Select Committee on Home Affairs Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Letters from the British Shooting Sports Council and Mr Colin Greenwood commenting on a mail-order catalogue advertising air weapons


  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" or "replica";

    —  they are no more or less capable of being distinguished from an offensive weapon than many other items.

  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

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