D. Success of the 1997 Acts in removing handguns
The 1997 Firearms (Amendment)
Acts resulted in the largest ever surrender of firearms in the
UK. It was completed in a short space of time and without serious
incident or risk to the public. The surrender exercise was a tribute
to the professionalism and dedication of the police service and
to the cooperation of the overwhelming majority of shooters.
162,000 handguns and 7,000 tonnes of ammunition were handed in.
With the exception of a small number retained by the police, HM
Customs and the Forensic Science Service for demonstration and
comparison purposes or donated to suitably authorised museums,
all of these have been, or will be, destroyed.
It is acknowledged
that, prior to the surrender, the police estimated that 187,000
handguns were legally held, thus suggesting a shortfall of 25,000
when considered against the actual number surrendered. However,
the estimates provided by the police were designed to give a general
ball-park figure. They did not in all cases take account of the
fact that muzzle-loaders and signalling apparatus were excluded
from the prohibition. Furthermore, the Act provided for the retention
of handguns in limited circumstances such as for use as starting
pistols or for the humane slaughter of animals. It was also legitimate
for individuals to dispose of their handguns by export, sale,
deactivation or destruction rather than surrendering them to the
All police forces have their own detailed records of certificate
holders and registered firearms dealers. They have thus been able
to satisfy themselves that handguns held legally before the prohibition
have been accounted for. The report published by the NAO of its
Value For Money study of the handgun surrender and compensation
(HC 225) makes clear that the police have followed up any cases
of doubt to satisfy themselves that guns have not been legally
retained. 16 of the forces visited by the NAO were satisfied that
legally held guns had been surrendered or otherwise accounted
for. The 10 forces who had been unable to satisfy themselves in
respect of just 35 owners at the end of the surrender periods
had nevertheless resolved three-quarters of those cases by September
Those types of small firearm that have been exempt from the
general ban on handguns are discussed in greater detail in Section
The handgun ban was not
intended to tackle the problems of illegal guns or firearms related
crime. It was a direct response to the tragic events at Dunblane,
which involved the misuse of legally held handguns.
1997, 305 handguns were misappropriated and many will have ended
up in criminal hands. The ban will have served to help remove
this potential source from criminal use.
The latest available figures
show that firearms related crime has dropped. In the 18 month
period since the legislation took effect on 1 July 1997 the number
of crimes in England and Wales in which firearms (other than low-powered
air weapons) were used fell by 11 per cent to 7,532 compared with
the 18 month period before when there were 8,490 such offences.
This includes falls in the number of violent offences against
the person and of armed robberies.
Nevertheless, the Government
is committed to further measures to tackle the problem of illegally
held firearms. These are further discussed in Section F.