Supplementary note by the British Association
for Shooting and Conservation
LETTER FROM MR BILL HARRIMAN TO THE CLERK
OF THE COMMITTEE
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
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
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
If the Committee wishes to raise the matter
of antiques on Tuesday, I will hold myself ready to help them
wherever I can.
Head of Firearms
10 December 1999