Select Committee on Home Affairs Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum by Acting Chief Inspector John T Parish



  This Area Command and indeed other areas of Northumbria Police suffer from an unacceptable number of calls from the public in connection with the use of air weapons and soft air weapons (powerful "toys" designed to mimic the appearance of a genuine firearm and able to discharge various projectiles with ever increasing degrees of power and accuracy). Proposed legislation should be directed principally at providing control mechanisms in that area.

  Currently, legislation exists which controls the power of these air weapons, ages when they can be possessed, restrictions on purchase and control of their use. For example, an air gun does not require a firearms certificate under Section 1 of the Firearms Act 1968 providing the kinetic energy produced when it is fired does not exceed six foot pounds. Similarly, an air rifle must exceed 12 foot pounds before it is classed as "Specially Dangerous" and therefore attracts certification. Many of these weapons are under the six and 12 lbs restrictions but are still capable of causing serious injury or damage.

  A person under the age of 17 years may not possess an air weapon in a public place unless it is covered with a securely fastened gun cover so as it cannot be fired. A person under 14 years may not have with him any air weapon or ammunition. Other restrictions relate to trespass, carrying a loaded air weapon in a public place and criminal use. The legislation is far from simple especially to members of the general public.

  At the very least, the previous recommendation to the Firearms Consultation Committee that air weapons should be the subject of a certificate must be reinforced and laws controlling possession and use strengthened.

  It follows that the introduction of a certification process would involve strict controls upon sale and greater demands upon the police service, but I feel this would be worth it.

  Air weapons are becoming increasingly sophisticated (high capacity magazines, carbon dioxide powering, red dot sights etc) and many are designed to be exact replicas of Section 1 firearms and handguns similar to the ones I demonstrated to you during our meeting.

  We deal with numerous incidents involving use of these weapons, often by juveniles and, in line with modern tactics, the majority are dealt with by the deployment of armed response vehicles. I dread the probable consequences of a young person pointing one of these guns at an armed officer, deliberately or inadvertently, as that officer will find it impossible to identify the nature of the threat he/she is facing.

  It is estimated that 50 per cent of calls relating to firearms received force-wide turn out to be connected to the use of air weapons.

  Many people currently get enjoyment out of the lawful use of air weapons, which if legislation were introduced would make it harder for people to participate without first having to go through a certification process. (It needs to be remembered that there are air weapon shooting events in both the Olympic and Commonwealth Games.)

  I enclose a copy of an article taken from the Police Review magazine[118] in which it is apparent that other forces are also clearly concerned about the current situation.

John T Parish

Acting Chief Inspector, Northumbria Police

118   Not printed. Back

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