Select Committee on Home Affairs Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum by Mr Martin Kay



  The purpose of this submission by a private individual to the Home Affairs Committee is to provide discussion points for consideration in respect of the issues in the Terms of Reference of the forthcoming review of Firearms legislation. It serves to highlight some points in the Terms of Reference which are cause for concern to the author who is an active target and sporting shooter.


  In regard to the extent of problems caused by air weapons, in 1989 there were 1,762 recorded personal injury offences involving air weapons, against 1,401 in 1995. The overall number of air weapon offences has risen from 4,800 in 1988 to 7,500 in 1995. The majority of these offences are cases of criminal damage, 5,700 in 1995. A significant but obscure factor in this apparent rise in offences is the effect of price inflation, criminal damage has been defined for some years as that having a cost of £25 or greater. The overall percentage of firearms offences involving air weapons has reduced from 35 per cent in 1989 to 18 per cent in 1995. (Home Office figures.) There is no indication as to the rural/urban differential regarding location of offences.

  These figures should be considered in the context of an estimated pool of 4,000,000 air weapons presently in circulation within the UK. (BASC published estimate.)

  Although air weapons are generally exempt from certificate control in respect of possession, there are detailed restrictions on their use, purchase and possession. Their criminal misuse is regarded under the Firearms Act as seriously as use of other firearms, with provision for heavy fines and custodial sentences. Full Firearms Certificate (FAC) restrictions are applied to air weapons generating muzzle energy in excess of specified levels, 12 foot lbs for rifles and six foot lbs for pistols. These levels were set some years ago and are relatively modest when compared to the .22 rimfire which is the smallest common sporting and target rifle cartridge, with a muzzle energy of about 140 foot lbs

  Introduction of full FAC requirements for all air weapons would create a massive administration and enforcement burden for the police. With an estimated 4,000,000 air weapons in circulation, the potential exists for some 2,000,000 new FAC applicants overnight, putting an intolerable demand on the already struggling police system. The likelihood of non-compliance with a new, all-encompassing certification requirement is very significant. This would inevitably create a huge number of criminals and illegally held weapons where previously few existed, with the secondary effect of a massive increase in police effort required for enforcement.

  There is no evidence to suggest that a requirement to licence air weapons would result in a reduction of offences. By far the greater number of all firearms related offences are committed with unlicensed weapons, the vast number of untraceable weapons which will undoubtedly remain outside any licensing scheme would be in the hands of individuals who may be predisposed to crime and who would not willingly submit themselves to the police investigation accompanying any licensing scheme.


  Shotguns were first brought into the licensing system in 1967, as a Government response to the murder of three London policemen by criminals armed with illegally held pistols. The police have wide discretion regarding grant and renewal of Shotgun Certificates (SGCs) including authority to obtain medical histories from an applicant's doctor. An individual who wants to obtain an SGC is making himself known to the police, and subjecting himself to a comprehensive licensing and inspection process which is designed to, and is effective in, dissuading unsuitable applicants. At the end of 1997 there were 623,100 SGCs relating to 1,343,900 shotguns on issue, on average about two guns/certificate. Revocations of SGCs occur at the rate of about 1 per cent of the total annually, indicating an effective control regime and high levels of responsibility on the part of SGC holders who value their shooting sport and do not want to lose it.

  The law relating to SGCs was revised in 1988 by the Firearms (Amendment) Act. Since then the number of SGCs on issue has reduced from 882,000 to 623,100 at the end of December 1997, a reduction of about 25 per cent. Armed crime in the same period is generally considered to have risen significantly, hence the Home Affairs Committee Review. This has been reflected in the experience of Australia following the Tasmanian shootings, where many categories of weapon were banned and confiscated by the Government in the same manner as were pistols in the UK. Massive increases in the figures for armed robbery and homicide have been recorded subsequently, as has been reported by Keith Tidswell of Australia's Sporting Shooters Association in an interview published in "Archive News" section of the web side


  Pistols and pistol shooting were, as the committee will be aware, prohibited from private ownership following the Dunblane shootings of March 1996. Such a wholesale prohibition was not recommended by Lord Cullen. The eventual cost to the taxpayer was in the order of £168,000,000 in compensation for newly prohibited pistols and associated accessories confiscated and destroyed.

  The Director General of the National Crime Squad, Roy Penrose, was reported in the Independent on 28 December 1998 as having said that the handgun ban has had no effect on the supply of firearms to criminals in the UK. The death toll in London alone this year is at least 15 in gang related shootings, including the high profile murder of TV presenter Jill Dando. Many other serious incidents have occurred in other major cities such as Manchester, Bristol and Newcastle with weapons such as Kalashnikov automatic rifles, another category of prohibited weapon, being used.

  The HMSO Criminal Statistics for England and Wales 1997 detail methods of homicide for that year:

Sharp Instrument
Kicking or hitting
Blunt instrument

  While all killing is to be deplored, it is self evident that the incidence of shooting as a modus operandi is very much a minor proportion of the total.

  As is the case with shotguns commented on above, the number of FACs on issue has declined since 1987 by some 16 per cent. How the significant reduction in the number of legally held firearms can be considered to be a crime prevention measure has yet to be explained. The explanation implicit in the comment by Roy Penrose is the obvious one, that criminals do not bother with the formalities of obtaining certificates for the readily available tools of their trade. There is simply no evidence whatsoever to indicate that further restrictions or bans on specific types of weapon will increase public safety.

  The present regulations regarding FAC issue and firearm use are demanding both from the point of view of the user and the police in terms of the massive and, it has to be said largely self inflicted administrative and enforcement workload. Regulations have been added to regulations, often in response to police recommendations for further controls and restrictions. The result has been the creation of an administrative monster the scale of which they understandably complain about, and yet refuse to relinquish to a civil body dedicated to the task, as was proposed some years ago by the Firearms Consultative Committee. Lord Cullen was particularly critical of the performance of the licensing system as administered by Central Scotland Police, which for many years permitted Thomas Hamilton to own firearms with the result that he was able to perpetrate perhaps the worst single criminal act by an individual in the UK this century.

  The concept of a dedicated Firearms Licensing Authority working with, yet not controlled by, the police has great merit and deserves further evaluation. It would inevitably save on operational costs in a time when the Chief Constable of Cumbria Police is stating that routine policing is likely to be withdrawn from rural areas owing to cost. He is unlikely to be the only Chief Constable faced with such a situation. Relieving the police of the burden of Firearms administration would be of benefit to all police forces, the shooting community and the general public.


  The scale of recreational shooting activity in the UK is considerable. Research by the BASC indicates that over 1,000,000 people actively participate in shooting sports. This is by any measure a significant part of the population which uses or supports the use of firearms in legitimate and safe pursuits, and represents considerable economic and social activity. This is recognised in the UK Biodiversity Plan of 1994, which acknowledges the contribution to land management and conservation carried out on behalf of shooting. Some 5.25 million hectares of the UK is managed by gamekeepers working directly for shooting interests, bringing benefits of work and revenue to what could otherwise be disadvantaged remoter areas.

  The 1997 Cobham Resource Report estimates this benefit to represent 26,300 full time jobs directly dependent on shooting activity, with 13,400 indirect jobs in hotels, suppliers and game dealers. In 1996 direct expenditure on shooting and stalking in the UK was valued at £402,000,000 and indirect expenditure £251,000,000. The scale of economic benefit associated with shooting is particularly significant to Scotland, attracting tourists and shooters from all over the world.

  The facts indicate that shooting is of great social and economic value to the UK. Anti gun pressure groups continue to suggest that firearms ownership and use is an anti-social phenomena which should be legislated out of existence. No evidence, as opposed to luridly presented, emotional, and often inaccurate tabloid standard reporting has ever been advanced by such groups to support this view.

  Proposals made by Chris Mullin MP in 1996 have included a prohibition of shotgun ownership in urban areas. How can an urban area be defined? I live in a village of 40 houses, 32 miles north of Aberdeen. We are surrounded by open countryside for miles all round, yet have street lights and a 30 mph speed limit. Does that mean that for the purpose of this proposal I would be considered to be an urban dweller and my right to own shotguns taken from me? Or would it simply mean that my shooting friends who live in Aberdeen and Peterhead, neither exactly a sprawling metropolis but decidedly urban in parts would no longer be permitted to join me?

  A fair and reasoned review will be welcomed, the many of us who use firearms safely and correctly will be following your deliberations with interest.

8 October 1999

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