Select Committee on Home Affairs Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Extract from a memorandum by Mr Steven W Kendrick MBA



  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 context—in 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[115])

  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 ones.

  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 Zealand—with an illegally possessed single-shot shotgun.

  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.



  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 permits.

  1.3  The exemption for war trophies in the Firearms (Amendment) Act 1997 should provide for transfers to heirs.

  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 guidance issued.

  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 be standardised.

  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 reasons.

  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 a licence.

  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 training.

  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 clearly.

    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.

October 1999

115   Not printed. Back

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