Memorandum by the Shooting Sports Trust
THE CONTROL OF SHOTGUNS
(i) At the end of 1997 686,294 people in
Britain legally owned over 1.5 million shotguns and about 250
million cartridges are used per year. The sport and trade are
valued at £653 million per year with a significant proportion
of that money supporting a major rural industry.
(ii) Proposals to impose further restrictions
on shotguns and to substantially reduce numbers will be costly
in police time and effort both in administration and enforcement,
probably involving a five-fold increase in police workload. The
shooting community would also be subjected to substantial extra
cost and inconvenience and the net effect on the trade and the
sport would be devastating.
(iii) Before any such action is recommended,
any proposals must be weighed against criteria required by this
Government, and commended by the Prime Minister in the Better
(iv) Controls in firearms have been in place
since 1920, but shotguns were excluded until 1967. The large number
in circulation was balanced against low levels of misuse and the
damage that would be done to the trade and the sport.
(v) The first step in controlling shotguns
involved a certificate which related to the person. Further much
more restrictive measures were introduced in 1988. In neither
case did the controls produce a reduction in the use of shotguns
in crime, but the 1988 measures did reduce the number of shotgun
owners by over 21 per cent in the first renewal cycle. The reduction
now amounts to 30 per cent of the peak 1988 figure.
(vi) Statistical evidence shows that shotguns
are used in homicide more than any other class of firearm, but
the numbers are very low and further research shows that the use
of legally held shotguns is virtually restricted to domestic crime
or those involving jealousy etc. In this class of homicide the
outcome of a crime is highly unlikely to be affected by the availability
or otherwise of one type of weapon.
(vii) In all classes of homicide, the firearms
used are almost exclusively held illegally and further restrictions
will not affect their availability.
(viii) In crimes such as robbery pistols
are used much more frequently than shotguns and, prior to the
banning of pistols, the number of legally held shotguns exceeded
the number of legally held pistols by a factor of more than 15.
If availability was the key factor, shotguns should have been
used 15 times more frequently than pistols.
(ix) Proposals for stricter controls on
shotguns do not appear to be supported by hard evidence. If the
problem is examined critically and in accordance with principles
now promoted by this Government, calls for further restrictions
must be rejected.
(x) The Shooting Sports Trust is of the
view that current firearms legislation is so complex as to be
almost beyond comprehension and calls for a detailed, open and
properly considered review before any further measures are proposed
in any area of firearms control.
1. At its forthcoming hearings, the Parliamentary
Home Affairs Committee proposes to consider existing controls
on shotguns and proposals to change those controls. The Shooting
Sports Trust has conducted research in this field over a number
of years and is aware of proposals which have been made to further
restrict shotguns and to reduce the numbers in private hands.
2. The Shooting Sports Trust firmly believes
that, as in any consideration of proposed legislation, the principles
adopted by the present Government in its Better Regulations
Guide of 1999 should be applied, and suggests that the Committee
should adopt that approach in considering this question.
3. In particular, it is suggested that mere
opinion or speculation should not be admissible and that any proposals
which are made to the Committee should:
(a) state clearly the goals which the proposed
changes are intended to achieve;
(b) state clearly how any changes are likely
to attain the stated goal; and
(c) provide evidence to show that the proposed
changes are likely to achieve the goal either on the basis of
past experience or of some valid and sustainable indicators of
4. It is also suggested that the Committee
should set its own goals for any changes and should follow the
guidance provided by the Prime Minister in Section 1 of the Better
5. Controls on firearms were introduced
in 1920 as a result of the recommendations of an internal committee.
The Committee recommended that the ownership of rifles and pistols
be subject to a police certificate, but that shotguns should be
exempted because, "Cases are rare in which they are used
for any criminal or illegal purpose". The Committee provided
no evidence of the extent of misuse of shotguns or any comparison
with misuse of other firearms.
6. The question was considered further by
a Departmental Committee in 1936. In relation to ordinary sporting
shotguns, the Committee could find no reason to differ from the
view of the 1919 Committee. They noted, however, that shotguns
were responsible for more suicides and accidents than any other
class of firearm. They also noted that they were used more frequently
than other classes of firearm in cases of murder, attempted murder
and manslaughter, but they were not the favourite weapon of the
bandit and burglar. Unfortunately, the statistics provide no comparison
with those firearms subject to controls, such as pistols.
7. In the three years ended 28 February
1934 police reported that shotguns of the type now subject to
a shotgun certificate had been used in 378 suicides, 28 criminal
fatalities, 18 cases of criminal use involving serious injury
and 20 involving slight injury, 10 cases of criminal intimidation
and 18 cases where the criminal was found in possession. They
had also been involved in 161 fatal accidents, 111 accidents involving
serious injuries and 101 involving slight injuries. These figures
are not comparable with modern statistics except, perhaps, the
cases resulting in death, but they do provide a measure of shotgun
misuse at that time.
8. The Committee noted that ". . .
the numbers (of shotguns) in daily use by private persons far
exceeds those of any other type of firearm, (and) the figures
in the table are not surprising and cannot be regarded as excessive".
They recommended that shotguns should remain outside the system
of controls and the 1937 Act excluded shotguns with barrels exceeding
20 inches in length from certificate control.
9. Shotguns remained outside the system
of controls until 1967 when the first shotgun certificate was
introduced. This licensed the person without seeking to control
individual weapons and the legislation was framed so that a chief
officer of the police had to grant a certificate unless he had
reason to believe that the applicant was prohibited from possessing
shotguns (because of convictions for crime etc) or that the person
could not be permitted to possess shotguns without danger to public
safety or to the peace. To a very limited extent, the burden of
proof lay on the chief officer of police, but the burden provided
by a requirement to "have reason to believe" is very
10. Despite comment from some chief officers
of police there is no evidence to show that this provision resulted
in certificates being granted to unsuitable persons. Having regard
to the pressure later exerted by chief officers of police for
greater powers in this regard, it is right to assume that they
would have highlighted any cases which supported their claims.
Instead, they relied on broad statements of "belief"
and on unsupported anecdote, but produced no evidence that the
original wording was in any way inadequate.
11. Almost immediately following the consolidation
of firearms legislation in the 1968 Act, an internal enquiry was
set up under the chairmanship of HM Chief Inspector of Constabulary.
Though it did take some evidence from outside bodies, the scope
for representations by the shooting community was extremely limited.
The report was never made public but formed the basis of a Green
Paper, The Control of Firearms in Great Britain, which
was published in May 1973.
12. Included in a large number of proposals
to tighten firearms legislation was a proposal that shotguns be
subject to the same controls as rifles and pistols. The statistics
produced in support of this proposal offered no evidence by which
it was possible to apply principles such as those in the Better
Regulation Guide to any of the proposals. Statistics spanned
only three years, but they showed that shotguns had been involved
in 33 murders, 71 attempted murders, 163 woundings and 315 robberies.
Pistols, which had been strictly controlled since 1920, were used
in 10 murders, 45 attempted murders, two manslaughters, 56 woundings
and 534 robberies.
13. The 1973 figures cannot be directly
compared with the figures produced in 1937, but having regard
to population increases and the enormous increase in levels of
crime, and particularly violent crime, they are surprisingly similar,
with shotguns featuring in homicides more than pistols, but still
not the favoured weapon of the "bandit and burglar".
Prior to the ban on pistols, the number of shotguns legally held
was 15 times greater than the number of pistols. If mere availability
was the important factor, the use of shotguns in all classes of
crimes would have been not less than 15 times the use of pistols.
Statistics produced later in this paper show that mere availability
is not the most important factor in the choice of firearm used
14. The 1973 Green Paper was subject to
an enormous level of criticism and could not be defended on any
logical grounds. No action was taken at that time to implement
its proposals, but, as will be shown, the Home Office kept its
"shopping list" of proposals and the police often sought
to impose its proposals by administrative rather than legislative
15. Minor changes both to firearms legislation
and the administration of the Acts took place, but it was not
until 1988 that changes in the law relating to shotguns occurred.
The Firearms (Amendment) Act 1988 was an immediate response to
the 1987 Hungerford incident which had involved a self loading
rifle and a pistol. Proposed changes were announced by the then
Home Secretary within weeks of the incident. There were no consultations
about the changes to be made and no attempt to justify them on
the sort of logical grounds found in the Better Regulation Guide.
There was no mention of shotguns in the proposals originally announced.
16. In December 1987, the Government produced
a White Paper listing its proposals, once again without logical
justification. At this time, proposals relating to shotguns were
included. The evidence shows that the change was due entirely
to pressure exerted by the police organisations through contacts
with the then Labour opposition and by their manipulation of the
17. The White Paper proposals were included
in the 1988 legislation which had a difficult passage through
Parliament. The changes imposed on the shotgun certificate system
may seem to be less than draconian, but they had an immediate
and dramatic effect on the law abiding shooting community. A change
in the criteria for granting certificates placed the burden of
proof regarding danger to public safety etc, directly on the applicant
and allowed the chief officer of police to refuse to grant a certificate
if he was satisfied that the applicant did not have a good reason
for possessing, purchasing or acquiring a shotgun. This still
falls short of the requirement for Section 1 firearms, but it
was to be used to the full by chief officers of police.
18. The new law elevated to Section 1 category
those magazine shotguns capable of holding more than three cartridges
in total, provided for secure storage requirements on all shotguns
and imposed restrictions on the purchase of ammunition.
19. In the 1973 Green Paper it was suggested
that the imposition of a "good reason" requirement on
shotguns would reduce the number of certificate holders by up
to 20 per cent. The 1988 Act took effect on 1 July 1989 when the
renewal cycle for certificates was of three years. Shotgun certificate
numbers are reported at the end of each calendar year and in the
four years which cover the first renewal cycle shotgun certificates
in Britain were reduced from 971,102 in 1988 to 761,343 in 1992,
a reduction of 21.6 per cent. A significant upward trend in shotgun
certificate numbers over the previous six years was suddenly and
markedly reversed and the downward trend in certificate numbers
has continued and even accelerated. Trends in crime, however,
have not followed that downward path.
20. Records of the numbers of firearm and
shotgun certificates in existence were not kept at national level
prior to 1968 and for a number of years thereafter were produced
only sporadically. The following table shows the figures for Britain
and it will be noted that it was some time before the new shotgun
certificate system settled down, the apparent rise between 1968
and 1974 probably being attributable to that cause. The rise from
1975 to 1988 is probably attributable, in part, to increased interest
in the sport of clay pigeon shooting which occurred worldwide.
NUMBERS OF SHOTGUN AND FIREARM CERTIFICATES
ENGLAND, WALES AND SCOTLAND
Figures for 1998 are not available at time of writing.
21. Home Office figures show that, in 1977 there were
2.2 shotguns per certificate and 2.3 firearms per firearm certificate.
The total number of each class of firearm over the years is therefore
rather more than double the number of certificates. In 1977, therefore,
more than 1.5 million shotguns were legally in circulation together
with about 378,000 Section 1 firearms, a ratio of four to one
in favour of shotguns.
22. The extent to which these legally held shotguns are
used can be judged from the fact that some 250 million cartridges
are fired each year, a number which is a little lower than that
of previous years.
23. The nature of the control exercised by the police
varies with the type of firearm. Shotguns were not controlled
until 1967 and were subject to a low level of control between
1967 and 1988. The 1988 Act contained significant inhibitions
to shotgun ownership, though they remain less strictly controlled
than pistols were until the end of 1997 when pistols were effectively
banned for legal use. To help assess the effect of the more stringent
controls imposed in 1988, the following table shows the use of
shotguns in homicide and robbery for the following five years.
The crime figures are for England and Wales and the numbers of
certificates therefore exclude Scotland. There is nothing in the
tables to indicate that the 1988 Act had any discernible impact.
||Involving a Shotgun
24. Until the ban on pistols came into effect, legally
held shotguns outnumbered legally held pistols by a factor of
15 to 1 and the larger number of shotguns were less strictly controlled.
If either the number of each class of firearm legitimately in
circulation or the extent of the controls imposed was a controlling
or causative factor, the use of shotguns should have far exceeded
the use of pistols in classes of crime. The following tables show
that such was not the case for robbery.
ROBBERIES IN WHICH CERTAIN FIREARMS WERE USEDENGLAND AND
Figures for 1988 are not yet available.
25. It is clear that robbers favoured pistols over shotguns
to a very significant degree and neither the much lower numbers
in legitimate circulation nor the stricter controls have influenced
that choice. A different pattern emerges in respect of homicide.
HOMICIDES IN WHICH CERTAIN FIREARMS WERE USEDENGLAND AND
26. In robbery, the pistol is the preferred weapon of
the criminal. There has been ample research dating back many years
and confirmed many times since, that robbery is rarely a first
offence. Criminals tend to graduate towards robbery and almost
all will therefore be prohibited persons under the Firearms Act.
Their firearms would, therefore, be unlawfully held.
27. In homicide the picture changes and the shotgun is
still the most common firearm. The rise in the use of pistols
in homicide since 1992 may well be associated with the rise in
drug and gang related shootings which are being reported in the
media and by the police. A discernible change in the pattern of
homcides involving firearms is taking place.
28. Many aspects of the use of firearms in homicide have
been subject to speculation, but in 1966 the Home Office produced
what is probably the most important piece of statistical information
in the form of a brief study of the numbers of homicides in which
the firearm used was legally held. There has been a steadfast
refusal, until now, to attempt such a study on the ground that
the figures were incomplete, but all criminal statistics are,
by their nature, incomplete and provided that all available information
is presented, statistics such as these, particularly if presented
over a period of years, can be highly informative.
29. The original Home Office study has been updated and
was last published in the Annual Criminal Statistics for 1997.
There may be more information in the 1988 figures when they are
available. The study covered a period of three years (1992 to
1994) with a total of 151 homicides involving a firearm in which
the legal status of the firearm was established. It examined the
circumstances of the homicide in accordance with their own categories.
There were 45 cases in which the status of the firearm was not
known. The table shows the updated 1997 figures.
|Circumstances of homicide||Legally held
||Not legally held
|Organised Crime, drugs related, contract killing etc
|Robbery or gain||1
|Argument, jealousy, revenge||4
30. It is to be regretted that there is no breakdown
of the type of firearms involved and that the two categories of
"domestic" (limited to current or former spouse, cohabitant
of lover) and "argument, jealousy and revenge" were
separated since they usually arise from similar sets of circumstances.
We learn from a Parliamentary reply on 22nd December 1997 that
only four of the legally held firearms were handguns. It seems
likely that a majority of the remaining 19 cases (equal to 6.3
per year) involved shotguns. These were virtually all either domestic
or jealousy etc. Only one legally held firearm was used in a robbery
and there were four other cases.
31. The inference that can properly be drawn is that
despite the very large numbers in circulation and their widespread
availability, legally held shotguns feature in only six cases
of domestic and similar homicides per year. It is very doubtful
if any other class of potentially lethal weapon features less
frequently in such cases. They do not feature significantly in
any other type of homicide.
32. Despite the peculiar nature of this class of crime,
illegally held firearms dominate even the domestic categories
and the removal of the legally held shotguns would have only a
very small impact on the statistics. The removal of all legally
held shotguns would have no effect on the overall homicide rate.
A great deal of research confirms what is called the weapons substitution
theory. It is widely accepted that the presence or absence of
a particular weapon would have little influence on the outcome
of a homicidal attack in a domestic situation and that what matters
is the state of mind of the killer. In effect, the absence of
a firearm in that class of offence would lead only to the use
of another weapon with the same result.
33. Further restrictions of legally held shotguns would
be costly, time consuming and oppressive. Since 1988 the number
of persons allowed to own shotguns legally has been reduced by
almost 300,000, but a 30 per cent reduction in the number of certificate
holders and the number of guns has not produced any commensurate
decrease in the use of shotguns in crime.
34. The use of firearms in robbery has been reduced since
1994, reversing massive increase in previous years but the Annual
Criminal Statistics attribute this (as do many other sources)
to the targeting by police of known armed robbers and there is
no pattern of reduction which could be correlated with levels
of legal firearms ownership.
35. It is difficult to estimate the actual cost to society
of imposing full Section 1 controls on shotguns. The certificate
fees allegedly reflect the costs but a firearm certificate costs
only 25 per cent more than a shotgun certificate on grant but
renewal costs 155 per cent more. The police claim that these costs
do not reflect the actual cost to them. To that must be added
the creation of a need for a variation of a shotgun certificate
each time a shotgun is changed or a new shotgun is acquired. There
is no way of estimating the cost of that with the information
presently available. Having regard to the very large number of
shotguns in circulation, the added burden on the police would
probably involve a five-fold increase in purely administrative
36. In addition to the administrative role, there would
be an added burden created by a large number of technical offences
concerning the acquisition and use of shotguns including compliance
with conditions, use on unauthorised land and so on.
37. Shotgun certificate holders would also be burdened
with additional fees and with the extra time and effort involved
in the licensing procedures and with the irksome procedures necessary
to obtain additional or replacement guns. They would also be subject
to a series of conditions and controls which do not now apply
and the absence of which does not seem to pose any danger to society.
38. It seems highly likely that the 30 per cent reduction
in shotgun certificate numbers would be increased over the years
following and that both the number of certificate holders and
the number of shotguns would be greatly reduced in the short term
and the reduction would be sustained. Each shotgun which can no
longer be retained would be placed on the market and their value,
and the value of every shotgun held, would diminish rapidly. The
market in second hand shotguns, which is already depressed, would
disappear and there would be an enormous loss of monetary value
and of trade.
39. Shooting is a vast business generating a turnover
of £653 million per year, much of that going into rural areas
which are already very hard hit. That expenditure would be severely
reduced by the changes in legislation which are being suggested
and the result would be job losses in the trade and, more significantly,
in rural areas.
40. The proposition that shooting is a purely rural activity
is entirely misplaced. Whilst farmers need a shotgun for their
work, most owners of shotguns use them for sporting shooting.
Most clay pigeon grounds are close to urban areas and most of
their clients come from those areas. Those involved in game shooting
are drawn from all walks of life and urban dwellers are represented
to a very large extent.
41. There is nothing to support the proposition that
those who live in urban areas should be denied the right to enjoy
shooting sports. Such a ban would be completely unworkable and
42. There is no evidence to show that imposing further
controls on the ownership of shotguns will achieve any positive
results in terms of crime control or public safety. The present
system of firearms control is extraordinarily complex and there
is an excellent case for reviewing and simplifying the system
so that it is comprehensible to those who must comply with it.
That does not, of itself, require a single system of controls.
Most countries have various categories of firearms which are subject
to differing levels of control and the current European Directive
on firearms envisages a series of controls which range from those
weapons which are free from control, including air weapons and
non repeating shotguns, those weapons which are subject only to
a declaration by the owner that he has acquired the weapons, those
which are subject to individual authorisation prior to purchase
and those which are prohibited.
43. The Shooting Sports Trust would strongly support
a root and branch review of the system, but hopes that such a
review would be based on evidence and not on assumptions and prejudice.
11 October 1999