LETTER FROM MR COLIN GREENWOOD TO THE
CLERK OF THE COMMITTEE
Thank you for your letter of 17 December about
the mail order catalogue produced by a Committee Member on 14
December. The letter reached me only yesterday.
I have examined the catalogue and can confirm
that the Walther PK air pistol, the pump action air rifle, the
Ruger air pistol and the sport machine gun are all "soft-air"
guns which discharge a small plastic ball 0.23 inches in diameter
and weighing 1.7 grains (0.11 grams) (7,000 grains = one pound).
The level of muzzle energy generated is less than one joule (0.7275
foot pounds) and even that levels tend to fall off with use.
These items would discharge any sphere of about
the same diameter, but if a heavier sphere was used, the velocity
would fall to the point where the missile would not emerge from
the muzzle. Simple school physics tell us that one cannot extract
more energy than is present at the start, no matter how one converts
it into another style of energy.
It follows that these items fall completely
outside most of the restrictions in the Firearms Acts on two countsthey
are not weapons and they are not lethal. Certainly, they are not
air weapons in law, or in fact. The average youngster could actually
generate more energy with a pea shooter.
Because of their status, these items can only
be regarded as toys. There are no restrictions on their sale to
young people, though I note that the vendor has voluntarily imposed
an age limit of 18 years, possibly with the law on contract in
These items are exactly like the one produced
to the Committee by Mr Howarth.
The term replica firearm does not have any specific
meaning in law, but the items in the catalogue might be used as
imitation firearms. An imitation firearm is anything having the
appearance of a firearm to which Section 1 of the 1968 Act applies,
but which cannot discharge a missile.
The Laserhawk air pistol and the pump action
air rifle might not easily deceive, but the other items might
be used as imitation firearms and might deceive a person in a
situation involving stress. In that regard they are no different
from most toy guns.
In cases where a person has been deceived by
an imitation firearm, realism seems less important than the stress
of the situation. In a recent case a chair leg in a plastic bag
is said to have been mistaken for a firearm by police officers.
A courgette in a paper bag was used in a successful building society
hold-up. A tablet of soap was made into an imitation firearm and
fooled prison officers. One could refer back to the "India
House Siege" of February 1973 when three Pakistani youths
aged 15, 18 and 22 launched an "armed attack" on the
Indian High Commission. A large force of armed police responded
and the 18 and 22 year olds were both killed by armed officers
when they pointed guns at the police. The "guns" proved
to be toys not duplicating any real firearm in any way. They were
made in Wales from plastic and zinc alloy and fired a ring of
caps. They were bought from Woolworths at 56 pence each.
The use of an imitation firearm in the course
of crime, to evade arrest or to put anyone in fear of unlawful
violence carries exactly the same penalties under the Firearms
Acts as does the use of a real gun.
If the Committee wishes to explore the question
of imitation firearms of various types at greater length I can
supply a detailed paper on the subject which was prepared for
There is mention of the subject of imitation
firearms in the current FCC report (Chapter 4) but this concentrates
largely on deactivated firearms. The catalogue involves the sale
of soft-air guns by use of a premium rate telephone service and
you will wish to know that the FCC considered this question at
paragraph 2.9 of their report. I assume that you have copies of
the Tenth report.
There is one item in the catalogue about which
I am not satisfied. On the last of the pages which you provided
there is reference to the Deer Hunter rifle at £49.99. Whilst
it is not possible to be certain from the illustration and there
is very little commentary on this item, this does not have the
appearance of a soft-air gun and may be an inexpensive Chinese-made
air rifle of standard type.
If this is a standard air rifle, the Firearms
Act prohibits its sale to or purchase by a person under 17 years
of age. Offences under the Firearms Act are absolute offences
requiring no guilty knowledge. I do not believe that having someone
sign a declaration that they are over 18 would amount to a defence
to a charge against a person who has sold an air rifle to a person
who proves to be under 17 years. In that regard, there may be
sufficient information for the Member concerned to ask the Cheshire
police to investigate and, if necessary, take action.
21 December 1999