Select Committee on Home Affairs Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Supplementary note by the British Association for Shooting and Conservation


  I write further to comments made by Mr Hart at the first session of oral evidence on Tuesday.

  When the matter of antiques was raised, Mr Hart expressed some concern that they might be "reactivated". On that basis, he appears to misunderstand the position which exists concerning antique firearms.

  The matter of antique firearms being reactivated is not an issue as these firearms are never deactivated in the first place. Indeed, there could be no justification for such a requirement given the historical importance of such guns combined with potentially high financial values. An antique firearm which was deactivated would be worthless in the wider market and such an action would also amount to the destruction of both national and international heritage.

  Section 58(2) of the Firearms Act 1968 allows antique firearms which are possessed as curiosities or ornaments to be owned outside of the normal firearms certification process. You will see from this that there are two tests which must be satisfied before this exemption can be claimed.

  The first test is that the firearm concerned must be an antique. Whilst there is no statutory definition of an antique, the Home Office has issued useful guidance over the years which has provided a foundation for what might be considered to be an antique firearm. In a nutshell, the guidance is as follows.

  Original muzzle loading arms, eg muskets, blunderbusses, duelling pistols etc which were manufactured prior to the outbreak of war in 1939 are considered to be antiques.

  Firearms with transitional ignition systems such as capping breech loaders, needlefire, pinfire and similar systems are also considered to be antiques.

  All firearms using rimfire cartridges (other than .22 or 9mm) are also considered to be exempt. .22 and 9mm rimfire cartridges are readily available in the commercial market.

  Thereafter, a detailed schedule of firearms which use obsolete centrefire cartridges has been drawn up between interested parties and the Home Office. Any original firearm which is chambered for one of the cartridges which appears on this schedule is considered to be an antique. Examples of such firearms would be Snider, Martini Henry, Remington rolling block and similar rifles. In addition, a small number of obscure revolvers and self loading pistols are covered by this category.

  This revised guidance has been in force since 1992 and has worked well. The Forensic Science representative on the Working Group which set this up, Mr Tom Warlow, reports that the firearms which are covered by the antique guidance seldom if ever feature in crime and their unregulated possession poses no threat to society. Indeed, in my experience as a forensic firearms examiner of some 10 years, I am unable to recall an instance where a firearm of this type was used in crime. The Working Group used the principle of potential risk of criminal use as its overarching principle in drawing up the list of obsolete calibres.

  Earlier this year, the then Home Office Minister, Mr Paul Boateng MP, indicated to the Firearms Consultative Committee that he would like it to consider the issue of antiques again. The FCC set up a Working Group which included Mr Warlow, police representatives as well as myself, David Penn and Mr George Yannaghas who is a prominent dealer in antique firearms and an expert in early ammunition.

  The group considered the matter of antique firearms again and concluded that the current approach had been very successful and that the schedule of obsolete cartridges could be expanded without any concomitant danger to public safety. The group's report is in the recently published report of the Firearms Consultative Committee. Obviously, it is now a matter for the Minister to decide whether he will accept the FCC's recommendations and uprate the guidance accordingly. My colleagues in the Home Office have indicated that prior to taking a view on this matter, the Minister would wish to hear the views of the Home Affairs Committee.

  I would commend the FCC's recommendations to the Committee and I would be grateful if you would cause the relevant section of the Committee's report to be placed before Mr Corbett with a request that it be circulated to other members.

  Mr Hart did not expand upon his concerns over "reactivated" antique firearms. On that basis, I am unable to address any specific issue which may have prompted him to make that comment. Nonetheless, I would wish the Committee to know that those firearms which are considered to be antiques for the purposes of Section 58(2) of the Firearms Act 1968 do not pose any threat to public safety. They do not figure in crime and by their very nature, they are wholly unattractive to armed criminals.

  The exemption also includes the test that firearms such as these may only be kept as curiosities or ornaments. It is generally accepted that this means that they may not be fired. People who wish to fire such guns will inevitably obtain the requisite authority to do so by applying for Firearm and Shotgun Certificates in the normal manner. In my experience, clubs are very strict about this and will require anybody who brings an antique firearm for use on a range to satisfy club officials that it is properly certificated.

  If the Committee wishes to raise the matter of antiques on Tuesday, I will hold myself ready to help them wherever I can.

Bill Harriman

Head of Firearms

10 December 1999

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2000
Prepared 13 April 2000