Memorandum by the Country Landowners Association
CONTROLS OVER FIREARMS
The CLA's 50,000 rural business members own
60 per cent of the rural land of England and Wales.
Firearms are Essential and Universal Tools for
Effective Land Management
A variety of firearms are required to deal with
pests and predators in rural areas. In this context the word firearm
also includes shotgun.
The Economic and Social Importance of Firearms
Shooting is of crucial importance to the rural
economy as well as being a deep rooted part of rural life: 12,000
people, mostly in rural areas, are directly employed in connection
with shooting, and 14,000 FTE (Full Time Equivalent) employees
in allied trades. The estimated total value of shooting in Great
Britain lies in the region of £400 million per annum.
Firearms are also important to conservation.
Not only does recreational shooting contribute directly to habitat
management, but shooting is also a significant influence on the
wider management of the countryside for biodiversity.
The CLA considers that more should be done to
address the problem of illegally held weapons. Home Office figures
show that the rate of crime committed with handguns has not decreased
since the ban on all handguns in private possession very significantly
reduced the number of legally held handguns in the UK. This clearly
demonstrates that tighter regulation of legal ownership of guns
does not automatically have an effect on weapons related crime.
Further the figures available demonstrate that
the proportion of licensed weapons used in homicides outside the
home is very small, approximately 6 per cent of all murders committed
in England and Wales between 1992 and 1994 (just nine cases).
No licensed weapons were used in organised crime, drugs related
or contract killing which accounts for nearly 30 per cent of all
The total of all shotgun related offences has
reduced from 1,234 in 1987 to 580 in 1997. The total of all rifles
used in notifiable offences was 51 out of a total of 305,000 rifles.
The CLA submits that air weapons do not present
any significant problem in rural areas but is aware of problems
arising from their misuse in urban areas. Air weapons are useful
for controlling smaller pests such as rats. The careful and properly
supervised use of air weapons provides a relatively safe and essential
introduction to young people to the skills necessary for the safe
handling of shotguns and rifles. The CLA recommends consideration
of the following controls.
No use of airguns by those under the age of
No young person to use an air gun unless accompanied
by a responsible adult over the age of 18.
All air weapons to be kept within houses or
club buildings under lock and key in secure cupboards.
The Police should have a right to inspect premises
where air guns are kept.
Whilst legislation quite correctly distinguishes
between shotguns and other firearms the specific comments made
under the following paragraphs could equally apply to the firearms
used by landowners and farmers and should be read together.
Firearms related crime arises in
the vast majority of cases from weapons illegally obtained and
held. The ban on handguns shows that additional controls on legally
held firearms will not directly affect the rate of crime committed
with illegally held guns.
A large number of those who participate
in occupational use of firearms eg those who assist farmers with
pest control, and recreational shooting live in urban areas. It
is important to note that the shotguns legally kept in urban areas
are used almost exclusively in rural areas.
The CLA submits that existing shotgun licensing
procedures are satisfactory. We see a case for tightening up existing
procedures and recommend the following:
We would recommend that references
are fully checked when applications are made for shotgun licences
and firearms certificates, and that the referees of standing in
the community who are required to have been known to the applicant
for a number of years should be required to confirm this to the
The element of discretion currently
exercised by the Chief Constable should remain in the granting
of applications however the appeals procedure should be simplified
and include provision for the amendment of conditions attaching
to the licence or certificate where this is appropriate.
The CLA considers that it may be
appropriate that no person under the age of 16 should own or use
a shotgun unless under the supervision of an adult who is possessed
of a current shotgun licence.
That current requirements for secure
accommodation for the firearm are sufficient and that any changes
should be balanced against the requirement that guns should be
accessible to their legitimate user. The Police should continue
to have the right to inspect the premises and this should be mandatory
upon renewal of licences and certificates.
The main problems relating to the criminal use
of firearms arise from those illegally obtained rather than those
held legally it is this question which has yet to be addressed.
It is the CLA's view that proper enforcement of existing controls
will deal with the small number of cases involving misuse of those