of concealment during criminal acts. Again, BASC supports their use by responsible target shooting and other bodies.

"Practical" Shooting

  4.11  Practical shooting differs from conventional target shooting in that it includes elements of movement and time, often against a variety of targets from different positions and locations. Again, concern has been expressed about this particular type of activity by the police service and certain anti-firearms groups. Over the last 10 years, there have been considerable discussions between the United Kingdom Practical Shooting Association (UKPSA), the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) and the Home Office concerning this activity. These discussions had set the boundaries of practical shooting sports within safe and acceptable limits and there is no recent evidence of abuse that would warrant a change to the status quo.

End of Trail shooting—British Western Shooting Society

  4.12  This type of shooting aims to enable participants to take part in a highly stylised form of shooting based on the firearms used in the American Old West. Participants are encouraged to don period costume and to take up individual "identities" of fictional 19th Century characters. The firearms used in this type of shooting are muzzle loading revolvers, lever action rifles and shotguns. Such shooting is conducted under strict range conditions and safety standards. As such, BASC supports it.


  5.1  The Firearms Acts 1968-1997 set out a series of age limits for the possession, acquisition and use of firearms by young people. These are summarised below.

Section 1 Firearms—rifles, muzzle loading pistols, flare pistols and some shotguns

  No-one under 14 years of age may use any Section 1 firearm except as a member of a Home Office approved club or at a shooting gallery where rifles no larger than .230 are used.

  From 14 onwards, young people may be granted Firearm Certificates if they satisfy the usual criteria. They may then be given or loaned firearms and may use them according to the conditions appended to the Firearm Certificate by the Chief Officer.

  From 17 onwards, the holder of a Firearm Certificate may hire or purchase firearms and ammunition in accordance with the terms of that certificate.

Section 2 Firearms—shotguns

  Young people under 15 years may not use shotguns unless they are supervised by a person over 21.

  Between 15 and 17 years, those young people who hold valid Shotgun Certificates may be given or loaned shotguns and may use them without supervision where they have permission to shoot.

  From 17 years onwards, Shotgun Certificate holders may buy a shotgun and ammunition.

Air Weapons

  Young people under 14 may use air weapons under the supervision of a person 21 or over. Both parties commit an offence if pellets stray from the boundaries of the land where shooting takes place.

  Between 14 and 17, young people may be given or loaned air weapons and may use them without supervision where they have been given permission to shoot.

  From age 17 onwards, air weapons and ammunition may be purchased or hired.

  5.2  This summary shows that the statutory age limits for the possession and use of firearms by young people are complicated. Different age limits apply for sporting rifles, shotguns and air weapons. From the standpoint of the ordinary person, it is virtually incomprehensible and is widely misunderstood. However, the system does not cause problems in terms of wider public safety.

  5.3  The Firearms Consultative Committee (FCC) has recommended that when a suitable legislative opportunity arises, the provisions as they relate to young people and firearms should be examined to ensure that unnecessary complexity or restrictions are removed. In addition, the FCC recommended that the Home Office should produce a leaflet which explains briefly and simply the firearms law as it relates to young people and which commends the value of training and safe supervision.[40] It is a matter of regret to BASC that neither of these sensible and practical recommendations have been taken up by Government.

  5.4  For all that the current legislation is complicated, BASC believes that it is based on sound principles. It recognises that as young people grow older, they become potentially more responsible and can be allowed to make more decisions for themselves and can be afforded an increased level of personal freedom. This principle is enshrined in other areas of law and BASC believes that it is soundly based. In endorsing this principle, BASC notes the sensible guidance given by the Home Office on the subject of young people and firearms. "It is in the interests of safety that a young person should be properly taught at a relatively early age."[41]

  5.5  The achievement of this objective is, however, currently hampered by an unnecessary restriction. Section 11 of the Firearms Act 1968 and Section 16 of the Firearms (Amendment) Act 1988 contain exemptions which allow non Certificate holders to use shotguns and rifles under supervision. BASC believes that these exemptions are very useful, particularly in respect of giving young people and others the opportunity to use and learn about firearms in a controlled and safe environment:

    Section 11(5) provides that the occupier of private premises (including land) may lend his shotgun to another person who may then use it on that land under his supervision in the occupier's presence.

    Section 16 allows a person over 17 years to borrow a rifle from the occupier of private premises or his servant and may use that rifle on the land and in the presence of the occupier or his servant subject to the conditions of the lender's Firearm Certificate.

  5.6  However, the exemptions at Section 11(5) of the 1968 Act and 16 of the 1988 Act are unduly restrictive in that they place an occupational/property based qualification on the person who lends the shotgun or rifle. Both these exemptions are written in terms that "an occupier of private premises" may lend a rifle or a shotgun to another person. The inclusion of the property qualification of occupier effectively disadvantages the majority of Certificate holders in this country as they do not qualify as occupiers and in the most part are merely licensees.

  5.7  In the case of the Section 16 exemption, this is extended to the servant of an occupier but is then further restricted by a minimum age limit of 17 years. This minimises the opportunity for those young people who wish to be properly taught in the safe use of firearms. BASC therefore recommends that these two exemptions should be repealed in favour of a single blanket exemption which permits an adult Certificate holder to lend any firearm to another person who may then use it in his presence on land where the Certificate holder has permission to be.

  5.8  This exemption would remove an unnecessary restriction on opportunity, particularly for young people. If this exemption were to be put in place, we would support the following simplified system relating to young people. The minimum age for the grant of a Shotgun or Firearm Certificate should be set at 14 years.

    —  Under 14 years. Firearms may be used under the supervision of an adult on property where permission has been granted to shoot.

    —  Between 14 and 17 years. Firearms may be used without supervision, where the relevant Certificate has been granted, where parental/guardian endorsement has been obtained and where they have permission to shoot. Firearms and ammunition may not be purchased or hired but may be received as a gift.

    —  Over 17 years. Firearms may be used without supervision and firearms and ammunition may be purchased or hired.

  5.9  BASC believes that if these age provisions were adopted then the system would be more readily comprehensible and young people and others would be afforded access to learn about safe firearms use in a controlled manner.


  6.1  Fee levels for firearms licensing were last raised in 1994. Evidence gathered by the ACPO Multi Force Firearm Scrutiny[42] showed that the average cost of issuing a Firearm Certificate within the seven forces studied was £24.13 against the statutory fee level £33. In addition, the fees for Firearm and Shotgun Certificates have constantly outstripped inflation since 1968.

  6.2  At the same time that the ACPO Survey was being conducted, BASC commissioned its own independent study of firearms licensing by Coopers & Lybrand, Deloitte[43]. The findings of this study mirrored those of the ACPO Survey. In particular, it concluded that "On the basis of current administrative practice in the police forces studied it appears that an application for a Firearm Certificate can be processed for well under half the current fee charged for both first grant and renewal."

  6.3  Across the UK, firearms licensing practice varies with each of the individual police licensing departments. Where such inconsistency exists, it is inevitable that some forces will be more efficient than others in dealing with the administrative process. This is confirmed by HM Inspectorate of Constabularies' Report of 1993[44] which was based on a thematic survey of a selection of 12 licensing departments. HMIC's report was severely critical of police licensing practices and concluded that many forces added their own local, additional criteria for the ownership of firearms and shotguns based on subjective views and opinions. "The shooting public are being subjected to differing local requirements, some of which border on the discriminatory, without apparent justification." In addition, the inspection showed that the service provided to the shooting public varied between excellent and very inefficient. Lastly, the efficiency of the firearms licensing operation could be improved and that most forces did not have any mechanism in place to evaluate the time cost of the four main categories which comprised the process.

  6.4  Since the publication of the HMIC report, no further Thematic Inspection of firearms licensing has been undertaken. Since that time, the provisions of the 1997 Firearms Acts have been implemented. BASC therefore recommends that another such inspection should be conducted by HMIC as a matter of urgency. BASC's experience suggests that the problems of inconsistency and inefficiency are still extant within police licensing departments. Until the police service as a whole operates according to nationally agreed standards, the basis upon which fees are calculated cannot be determined.

  6.5  During the 1980s, a Fees Working Group was set up by the Home Office, but this did not survive the Hungerford shootings in 1987. It is a matter of regret to BASC that this group has not been reconvened.

  6.6  BASC recommends that no further Fees Order should be introduced until a properly constituted Working Group has been set up to examine core costs.

  6.7  At the same time as the last Fees Order was announced, the then Home Secretary extended the validity of Firearm and Shotgun Certificates from three to five years. BASC believes that given the level of checks and balances in the system, combined with the newly granted ability for Chief Constables to review "good reason" within Certificate life, that this period is appropriate and that it should not revert to three years or indeed to any lesser span.


  7.1  In 1991, the Home Office produced its Models of Best Practice for firearms licensing. This area needs to be revisited and should be the subject of a properly constituted Home Office Working Group. During the 1990 consultation, representatives from shooting associations were excluded. Any future working group must include shooting representatives from an early stage. In addition, its findings should be submitted to the FCC for consideration and comment.

8.  THE FIREARMS ACTS 1968-1997

  8.1  Since the passage of the principal Act, its contents have been extensively modified by three Amendment Acts in 1988 and 1997(2). In addition, two further Firearms Acts have been passed, one in 1982 and another in 1994. As well as primary legislation, a wide variety of Statutory Instruments have been enacted, whichcomplement the statutes. The consequence of this is that there is now a complicated raft of legislation which is very difficult for practitioners to understand. In the case of the general public, it is virtually incomprehensible.

  8.2  In light of this, BASC recommends that consolidation legislation is enacted as a matter of urgency.


  9.1  Early in 1991, the Home Office issued a proposal to create a centralised firearms licensing authority which would remove this administrative function from police hands[45]. The main issues which it addressed were the inconsistency of practice between different licensing authorities, the widespread lack of expert knowledge of firearms matters within the police and overall value for money. It noted that a significant number of full time police equivalent posts was taken up in administrative work and suggested that such posts would be better targeted elsewhere for the detection and prevention of crime.

  9.2  The issues of quality of service (consistency and expertise) and value for money are still live and in BASC's experience, appear to be getting worse, rather than better.

  9.3  BASC's contact with firearms licensing managers suggests that the police service does not perceive firearms licensing as being a high priority operational function. As a result of this, many licensing managers find themselves under-resourced and depending where their department fits within the overall structure, at a low level within the financial hierarchy. Those departments which come under crime support or similar divisions find their budgeting cut to the bone as a result of financial priorities to deal with crime. Those departments who come under administrative divisions are generally better off, but are still afforded a low level of priority. A dichotomy here in that the police service does not properly resource firearms licensing but is singularly unwilling to relinquish it as a function.

  9.4  The proposal to create a civilian firearms licensing authority was formally rejected by the Home Secretary in 1994. In his report into the Dunblane shootings, Lord Cullen[46] also said that he did not favour the removal of the police from any of the functions concerned with the operation of the present system. This notwithstanding, BASC believes that the proposal for a single, civilian firearms licensing body has considerable merit and that it should be revisited.


  10.1  Section 44 of the Firearms Act 1968 allows a person who is aggrieved by the decision of a Chief Constable as it relates to certain firearms licensing functions to appeal to a Crown Court. In such cases, the Court sits in the place of the Chief Constable and the hearing is effectively an application, de novo. Although the Crown Court is principally a criminal tribunal, in such instances it sits in an administrative capacity. Consequently, appeals are conducted in the same way as a criminal hearing, with both sides represented by Counsel and instructing solicitors. Obviously, this is an expensive process and in BASC's experience, the average cost of an appeal in England and Wales is in the region of £4,000 to 5,000. In Scotland, the figure is very much higher and is in the region of £12,000.

  10.2  Such high potential costs act as a disincentive to ordinary people from taking apparent injustices to the Courts for resolution. In BASC's experience, most firearms licensing departments are unwilling to review their decisions or enter into any form of negotiation. This means that the only recourse against such decisions is for Certificate holders to apply to the Crown Court. In the majority of cases, most are unable to contemplate such levels of expense. In addition, appeals can take up to four months to come to Court and are generally afforded a very low priority by Listing Officers with some appeals being part heard over a number of days.

  10.3  BASC believes that this situation is entirely unsatisfactory if for no other reason that it seems inappropriate to burden a busy criminal tribunal with administrative matters.

  10.4  Whilst there is a right of appeal against the refusal to grant, vary or renew a Certificate or its revocation, there is no mechanism for appeal against the terms of an additional condition applied to a Firearm Certificate by a Chief Constable. This is contrary to the principles of natural justice and may encourage arbitrary, prejudiced or lazy decision taking such as brings the police service as a whole into both local and national disrepute. Any future legislation should include an explicit right of appeal against the wording or terms of an additional condition applied to a Firearm Certificate by a Chief Officer. This right is set out clearly as it relates to registered firearms dealers but does not apply to the ordinary Certificate holder.

  10.5  BASC recommends that there should be a quasi legal appeals tribunal along the lines of that which operates very successfully in the state of Victoria in Australia. Under this system, the majority of business is dealt with on a "case stated" system which is speedy and efficient. Additionally, the decision of a tribunal does not bind either party who may subsequently elect to go to law if they are dissatisfied with the tribunal's decision. However, in such appeals, the reason for the tribunal's decision would be before the Court. Unless it has erred seriously in law or new evidence appears, then it is unlikely that a Court would overturn it. BASC recommends that a quasi legal tribunal appeals system should be set up to provide a first step for resolving licensing disputes. Whilst recommending such a tribunal, BASC believes that it must operate as an adjunct to the fundamental right of challenging the decision of a Chief Officer at law.


  11.1  Section 9 of the Firearms (Amendment) Act 1997 imposes a general prohibition on the possession of ammunition which incorporates bullets which are designed or intended to expand upon impact. Section 10 then gives exemptions from this general prohibition for specific purposes which include the lawful shooting of deer, the shooting of wildlife as part of estate management, the humane slaughter of animals and the shooting of animals for the protection of humans or other animals.

  11.2  These provisions create considerable additional cost and inconvenience for hunters who are required by law to use expanding ammunition in the UK. Because of its prohibited nature, expanding ammunition can only be transported by specially approved carriers which adds to its overall cost. Police licensing departments are subject to additional administrative burdens in that they have to differentiate between loaded ammunition and loose bullets acquired for cartridge loading purposes on Certificates.

  11.3  The whole issue of expanding ammunition has been considered by the FCC. Its conclusion is instructive. "In his report Lord Cullen recommended that expanding ammunition be controlled because of its misuse in handguns; he did not address the wider need for expanding rifle ammunition. In the light of the general ban on handguns, the Government should consider whether the ban on expanding ammunition serves any useful purpose and, if not its repeal and we so recommend." BASC endorses this recommendation.


  12.1  BASC believes that the most important firearms issue which faces the UK is that of armed crime.

  12.2  The current situation is aggravated by lack of detailed information about the types of firearms which are used in crime together with their sources. Without this detailed information, it is difficult to act to staunch the supply of illegal firearms and to target those who seek to use them for criminal purposes. Previous academic studies have been inconclusive in determining the source of criminal firearms[47]. However, their work points to the fact that licensed firearms are seldom used in crime. This point needs to be uppermost in the minds of those who make decisions about the way in which firearms crime is tackled, not just to exonerate the law abiding shooting community but to concentrate police efforts on illegal firearms.

  12.3  BASC recommends that an in depth examination, analysis and appraisal of all firearms recovered in crime for a period of 12 months should be commissioned as a matter of urgency to provide an over-view of the firearms used by criminals in the UK.


  13.1  Anti-gun campaigners often refer to "a gun culture" which they perceive exists in the UK. This perception is unfounded, given the year on year decline of the number of Firearm and Shotgun Certificates on issue. The only evidence of a gun culture is amongst criminals who deal in drugs and certain groups of marginalised young people in inner cities.

  13.2  Within the UK social context, the private possession of firearms for legitimate purposes poses no significant threat to society. Information within a recent UN study shows that there is no active correlation between firearms ownership and homicide in society[48]. Countries such as Australia, Canada, Finland, Germany, New Zealand and Sweden have very high levels of firearms ownership but low homicide rates. Conversely, Jamaica has a very low level of firearms ownership, but a high rate of homicide. From this, it can be seen that across the board, international comparisons need to be treated with great care as data from them will contain a variety of cultural factors which need to be isolated before any meaningful conclusion can be drawn.

  13.3  The million or so UK citizens who wish to own firearms for a wide variety of legitimate purposes and who cheerfully submit themselves to the licensing regime with all of its checks and balances should not be regarded as some sort of cultural underclass outside of society.


  14.1  The current licensing procedures are extremely stringent and cause no risk to public safety. They can, however, be improved to ensure the system is applied more efficiently and consistently. This paper contains proposals which would achieve this objective.

  14.2  There is certainly no evidence to suggest that further restrictions in the law are necessary or justified. Training and education programmes complement strict legal requirements serving to promote the safe and responsible use of firearms amongst the sporting shooting community. BASC believes the real problem is that of the illegal misuse of firearms by criminals. Resources should be better targeted by all relevant agencies to tackle this fundamental problem.

13 October 1999

27   Biodiversity. The UK Action Plan. CM. 2428. HMSO 1994. Back

28   Figures in this section are based on the 1997 revision of Countryside Sports their Economic and Conservation Significance Survey by Cobham Resource Consultants for the Standing Conference on Countryside Sports 1992. This report contains expenditure and employment figures covering country and clay shooting only. It does not include target shooting. Back

29   All statistics are from Home Office Criminal Statistics for England and Wales. Back

30   Firearms Consultative Committee 8th Annual Report 1997 Para 4.8. Back

31   Sections 16-25 include possession of a firearm with intent to injure, carrying a firearm with criminal intent, trespassing with a firearm, carrying a firearm in a public place. Back

32   The Firearms (Dangerous Air Weapons) Rules 1969 SI 1969 No 47. Back

33   Home Affairs Committee Fifth Report. Possession of Handguns. Volume II. 24 July 1996. Paragraph 8. Back

34   Pers comm Michael Argent to BASC dated 9 June 1999. Back

35   Hansard 117 CD14-PAG1/33. Back

36   The Firearms Rules 1998. SI 1998 No 1941. Back

37   Reported in Hansard-9 June 1999. Back

38   Reported in PA News-laid as a paper for discussion by the FCC-FCC 99 5/16. Back

39   See Hansard November 1996 405 CD18-PAG 1/51 et sequi. Back

40   FCC 6th Annual Report 1995. Paras 6.14 and 6.15. Back

41   Firearms law: Guidance to the Police. HMSO 1989. Para 5.7. Back

42   Devon and Cornwall Constabulary. Multi Force Firearms Scrutiny. 1991. Back

43   Firearms Certification Study. A review of the firearms certification process with special emphasis on certification fees. Coopers & Lybrand, Deloitte and the Centre for Police and Criminal Justice Studies University of Exeter. 1991. Back

44   A Report of Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary. The Administration of Firearms Licensing. 1993. Back

45   Proposal to establish a National Firearms Control Board. Home Office March 1992. Back

46   The Public Inquiry into the shootings at Dunblane Primary School on 13 March 1996. The Hon Lord Cullen. CM 3386 October 1996. Back

47   Unpublished dissertation by Inspector Adrian Maybanks, Metropolitan Police 1991. Armed Robbery-A Study in London. Morrison & O'Donnell. Oxford University Centre for Criminological Research 1994. Back

48   A Report to the Secretary General of the United Nations on measures to regulate firearms (E/CN.15/1997/4). Back

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