Select Committee on Home Affairs Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum by The Lord Kimball


  I write in my capacity as first Chairman of the Firearms Consultative Committee set up in 1989 after Hungerford, and the passing of the Firearms (Amendment) Act 1988. I am also Deputy President of the Countryside Alliance; the Chairman is submitting evidence on the current situation, but I was responsible for recommendations on shotguns and firearms insofar as they affected their necessary sporting use. Criteria that have not changed since 1989.


  The only air weapons excluded from certificate control under section 1(3)(b) of the Firearms Act 1968, are low powered with kinetic energy of less than 12 foot pounds. These low powered weapons still constitute firearms within the meaning of the Firearms Act.

  There are restrictions on the possession and use of air weapons by young people under the age of 17. The law as it stands is adequate to deal with current levels of misuse. Public awareness and understanding of the law, and remedies for improper use, should be increased.

  The Home Office information leaflet "Air Weapons be Safe" should be given greater circulation to parents and guardians. All police forces should be encouraged to distribute the leaflet through crime prevention officers. Schools are visited by police officers to target particular areas of concern. The improper use of air weapons should be given greater priority in certain police force areas.

  Personal injury offences committed with air weapons has fallen from 1,762 in 1989 to 1,401 in 1995 and the proportion of firearms offences in which an airgun was used fell in the same period from 35 per cent to 18 per cent. The increase in reported criminal damage offences with air weapons is caused by the effect of inflation on the definition of criminal damage of anything over £25 in value.


  It is important to realise that after Hungerford all shotguns and firearms that can now be owned and used in England, Scotland and Wales are weapons for which there is a genuine agricultural, sporting or competitive purpose.

  The first Report of the Firearms Consultative Committee lists all those shotguns and firearms for which there was no viable reason for their ownership.

    1.  Large magazine, smooth bore shotguns, pump-action and self-loading.

    2.  Automatic and self-loading rifles.

    3.  The import of certain smooth bore guns was curtailed and they were moved from Section 2 (Shotgun Certificate Control) to the more restrictive Section 1 of the 1988 Act.


  In March 1990, as a result of Sheriff Lockhart's questions after the Glasgow tragic accident, a review was carried out into the misuse of shotguns and the controls designed to prevent their misuse.

  Sections 22-24 of the Firearms Act 1968 and a full examination of Section 28(1B) with the good reason for possession of a shotgun were safeguards when properly applied.

  The whole question of danger to the public or the peace was considered in depth in the Consultative Committee's Fifth Annual Report with a recommendation for no change in this area.

  The misuse of shotguns can best be curtailed by improved security by those who hold legal weapons. Secure storage at all times is part of the conditions on all certificates. I have not examined since 1995 the Home Office leaflet on Firearms Security issued in 1992. The Committee might care to look at the position that the police have no statutory power to inspect, but equally it is considered reasonable for "a police officer to inspect an applicant's security".

  The Committee might also look at the up to date position of large magazine smooth bore shotguns. Large magazine pump action guns have been used in a significant number of occasions in serious crimes. 50,000 owners have complied with the law and had their magazines adapted.

  I have never been satisfied on the need for any of these weapons to be used. The Committee might decide to exclude them altogether. There are no agricultural, sporting or competitive purposes where these weapons offer extra efficiency over the traditional double barrelled shotgun.

  In answer to the Committee's specific questions:

    1.  The greatest misuse is by stolen or illegally held shotguns.

    2.  There are inadequacies in security arrangements.

    3.  The present licensing system should not be made more complicated, but I do suggest to the Committee one major recommendation under "other firearms" heading—the need for two counter signatures.


  I am not in touch with the current situation in relation to handguns. The main concern is the delay in the payment of compensation.

  In respect of other firearms, and the licensing system the Ninth Report of the Consultative Committee recommends two counter signatures from two referees who would be subject to questioning by police on their knowledge of an applicant.

  The emphasis has been too much on licensing weapons, and not enough on the suitability of the person. The number of weapons owned by a suitable person is not significant. In 1989 the Home Office and the Consultative Committee were more concerned with the multitude and type of weapons in circulation. If greater emphasis had been put on counter signatures and referees, Dunblane would not have happened. Hamilton blackmailed his counter signator, but in general in rural communities pressures can be applied to secure a counter signature. The Committee should review the weakness of only one signature and recommend two.

23 September 1999

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