Select Committee on Home Affairs Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence

Home Affairs Select Committee Comments and recommendations on the administration of the Firearms Act 1968, 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 view.

  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 below).

  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 wildlife management.

  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 which says:

    "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.

January 2000

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