Select Committee on Home Affairs Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum by the National Association of Re-enactment Societies


  I am writing at the suggestion of the OPPU at the Home Office in my capacity as Vice-Chair of the National Association of Re-enactment Societies (NARES) in respect of the forthcoming meeting of the Home Affairs Committee on 14 October.

  NARES is an umbrella group representing some two dozen historic re-enactment societies and associated groups, many of whose members (depending upon the historic period the group represents) use reproduction muskets and rifles, held either on Shotgun or Section One Firearm certificates. As the meeting of the Committee is to deal with the various matters relating to the control of firearms, on behalf of re-enactors, I would hope the Committee will have regard to their interests. Two issues that I believe will be discussed have particular relevance for re-enactors.

  Firstly, it has been suggested that the ownership of firearms, particularly shotguns, might be restricted to rural areas on the assumption that only farmers have a need for these. I would point out that the many thousands of re-enactors, be they recreating the English Civil War, 18th century, Napoleonic or mid-Victorian periods, all hold their muzzle-loading muskets on shotgun licences and upwards of 90 per cent of these re-enactors live in cities and other large urban areas. As there does not appear to be any suggestion that muzzle-loading, black powder muskets appear in the crime statistics and as historic re-enactment is viewed as a legitimate reason for owning such weapons, any restriction in respect of urban areas would effectively destroy the hobby.

  Secondly, there is a suggestion that the separate Shotgun and Section One Firearm licences could be combined into a single "unified" licence. As previously stated, there are several thousand British re-enactors who mostly use re-productions of muzzle-loaded, smoothbore muskets, be they matchlocks, flintlocks or percussion weapons, held on shotgun certificates. The general reaction of re-enactors to the concept of a unified licence focuses on whether such a move would make it harder to obtain both in terms of justification and cost. If the proposal is basically administrative and would leave intact the present requirement for obtaining a licence for the standard musket and its like, we do not predict a problem as the present security requirements for the storage of a muzzle-loading musket is now equivalent to that required for a section 1 firearm, the historic distinction that in practice distinguished the separate classifications.

  A good example of this is cannon in re-enactment. As a result of the 1988 Firearm (Amendment) Act, cannon with a muzzle diameter of two inches or greater, are held as Section One Firearms. The nature of such pieces is that they usually weigh in excess of one ton and have a barrel length in excess of four or five feet. I am not aware of a police constabulary ever having made an issue of these, readily granting Section One certificates, despite the fact that, given the dimensions and weight of a smoothbore cannon, they mostly sit on the floor of garages. I imagine the police accept this practice because the concept of a criminal using a muzzle-loading cannot to commit a criminal act is, frankly, more absurd than the possibility of a musket being utilised. However, if moving to a single certificate made it any harder for a re-enactor to justify obtaining a "unified" Firearms certificate, to hold and use a musket or cannon, effectively treating them as dangerous as a high velocity hunting rifle, the proposal would face stiff opposition.

  Further, quite properly and as previously mentioned, it is already a requirement that muskets held on a shotgun certificate be stored in an appropriate lockable, steel gun box. However, if a unified firearms licence resulted in re-enactors being obliged to acquire expensive burglar alarms and the additional security to store a 17th century matchlock or Napoleonic Brown Bess flintlock, it would seem rather extreme and would undoubtedly cause financial hardship. As it is, reproductions of historic muskets already cost upwards of £300 to £400, whilst a cannon can cost as much as £10,000. Requiring the same level of security to store a modern high velocity rifle as a muzzle-loading musket or cannon would be unlikely to further public safety. It is accepted by all police officers I have come into contact with over the years that criminals do not use muzzle-loaded weapons.

  I trust the above concerns can be placed before the Home Affairs Committee in time for their meeting on 14 October. If there are any questions or issues upon which further elaboration are required please do not hesitate to contact me.

Dr P J C Elliot-Wright

Vice-Chair of NARES

10 October 1999

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