Home Affairs Select Committee
Comments and recommendations on the administration of the Firearms
as amended January 2000
Prepared for the Scottish Countryside Alliance
Shooting Committee by P H Jackson, MA, CEng, MICE
The purpose of this paper is to draw attention
to specific problems which are being felt in the countryside following
the recent prohibition of certain categories of sporting rifle
ammunition and pistols. We will try to avoid going over ground
that has been adequately covered by others, in particular aspects
on which the Firearms Consultative Committee has reported a majority
We will address:
practice with expanding ammunition;
practical problems of identification
of prohibited ammunition and missiles;
increased carriage costs for prohibited
ammunition and missiles; and
safety issues arising from prohibition
of pistols (repair and servicing of pistols for use in the countryside
and in Northern Ireland).
Police in Scotland are still reluctant to give
full effect to the insistence by Lady Blatch that prohibited missiles
may be used not only for killing deer etc and zeroing, but also
for "general testing and practice". As recorded in Hansard
all concerned recognised how important it is for sportsmen and
wildlife managers to practice with the ammunition which they actually
use in the field. In such practice an element of competition is
essential to ensure that standards of safety and marksmanship
can be maintained under conditions of moderate stress.
Two years after the commencement of the Firearms
Amendment Act 1997, (the 1997 Act), the logic behind the prohibition
of expanding ammunition is still far from clear. The Act prohibited
a category of widely-used sporting ammunition, then granted sweeping
exemptions for possession and sale but not for transport (see
The 1997 Act prohibits "any ammunition
which incorporates a missile designed or adapted to expand on
impact". The missiles themselves are caught by a clause in
the previous Act. Ammunition incorporating missiles which do readily
expand on impact is widely used by target rifle shooters and for
Simply put, a modern rifle missile is composed
of a lead core in a thin copper alloy jacket. The jacket is usually
closed at the back or the front.
Most military missiles are closed at the front;
the missile will generally not expand on impact unless it tumbles
and goes open end first. Many missiles do exactly that. One can
give the process a bit of encouragement by judicious ogive design
and/or weakening the back end of the jacket. Such skulduggery
cannot be detected in a loaded round.
In the other type of missile, the jacket is
open at the front and closed at the base. These are called nose-filled,
hollow point, or soft point. For a number of reasons, this manufacturing
process produces more accurate missiles. For best accuracy, such
missiles are made with nose cavity and/or plastic tip (to shift
the centre of mass rearward) a thin jacket (to improve concentricity)
and a soft lead core (to make it easier to form without including
air pockets). All of these features contribute to rapid expansion
on impact. Whether such products are advertised as "designed
to expand" depends largely on the marketing department and
how the product is to be positioned in the market place.
If the missiles are to be marketed for shooting
large game, the designer will incorporate features which delay,
reduce or control expansion. Whether such missiles are truly "designed
to expand" or whether they do so merely as a result of an
accuracy-related design decision is not always apparent to the
user. To illustrate the confusion surrounding this definition,
we have showed four missiles (two of each kind) to experienced
riflemen, senior police officers and firearms administration staff.
No-one has yet correctly identified which missiles are prohibited
and which are uncontrolled.
There is no statutory exemption for carriers
of Section 5 missiles and ammunition, as there is for rifles and
shot guns. Even carriers of inert expanding missiles must be approved
by the Secretary of State. Few are. Carriage costs are therefore
significantly increased, and the Post Office/Parcelforce is deprived
of that business. In order to spread these costs, dealers need
to order and hold in stock much larger quantities of ammunition
and missiles than they would wish to.
In the case of unusual cartridges which are
not a normal stock item, the cost of carriage for a small special
order often exceeds the trade price of the goods themselves. This
is a problem which particularly affects rural areas in Scotland,
all major importers and manufacturers of rifle ammunition being
based south of the border.
Although generally prohibited, pistols are still
used by various categories of persons who work in the countryside.
They are also widely used in Northern Ireland for personal protection.
For all firearms, reliable operation and regular servicing can
be a matter of life and death. There are a few Section 5 dealers
in Scotland who are capable of carrying out such repairs, but
they are well spread out. For instance, the nearest Section 5
dealer is a 200 mile round trip from a vet or knackerman working
in the Mull of Galloway. The nearest proof house is in Birmingham.
The carriage costs for servicing, repair and
re-proofing pistols in Scotland or Northern Ireland may well approach
the basic trade price of a new pistol. This is a particular problem
for rural areas.
We recommend that formal guidance should be
issued to the police regarding permitted practice, including field-sports
related competitions, with prohibited ammunition and missiles.
We believe that the current Home Office/Forensic
guidance to the police as to what might constitute prohibited
ammunition or missiles may be drawn too widely. All missiles with
nose cavities or plastic tips whose principal purpose is to improve
accuracy should be specifically excluded from the ban.
The treatment by some police forces of expanding
missiles as if they were loaded rounds makes little sense. We
suggest that the Firearms Rules should be amended as follows:
Modify Form 101 and 102 to delete all reference
to expanding ammunition and missiles.
At the start of the Rules put in a paragraph
"Where an applicant's `good reason' indicates
the need for expanding ammunition and/or missiles, the following
condition shall be added to the firearm certificate:
The reference to ammunition to which this
certificate relates under Part II (in respect of stated firearm,
if necessary) shall include expanding ammunition. The holder of
this certificate is authorised to acquire, possess and use expanding
ammunition and expanding missiles for the purpose of:
(list of items in Section 10 of the 1997 Act)".
We recommend that suitable exemptions be introduced
to cover carriage of Section 5 pistols and sporting rifle ammunition.
This last recommendation may require primary legislation, Meanwhile,
we recommend that consideration be given to reducing the administrative
costs of suitably licensed carriers and ensuring fair price competition.