Memorandum by the St. Hubert Club of Great
INQUIRY INTO CONTROLS OVER FIREARMS
Problems caused by misuse
In our experience misuse is very rare.
The majority of our members use air weapons
for practice to maintain technique, to control garden vermin and
to educate young people in marksmanship and to introduce them
to their future safe, responsible and correct use of firearms.
These are important and valuable counters to the incorrect, irresponsible
and inhumane use of weapons and violence widely portrayed in the
Such lessons are learned best when learned young.
Inadequacies in existing controls designed to
In our experience the existing controls are
What further controls whether by licensing or
by additional restrictions on their use, might usefully be introduced
Conclusion: Air weapons do not pose
any threat to public safety.
Additional restrictions and licensing requirements
for the millions in use would incur a very costly and unjustifiable
The training of young persons with air-guns
at an early age, is the best method of ensuring that they will
have in their adult years, a firm grounding in the safe handling
of weapons, respect for game and a responsible attitude to public
There is nothing to be gained and much to be
lost by introducing further restrictions.
Recommendations: No further legislation
should be introduced.
Extent of the problems caused by misuse
We are not aware of any problems caused by misuse
of licensed shotguns by owners and users, rather that the sporting
use of shotguns is an honourable countryside tradition, enjoyed
by hundreds of thousands of citizens, regardless of age, gender,
race, class or health. In addition, shotguns are used in their
work by farmers, gamekeepers and others. They also put food on
the tables of many families whilst being used to control prolific
agricultural pests, such as pigeon and rabbit.
Inadequacies in existing controls
The present controls on shotgun certificate
holders are adequate for public safety. Criminals wishing to use
shotguns obtain them from the pool of illegal weapons readily
available to them.
Improvements to licensing systems and controls:
Our members travel widely to participate in
all forms of shotgun based field sports, often travelling during
the early hours. Any further restrictions would serve only to
inconvenience the legitimate user without contributing to public
Conclusion: It is doubtful if additional
or stricter controls and licensing procedures could improve public
safety. The present system is among the strictest in the world
and in the Club's opinion the law is more than adequate to provide
the maximum attainable degree of public safety. Moreover, the
present system of licensing is unnecessarily bureaucratic and
inefficient in the use of civil servants' time.
Recommendation: No addition to the
licensing system or controls is needed. A review should be undertaken
of the present systems to simplify them and to reduce administrative
The extent to which the bans introduced in 1997
have been effective in removing handguns from circulation (including
the means by which surrendered guns have been disposed of)
Our members find great difficulty in obtaining
a licence to own handguns for the humane despatch of wounded animals
(deer), even though this is exceptionally permitted by the present
law. This is of particular significance in the despatch of road
casualties where often a handgun may pose less danger and disturbance
to the public than the use of the legal rifle or shotgun. In addition
the discrete use of a handgun is less likely to cause visual distress
to the wounded animal and any observers.
Handguns were very effectively removed from
licence holders, who being amongst the most law abiding of citizens,
complied with the 1997 Act.
Circulation in and use of handguns by the criminal
community has increased. Illegal handguns are now both more readily
available and cheaper than before the 1997 ban. Much of unique
heritage and historic technical value has been destroyed.
Conclusion: The 1997 handgun ban
has failed to remove or reduce the number of handguns in circulation
and the criminal use thereof and has failed to improve public
safety in this regard. It has served to remove handguns only from
legitimate users. It has proved detrimental to the humane despatch
of animals (especially deer) injured by vehicles.
Recommendation: The present situation
be reviewed to assess the lessons learned and to introduce guidance
facilitating the licensed ownership and use of handguns for valid
In respect of other firearms requiring a certificate,
whether any further changes are needed to the licensing system
or to the existing controls on such weapons
There is much dissatisfaction with the present
Act. It is often administered in an arbitrary manner with restrictive
conditions of questionable merit being attached to certificates.
These conditions usually interfere negatively with the management
of deer and contribute nothing to public safety.
Problem 1. The 1997 Act outlaws hollow point
and expanding ammunition. The relevant laws relating to the shooting
of deer specifies that for humane considerations, only ammunition
designed to expand shall be used. In addition to specifying complete
rounds of ammunition: (a) allowed to be held; (b) allowed to be
purchased. All certificates must now specify the number of bullets
(a) allowed to be held and (b) allowed to be purchased.
These requirements are considerable, repetitive
and unnecessary administrative burdens affecting the police and
all certificate holders. They are particularly burdensome and
inconvenient for those who load their own ammunition to achieve
guaranteed consistent performance and registered firearms dealers.
It has effectively made it impossible to obtain certain properly
constructed bullets by mail order from specialist suppliers. This
situation acts against the interests of good game management,
is restrictive of business and contributes nothing to public safety.
Problem 2. Wild deer vary in size from medium
sized dogs (Muntjac) to cows (Red Deer). In between are Chinese
water deer, Roe, Fallow and Sika. Their habitat varies from dense
woodland to open mountains. One rifle cannot cover all the situations
covered by any one stalker. It is desirable to have a range of
rifles in different calibres, firing cartridges delivering a range
of power and bullets. The present requirement for a licence holder
to justify the land he stalks and each rifle he needs and have
this data entered in a Condition attached to his Certificate,
is time consuming for both stalker and the police and adds nothing
to public safety. The stalker is almost certainly the best qualified
and most knowledgeable person to make decisions on the appropriate
rifles and calibres for his needs according to the quarry he stalks
and the lands where he stalks them.
Problem 3. The designation of each particular
quarry species which may be taken, in a Condition attaching to
the licence, is over restrictive, in view of the growing need
to control not only deer but also wild boar, feral goat, fox,
mink and other vermin and escapees, eg livestock run amok and
stray dogs worrying livestock. Here again the administrative burden
outweighs any perceived benefit.
Problem 4. There are increasing numbers of escaped
wild pig (boar) breeding and spreading in parts of the country.
(MAFF estimates a feral population in excess of 2,000.) Their
proper control and management in the wild is becoming of increasing
importance. Reported attempts at control often disclose the use
of rifles firing cartridges of inadequate power to humanely stop
this large, heavily built and potentially dangerous beast. (It
is covered by the Dangerous Animals Act.) To control this situation,
weapons and cartridges for use on this beast will have to be addressed
by the relevant Act (Wildlife and Countryside Act). Approved weapons
will then have to be specified on the stalker's Firearms Certificate.
Problem 5. There is inconsistency in the interpretation
and application of the Firearms Act and the certification process
by Police Forces.
Conclusion: The problems need to be attended
to as soon as possible for the benefit of all concerned including
Problem 1 arose, presumably from an oversight
in drafting the 1997 legislation and can be quickly resolved.
The other items noted require consultation with knowledgeable
parties to formulate the optimum wording. We believe that a relationship
of trust, mutual respect and co-operation between the stalking
community and the police is essential. To this end, clearer, binding
"guidance to police"so that the law may be better
understood and fairly applied, nation-wide is required.
Adoption of the above would provide short term
For the long term benefit of the public, the
shooting community and quarry species and recognising the increasing
use of illegal weapons in violent crime, there is an urgent need
for a complete overhaul of the firearms regulations. This should
include independent studies to determine the actual social and
environmental conditions pertaining and therefrom identify the
actual risk to the public. Realistic and practicable legislation
to meet this need, with adequate sanctions for those who commit
crimes of violence with firearms should then be introduced.
Recommendation: The Act should be redrafted
to allow use of hollow-point and other ammunition designed to
expand on game. Expanding bullets should not be covered by section
5 status. The Act and its interpreters should revert to the earlier
terminology and practice and address only loaded that is the real
or "live" ammunition.
The Conditions attached to the certificate to
cover separate rifles and different species should be omitted
or broadly written, stating for example. "Rifles complying
with the conditions stipulated for such use in England and Wales
and if used in Scotland, complying with the conditions stipulated
for use in Scotland" and for example "deer, wild pig
(boar), feral goats, fox, mink, other vermin and if called upon
so to do, the shooting of livestock escaped or run amok and stray
dogs worrying sheep."
Firearms Certificates, in this regard should
be treated in the same way as Shotgun Certificates, where in effect
it is the Certificate holder who is licensed and not the individual
shotguns, although the individual shotguns are listed on the certificate.
This approach does not lessen the screening process and therefore
does not affect public safety.
For wild pig (boar), pending appropriate legislation,
we recognise the following minimum parameters. Rifles: calibre
.270"; bullet weight 150 grain; muzzle energy 2,700 ft lbs.
Practical, clear and binding advice in the guidance
to police is required to ensure fair application of the Act in
all areas of the country. This will create an atmosphere conducive
to the restoration of mutual respect and co-operation between
the police and the shooting community.
A complete overhaul of the firearms legislation,
based on the results of independent studies of actual conditions
pertaining to determine the real risk to the public and deriving
therefrom realistic and practicable legislation should be undertaken
soon, in the realisation that it is urgently required.
Clifford K H Hunter
12 October 1999