Letters from the British Shooting Sports
Council and Mr Colin Greenwood commenting on a mail-order catalogue
advertising air weapons
LETTER FROM THE BRITISH SHOOTING SPORTS COUNCIL
TO THE CLERK OF THE COMMITTEE
Thank you for your letter of 17 December about
the items advertised in the unsolicited mail-order catalogue.
So far as the "Walther PK air pistol",
the "pump-action air rifle", the "Ruger air pistol",
the "Laserhawk air pistol" and the "Sporty Machine
Gun" are concerned, I can confirm that all four items are
what are termed "soft air guns" and are deemed to be
toys. Being neither "weapons" nor "lethal"
they fall outwith the Firearms Acts.
In respect of these items the answers to your
specific questions are:
the muzzle energy is less than three
quarters of a ft/lb;
they all discharge a small plastic
ball of about .23 inches in diameter which weighs some .11 grams;
one could attempt to discharge some
other sphere from the items, but if heavier items were introduced
the laws of physics dictates that the energy generated would be
insufficient to get it to the end of the muzzle;
it cannot be disputed that the items
have the appearance of firearms, whether "imitation"
they are no more or less capable
of being distinguished from an offensive weapon than many other
Turning to the "Deerhunter" I would
advise that our enquiries reveal that this is a low powered .177
air rifle with a muzzle energy level of approximately 7.6 ft/lbs.
Mr Harriman, who is a registered expert witness is currently testing
this item to clarify the existing scientific data. I will advise
you of the findings of Mr Harriman in due course.
In the meantime I would point out that the "Deerhunter"
exceeds the 1 ft/lb threshold which the Forensic Science Service
uses as its definition of lethal. On that basis, it is clear that
the "Deerhunter" could be deemed to be "lethal",
but nevertheless is not subject to firearms legislation.
We are concerned about the name of this particular
item, with its connotations for deer stalking. Quite clearly the
item would fall foul of the Deer Act 1991 and it is our intention
to raise this aspect with the Advertising Standards Authority.
I instigated enquiries about the mail-order
company through the Cheshire Police, as we are somewhat suspicious
of their standing and credentials. To date I have not had a response
from the Cheshire Police, although the company does not appear
to be a registered firearm dealer.
Your members will be aware that it is an offence
to carry an air pistol in a public place unless it is securely
covered and fastened. The evidence to date has never been about
whether an item was a "real" firearm or not, but the
actions of the individual possessing the item at the time of confrontation
with the police. It would be otiose to list the variety of objects
which individuals have been found to be possessing after being
shot by armed police officers; sufficient to say that some were
not, nor did they resemble, firearms.
The Council's position on these situations has
always been quite clear. When an individual is faced by police
officers and he gives the impression that he is in possession
of a firearm then he should obey the instructions of the police.
If he fails to do so then he is responsible for the consequences
of his own actions.
However, it is apparent that some police forces
appear to be better at handling such situations than others. We
believe that there are lessons to be drawn from the best practices
of those police forces which have managed to avoid shooting, let
alone killing, individuals and that the public good would be served
by a review of all police shootings in the last decade. Whilst
the issue will always be one of public safety, a major consideration
should be how such situations are resolved without the need for
loss of life from any quarter.
Patrick W Johnson
18 January 2000