Extract from a memorandum by Mr Steven
W Kendrick MBA
REVIEW OF FIREARMS CONTROL
The purpose of this paper is to give as comprehensive
as possible recommendations for reform of the system of firearms
control in Great Britain. The paper makes mention of the controls
in Northern Ireland, but does not make comprehensive recommendations
in all areas.
The paper is divided into three different sections:
the first section deals with short-term changes that are necessary,
ie problems with the operation of the Firearms Acts that must
be addressed immediately. The paper then goes on to deal with
medium-term recommendations, ie changes in the law which can form
amendments to the Firearms Act 1968 and which should be adopted
when Parliamentary time is available.
The paper concludes with long-term recommendations,
which essentially would require a new Firearms Act.
It would be remiss in this submission not to
make some observations on the general arguments for firearms control
that have been put forward from various sources in recent times.
Despite the fact that armed crime has been rising
now for some considerable length of time and shows no signs of
abating, new attempts at firearms control tend to have been made
in recent years only after some highly publicised and unusual
events, such as the shootings at Dunblane and Hungerford.
Although mass shootings cause great concern,
the loss of life while tragic and traumatic must be placed in
contextin 1994 there were only two homicides in Great Britain
with legally possessed handguns; 11 people died in England and
Wales in that year from food poisoning caused by E-Coli 0157.
(Source: Office of Population and Census Statistics.) More people
lost their lives in an E-Coli breakout in Lanarkshire in 1996
than were killed at Dunblane; but it would obviously be foolish
to call for the general banning of all meat consumption forever
as a preventative measure, even though there is no real need for
anyone to eat meat.
The measures brought in after mass shootings
are, to a large extent, knee-jerk reactions that do not address
the real issues that are important to reducing the misuse of firearms.
The former Chairman of the Firearms Consultative Committee, the
Earl of Shrewsbury and Talbot DL, in evidence to the Home Affairs
Committee in 1996 wrote: "New and comprehensive firearms
legislation should not be enacted in haste and would probably
take as least 12 months for adequate scrutiny, in order to avoid
some of the errors of the past."
This advice was comprehensively ignored by the
Government and the Firearms (Amendment) Act 1997 is filled with
anomalies as detailed in this submission.
The Firearms Consultative Committee is dismissed
as a shooters' quango by the anti-gun lobby and they put forward
a range of arguments.
Bans on handguns, or semi-automatic rifles,
it is said, will make the public safer. This is comprehensively
not true. It is not true because (a) there are still many types
of firearm legally available that are equally as deadly; and (b)
it does not address the illegal use and possession of firearms.
Indeed, the Home Office itself in written evidence to Lord Cullen
during the Dunblane Public Inquiry stated that excessive controls
on firearms could lead to a growth in the number possessed illegally.
The anti-gun lobby doubtless argues that those
firearms that are just as deadly should be forbidden as well.
This is not a workable suggestion, because even the most stringent
law would have to take account of military, police and essential
agricultural uses. It is impossible to simply ban all guns. So
then the argument logically moves to the statement that only the
most deadly types of firearm should be banned, or they should
be banned for certain uses. Presumably at this stage we are accepting
there will be the occasional outrage perpetrated by a soldier,
farmer or police officer, as has happened in other countries.
The worst mass shooting known was in 1993 when a Chinese soldier
shot dead 37 people in Beijing.
Most firearms are deadly. The term "firearm"
is defined in law as any "lethal barrelled weapon".
Firearms of all types can be used to kill. Banning certain types
achieves precisely nothing in terms of preventing mass shootings,
which appears to be the greatest public worry. Mass shootings
have been committed with every type of firearm imaginable. A French
farmer used a double-barrelled shotgun in 1990 to shoot dead 14
people. Do we now ban double-barrel shotguns? It is frankly impossible
to prevent mass shootings with legally possessed guns by banning
certain types or banning certain uses, because it simply means
that those types left possessed for whatever uses are allowed
will be used by the person wanting to commit such crimes, and
the stricter the controls become, the more guns slip through the
net as people turn to the illegal possession of firearms. There
is evidence this is already happening. (See Section 3.1)
Another argument is that ". . . . armed
robbers would not do what Thomas Hamilton did . . .", because
presumably, armed robbers have other intended uses for their illegally
possessed weaponry. The theory is that the danger of illegally
possessed firearms is different than that posed by legally possessed
Once again, this is sheer nonsense. Mass shootings
are extraordinarily rare events, but they have been committed
not only with virtually every type of firearm imaginable, but
also with firearms that were illegally possessed. Perhaps the
most graphic example is that of Michael Anderson, who in late
1996 shot dead six people and seriously injured four more in a
remote rural town in New Zealandwith an illegally possessed
It is also proven wrong by simply looking at
Home Office statistics for England and Wales. In the period 1992-94,
of 60 domestic homicides committed with firearms, 42, or 70 per
cent were committed with illegally possessed firearms, 86 per
cent of firearm-related homicides were committed with illegally
possessed guns. (92.5 per cent of handgun-related homicides were
with illegally possessed handguns). Many mass shootings have begun
after a domestic dispute.
The shooting community, and others, take a rather
different view of preventing mass shootings. To quote Jim Sharples,
Chairman of ACPO: ". . . the view of the Association of Chief
Police Officers is that we have got to concentrate much more than
we have in the past on the individual in order to test their suitability
and so on." (Oral evidence given before the Home Affairs
Committee in 1996.) This submission makes comprehensive recommendations
in this regard.
It should be obvious that a nuclear weapon in
the hands of a person with no inclination to use it is as harmless
as baby food, whereas a pocket knife in the hands of someone who
likes to attack people is far more dangerous. It is the person
in possession of the gun, rather than the gun itself, which is
where any threat to public safety will originate. Of course, there
is a big difference between a nuclear weapon and a pocket knife
in terms of the consequences of its misuse. There is next to no
difference in the consequences posed by the misuse of one firearm
versus another. Logically, the only solution to preventing the
misuse of firearms is to ensure that those people who possess
them are not a danger to the public.
Differentiation does have to be made between
different types of firearm, but not because some of them have
more utility for mass shootings. Almost any type of firearm turned
against unarmed people can be used to slaughter. The differing
killing ability of firearms only becomes apparent if people are
shooting back. A man armed with a shotgun could likely not overcome
a man armed with an automatic rifle, for example, if their shooting
skills were equivalent. The military concept of firepower superiority
is what has driven the design of certain kinds of firearm.
There is, therefore, justification for differing
levels of control on firearms, because some types in certain situations
are more dangerous than others. But mass shootings are not one
of those situations, because they can be committed with nearly
any type of firearm. Clearly a person armed with a firearm has
firepower superiority over people who are unarmed. It is, in short,
a fallacy to believe that mass shootings will be prevented by
the prohibitions contained in the Firearms (Amendment) Acts 1988-97,
and those prohibitions are therefore highly illogical.
There will also be those who argue that those
prohibitions may have some general impact on armed crime; once
again, this does not appear to be the case as the largest rise
in armed crime in recorded history in this country was after the
implementation of the Firearms (Amendment) Act 1988. Since the
1997 Acts, there is no indication of a drop-off in armed crime
either and even the Home Office state that the only intended effect
of the Acts was to address the misuse of legally held firearms.
This view was also recently supported by Roy
Penrose, Director General of the National Crime Squad after the
force conducted a threat assessment of armed crime in Great Britain.
SUMMARY OF RECOMMENDATIONS
1.1 There should be an exemption from the
requirement for prohibited weapons authority for carriers of expanding
ammunition and slaughtering instruments.
1.2 Exemptions for firearm certificate holders
in the Firearms (Amendment) Act 1997 should be extended to firearm
1.3 The exemption for war trophies in the
Firearms (Amendment) Act 1997 should provide for transfers to
1.4 The requirement for transfers of ammunition
to be made in person should be repealed. Transfer notification
requirements for firearms should be clarified.
1.5 The prohibition of expanding ammunition
should not extend to expended projectiles.
1.6 The prohibition of handguns and certain
rifled guns should be clarified to prevent confusion.
1.7 Provisions relating to approval of gun
clubs should be clarified.
2.1 Provisions relating to antique firearms
should be clarified and the exemptions from licensing and prohibition
recast to avoid overlap and redundancy.
2.2 Age limits for possession, transfer,
etc of firearms should be standardised and made more comprehensible.
2.3 The law relating to the transportation
of firearms and ammunition should be clarified and comprehensive
2.4 The standards for deactivated assault
rifles and sub-machineguns which fire from the closed-bolt position
should be returned to the pre-October 1995 specification.
2.5 The minimum shotgun barrel length requirement
should be changed from 24 inches to 60 cm.
2.6 Certain types of self-loading and pump-action
rifled guns should be removed from prohibition.
2.7 The provisions relating to "downconverted"
firearms should be repealed or narrowed.
3.1 Efforts should be made to determine
the disposition of firearms unaccounted for after the Firearms
(Amendment) Act 1988.
3.2 A new licensing system for firearms
should be created, within the framework of the European Firearms
Directive and utilising the Directive's categorisation of firearms.
3.3 People receiving lengthy suspended sentences
should be prohibited from possessing firearms. New provisions
to prevent people suffering from serious mental illness obtaining
firearms should be introduced. Court appeals on firearm matters
should be subject to advance disclosure requirements.
Conditions relating to the use of firearms should
3.4 Category A firearms should be prohibited
with limited exemptions.
3.5 The possession and use of Category B
firearms should be subject to individual authorisation for specified
3.6 A firearm licensing system based on
the current shotgun licensing system should be applied to Category
C and D firearms, but good reason must be shown for obtaining
3.7 Firearm licences should be based on
"smart card" technology. Separate permits to acquire
should be required for Category B firearms.
3.8 Most lethal firearms not categorised
by the European Firearms Directive should require a firearm licence
to possess. Non-lethal firearms should be made subject only to
age restrictions for possession.
3.9 Ammunition and ammunition primers should
require a firearm licence for acquisition and possession.
3.10 Advances in IT should be applied to
firearm dealers to enhance record keeping and reporting requirements.
3.11 There should be a professionally staffed
national firearms licensing authority, consolidating and centralising
the functions of the current agencies involved in firearms control.
3.12 People who are at risk of armed attack
from terrorists or organised criminal gangs should be able to
obtain a firearm licence for personal protection, after comprehensive
3.13 There should be mandatory minimum sentences
for the illegal use and possession of firearms. Additional resources
should be given to HM Customs & Excise to tackle illegal importation.
3.14 There should be a national firearm
licensing amnesty with the assistance of firearms dealers.
3.15 The new Firearms Act should be written
The definition of a "component part"
should be clear.
Licensing fees should be reasonable and linked
to the rate of inflation.
The Home Office should be required to officially
comment on recommendations of the Firearms Consultative Committee.
Gun club regulations should be spelled out in
the Act rather than guidance.
Weapons currently subject to the Firearms Act
which are not firearms should be controlled under separate legislation.
The new Act should extend to Northern Ireland.
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