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
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
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
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
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".
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
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
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. AIR WEAPONS
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
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.
Any inadequacies in the licensing control to prevent
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.
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).
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
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".
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
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.
BASC commends such events to the Home Affairs Committee and hopes
that it will endorse their wider application across all police
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
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
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,
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.
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
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.
4. OTHER FIREARMS
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
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
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
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.
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.
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 shootingBritish Western Shooting
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
5. AGE LIMITS
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 Firearmsrifles, 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
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 Firearmsshotguns
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
From 17 years onwards, Shotgun Certificate holders
may buy a shotgun and ammunition.
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
Over 17 years. Firearms may be used
without supervision and firearms and ammunition may be purchased
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. FEES FOR
6.1 Fee levels for firearms licensing were
last raised in 1994. Evidence gathered by the ACPO Multi Force
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.
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
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
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
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. THE POLICE
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
8. THE FIREARMS
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. A CIVILIAN
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.
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
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. APPEALS AGAINST
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
12. ARMED CRIME
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.
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
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.
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
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
13 October 1999
27 Biodiversity. The UK Action Plan. CM. 2428. HMSO
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
All statistics are from Home Office Criminal Statistics for England
and Wales. Back
Firearms Consultative Committee 8th Annual Report 1997 Para 4.8. Back
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
The Firearms (Dangerous Air Weapons) Rules 1969 SI 1969 No 47. Back
Home Affairs Committee Fifth Report. Possession of Handguns.
Volume II. 24 July 1996. Paragraph 8. Back
Pers comm Michael Argent to BASC dated 9 June 1999. Back
Hansard 117 CD14-PAG1/33. Back
The Firearms Rules 1998. SI 1998 No 1941. Back
Reported in Hansard-9 June 1999. Back
Reported in PA News-laid as a paper for discussion by the FCC-FCC
99 5/16. Back
See Hansard November 1996 405 CD18-PAG 1/51 et sequi. Back
FCC 6th Annual Report 1995. Paras 6.14 and 6.15. Back
Firearms law: Guidance to the Police. HMSO 1989. Para 5.7. Back
Devon and Cornwall Constabulary. Multi Force Firearms Scrutiny.
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
A Report of Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary. The Administration
of Firearms Licensing. 1993. Back
Proposal to establish a National Firearms Control Board. Home
Office March 1992. Back
The Public Inquiry into the shootings at Dunblane Primary School
on 13 March 1996. The Hon Lord Cullen. CM 3386 October 1996. Back
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
A Report to the Secretary General of the United Nations on measures
to regulate firearms (E/CN.15/1997/4). Back