Select Committee on Home Affairs Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum by the St. Hubert Club of Great Britain



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 media.

  Such lessons are learned best when learned young.

Inadequacies in existing controls designed to prevent misuse

  In our experience the existing controls are adequate.

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 administrative burden.

  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 safety.

  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 safety.

  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 costs.


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 purposes.

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 the animals.

  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 remedies.

  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

Honorary Secretary

12 October 1999

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