Written evidence submitted by Mr Colin
1. The Committee has identified five areas upon
which it intends to concentrate. The topics are listed as five
bullet points and I have numbered them from the top.
2. Topic two asks whether current laws
are fit for purpose. Clearly they are not, but any changes should
be pursued in a logical manner without haste and without emotion.
3. Topic three deals with information
sharing between the police and medical professionals. This process
is already under way and further comment at this stage would not
4. Topic four can be disposed of by instructions
within the Home Office
5. Topic Five deals with air weapons.
Permitted space does not allow me to deal with this complex issue.
Others will doubtless do so and I shall be able at answer questions
6. In this response I shall deal only with the
two parts of Topic one.
7. The Parliamentary Home Affairs Committee has
previously enquired into firearms controls in 1996 and 1999-2000
whilst a third enquiry relating to Northern Ireland, which covered
some of the same ground, was held in 2002-03. Over the same period,
the Home Office published a Consultation Document on Controls
of Firearms and there have been a number of restrictive changes
to legislation all of which were, or could have been, the subject
of major debates.
8. Controls on firearms were introduced in 1920
and were subject to a series of modest adjustments until 1967
when the regime of controls was extended in a modified fashion
to shotguns. Since that time legislative and administrative changes
have flowed at an ever-quickening pace.
9. A mass of legislation is now in place, none
of it linked to any criteria by which its success or failure can
measured. Very large numbers of law abiding people have been effectively
subject to collective punishments and their liberty has been significantly
infringed, usually in the name of collective safety, but no system
has been found for measuring and balancing the rights of the individual
against a supposed collective good.
10. Politicians and administrators appear to
have acted on the assumption that firearms represent the primary
threat to civil society. It seems also to be assumed that if firearms
could somehow be removed many homicides would not occur.
11. Dr Harold Shipman did not use a firearm to
kill his estimated 172 victims; the so-called Yorkshire Ripper
used a hammer to kill 13 women; the 7 July 2005 bombings killed
52 innocent people and injured about 700 more. The weapon was
based on common organic peroxide. A plot to use the same type
of bomb for simultaneous attacks on transatlantic aircraft was
disrupted by the security services but might have killed a thousand
or so. Instructions for making such bombs, as well as plans for
building firearms, are available on the internet.
12. The statistics for 2008-09 record 651 homicides
in England and Wales. 255 involved sharp instruments; 199 involved
no instrument; 57 involved a blunt instrument and 39 involved
a firearm (about 6%). Other methods make up the remainder.
13. International anti-gun organisations claim
that the removal of firearms would end the wholesale slaughter
taking place in some African countries. In January 2010 fighting
in Nigeria between Muslims and Christians left 350 dead (mainly
Muslims). Reprisals in March 2010 resulted in more than 500 Christians
being killed in what reports have referred to as machete attacks.
Firearms were little used in these killings.
14. Legislation covering legitimate users of
firearms should take account of the ease with which some firearms
can be manufactured. During the War, the Warsaw Resistance manufactured
copies of the Sten gun under the noses of the Gestapo. In Northern
Ireland, both sides made copies of the Sten gun to the extent
that the RUC published a "recognition manual" to allow
the identification of the maker of recovered guns. More recently
Russian-made tear gas pistols have been converted in Lithuania
into very efficient 9mm pistols. They have been imported into
the UK packaged with 50 rounds of ammunition and a sound moderator.
Several hundred have been recovered but that is but a small proportion
of the number now illegally in circulation.
15. Rights of review of police decisions have
been so curtailed that Human Rights legislation is certainly infringed.
For example, a supposed error in the drafting of the Firearms
Act 1968 removed the right of appeal against conditions imposed
on firearm certificates. Despite representations, the right of
appeal has not been restored, allowing police to impose their
arbitrary views on certificate holders.
16. Since 1988, almost one million legally held
guns of all classes have been removed from the legitimate market,
but serious armed crime has risen substantially and shows a significant
move away from the supposedly less strictly controlled shotgun
to the now-banned pistol.
17. It is submitted that any inquiry into firearms
controls should have specific objectives for any legislation and
should spell out the method by which success or failure can be
measured. It should recognise the rights of the citizen and should
approach those rights with balance and proportionality, recognising
that legislators cannot abolish evil and that the mere enactment
of a statute does not mean that the supposed good that was intended
will come about.
18. Initially for Lord Cullen's 1996 Inquiry,
the Home Office sought to identify the number of homicides committed
using legally held firearms during the period 1992 to 1994. Tables
were later included in the annual criminal statistics before being
consolidated in 1998.
|Circumstances||Firearm Legally Held
||Firearm Illegally Held||Not|
|Organised crim, drugs-related, contract killing etc
|Robbery or gain||2||33
|Argument, jealousy, revenge||6
|Average per year||6||35
19. On 25 July 2006, the then Home Office Minister, Mr Tony
McNulty, told Parliament that there were concerns over the quality
of these data and they had ceased to be collected. Those concerns
must have been assuaged because on 20 April 2009, Lord West of
Spithead reported to the House of Lords that only two of the 53
"shooting homicides" in 2007-08 involved licensed firearms
and in 21 cases the firearms was not licensed. In 30 cases the
status of the firearm was not known.
20. Despite any reservations about the quality of the figures,
they show that legally held firearms are not used by organised
criminals, drug dealers, etc and are very rarely used in robbery.
Even in domestic circumstances (the circumstances most likely
to involve legally held firearms) illegally held firearms were
used 2.5 times more frequently than legally held ones.
21. The figure of six legally held firearms use in homicide
each year must be judged against a current total of some two million
legally held firearms currently in circulation (See below).
22. In judging the level of threat from legally held firearms,
account must also be taken of the substitute weapon theory. If
a relationship has broken down to a point where a person wants
to kill a partner and a firearm is available, that weapon may
be used, but it is illogical to suggest that the presence or absence
of a firearm will be a determining factor in a situation where
many other lethal weapons are to hand. In any case, the evidence
shows that where a firearm was used, it was more likely to be
illegally than legally held.
23. The ground breaking study in the substitute weapons theory
was that of Professor Marvin E Wolfgang (Patterns in Criminal
Homicide, University of Pennsylvania Press, Philadelphia,
1958) which remains virtually unchallenged. He said,
"Several students of homicide have tried to show that the
high number of, or easy access to, firearms in this country [the
USA] is causally related to our relatively high homicide rate.
Such a conclusion cannot be drawn from the Philadelphia data.
Material subsequently reported in the present study regarding
the place where the homicide occurred, relationships between victim
and offender, motives and other variables suggest that many situations,
events and personalities that converge in particular ways and
that result in homicide do not depend primarily upon the presence
or absence of firearms . . . More than the availability of a shooting
weapon is involved in homicide. Pistols and revolvers are not
difficult to purchaselegally or illegallyin Philadelphia.
Police interrogation of defendants reveals that most frequently
these weapons are bought from friends or acquaintances for such
nominal sums as 10 or 20 dollars. A penknife or a butcher knife,
of course, is much cheaper and more easily obtained. Ready access
to knives and little reluctance to engage in physical combat without
weapons, or to 'fight it out', are as important as the availability
of some sort of gun. The type of weapon used appears to be, in
part, the culmination of assault intentions or events and is only
superficially related to causality. . ."
24. This complex subject should be examined by (i) time series
studies which look at the extent of controls and the rate of armed
crime in one area over a period of time and (ii) cross sectional
studies looking at a number of countries over a single or short
period of time.
25. Appendix 2 shows the number of firearm and shotgun certificates
in England and Wales. In 2008 there were 1,801,465 "guns"
in the hands of certificate holders. There are also the stocks
of 2,840 dealers and at a crude estimate of 100 guns per dealer
this might add 284,000 to the inventory giving a total of well
over two million guns legally in circulation. Illegally held firearms
and those in the hands of police and military do not enter into
this equation. The years 1988 and 1997 mark significant increases
in the controls and are highlighted.
26. Appendix 3 shows the number of cases of homicide and robbery
in each year from 1980 to 2008, broken down by type of firearm,
and explains why these figures were selected to represent serious
27. Shotgun certificates were introduced in 1967 as a small
simple card issued on request to those without convictions or
known mental problems. There was no registration of shotguns.
The Firearms (Amendment) Act 1988 was brought in as a response
to the Hungerford killings. The two weapons used in those killings
were a self loading rifle and a pistol. Shotguns were not involved,
but the Home Office had a shopping list derived from the shelved
1973 Green Paper.
28. The 1988 Act imposed an entirely different regime on the
licensing of shotguns, creating a good reason requirement that
differed slightly from that on Section 1 firearms, imposing registration
of guns and security conditions and further restricting many types
29. The new law, together with the police attitude towards
it, had an immediate impact on levels of shotgun ownership. Certificate
numbers, which had peaked in 1988 at 882,000, began to drop rapidly.
Between 1988 and 2008-09 the number of shotgun certificates has
fallen by 334,000 and the number of legally held shotguns has
therefore being reduced by 800,000. During the same period, the
number of firearm certificates has been reduced by 28,665 giving
an 88,000 reduction in Section 1 firearms. Thus almost one million
"guns" have been removed from the legal market.
30. Contrary to popular belief, shotguns, sawn off or otherwise,
have not been the favoured weapon of the murderer or the robber.
The homicide figures show a marked trend in recent years away
from shotguns and to the now-banned pistol.
31. The robbery figures show an even clearer trend towards
pistols which were used in robbery ten times more than frequently
than the combined totals for shotguns and sawn-off shotguns.
32. The years 1988 and 1997 do not indicate a watershed but
one can clearly be detected in 1993 when the total of firearms
robberies hit a high of 5,918 cases but fell in 1994 to 4,104
cases, a reduction of a massive 1,814 cases.
33. The 1994 Criminal Statistics note the change, reporting
that a reduction of 1,176 cases had occurred in the Metropolitan
Police area with just 638 for the rest of England and Wales. That
reduction is attributable to a policy introduced by Commander
Penrose for the crime squads by which criminals known or believed
to have use firearms were targeted by crime squads in a vigorous,
almost ruthless fashion. They did not then and have not since
received much credit for their action but they pointed the way
to the only method by which the use of firearms in crime will
be controlled, and that is by controlling the criminals. Reducing
the stock of legally held firearms by almost a million guns has
had no effect.
34. There is no evidence in a time series study to support
the theory that the imposition of more controls and the removal
of more legally held firearms has had or could have any beneficial
35. It is frequently claimed that those countries with the
least restrictive control over firearms invariably or usually
have the highest rates of gun crime. I have made a number of studies
into this field. I was commissioned to analyse a United Nations
study in this field (E/CN.15/1997/4) following assertions that
the survey provided evidence to support the theory that places
with the highest rates of gun ownership and the most virulent
opposition to gun control are the places with the highest rates
of gun deaths. I attach a summary of my findings at Appendix 4.
The full paper was published in The Shooting Sports Survey
2008 (Merril Press, Bellevue, WA). There is no reliable evidence
of any correlation between levels of gun ownership and rates of
armed crime at any time or in any part of the world.
36. A cross sectional analysis of the relationship between
the prevalence of handguns and the rate of homicide in contiguous
Canadian Provinces and American States was carried out by Professor
Brandon Centerwall and reported in The American Journal of
Epidemiology at 134 (1991) 1245-63. Professor Centerwall found
that handgun ownership in US States was about ten times higher
than in contiguous Canadian Provinces, yet the homicide rates
were effectively the same. Appendix 5 cites the example of the
State of Vermont, where firearms are effectively uncontrolled
but where the homicide rate is lower than that of England and
Wales, Scotland or Canada.
37. There is no evidence from cross section analyses which
supports claims that the imposition of stricter gun controls or
a reduction in number of firearms available will influence rates
of armed crime.
3 September 2010
ENGLAND AND WALES
NUMBERS OF FIREARM AND SHOTGUN CERTIFICATES
The total number of firearm and shotgun certificates on issue
in England and Wales is shown in the above table. The 138,728
firearm certificates in force in 2008-09 relate to 435,383 firearms
(3.1 per certificate) and the 547,946 shotgun certificates relate
to 1,366,082 shotguns (2.4 per certificate).
SERIOUS CRIMEENGLAND AND WALES
1. In this paper, serious firearms crime is limited to homicide
2 Homicide rates are the general international measure of lawlessness.
In England and Wales, however, homicide rates are adjusted after
the event for matters such as the determination of the courts.
The figures quoted in Column 1 are the unadjusted figures and
may differ from other Home Office tables by as much as the 70
cases finally excluded from the 1980 figure.
3 Robbery figures are used because this serious offence is one
in which offenders almost invariably have previous convictions
for crime and is one which is highly likely to be reported to
the police. Further, changes made by the Home Office to crime
recording practices by the National Crime Recording Standard in
April 2002 mean that figures for many classes of crime prior to
that date cannot be compared with later figures. Robbery, however,
was less affected than other classes of crime. (See Box 2.1 Home
Office Statistical Bulletin 1/10 "Homicides, Firearms Offences
and Intimate Violence 2008-09")
|| 6||13 ||42
+ The total firearms column includes a small number of "other
firearms" that do not appear in the following columns.
++The total figure for 2002-03
includes 172 homicides attributed to Dr Shipman.
+ The total firearms column includes a small number of "other
firearms" that do not appear in the following columns.
* From 1998 the figures are for the financial year to 1 April
of the following year.
SUMMARY OF CROSS SECTIONAL STUDY ON THE LEVELS OF GUN
OWNERSHIP AND VIOLENT DEATHS
The proposition that, "places with the highest rates of gun
ownership and the most virulent opposition to gun control are
the very places with the highest rates of gun deaths" has
been tested against research which covers no less than thirty-three
different countries and is based on information supplied to the
United Nations by the countries concerned and assembled by a team
of researchers supplied by the Government of Canada.
The figures supplied have been placed into bands representing
(a) very low levels, (b) low levels, (c) high levels and (d) very
high levels under each category for gun ownership, homicide, gun
homicide, suicide, gun suicide and accidents. The following table
summarises the results. Whilst the figures used are "as
reported" and have not been corrected for many possible variables,
the results are placed into broad bands with very wide differentials.
The table shows that the United States has a very high level of
gun ownership and also has high or very high levels of homicide,
gun homicide, gun suicide and gun accidents. But that one example
does not establish an immutable rule. Australia, Canada, Finland,
Germany, New Zealand and Sweden all have very high levels of gun
ownership, Finland's being the highest recorded in the survey.
All these are matched with low or very low levels of homicide,
with very low accident levels in all but one case, and with very
variable suicide rates.
This survey confirms that, despite a single exception, a high
level of violent deaths and particularly gun deaths can exist
in countries where gun ownership levels vary from very low to
very high and that very low levels of violent deaths can exist
in countries with very high levels of gun ownership.
There is, in fact, no relationship between high levels of gun
ownership and high levels of gun deaths or of violent deaths in
|Trinidad & Tobago||a
(a) - Very Low. (b) - Low (c) - High (d) - Very High *
THE VERMONT EXAMPLE
1. Vermont was amongst the American States in the cross sectional
analysis of the relationship between the prevalence of handguns
and the rate of homicide in contiguous Canadian Provinces and
American States carried out by Professor Brandon Centerwall. Vermont
is remarkable for a system that imposes virtually no control over
firearms. In addition to the right to have arms set out in the
Second Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, Vermont
has its own State Constitution, Chapter 1, Article 16 of which
"That the people have a right to bear arms for the defence
of themselves and the State and, as standing armies in time of
peace are dangerous to liberty, they ought not to be kept up and
that the military should be kept under strict subordination to
and governed by the civil power."
2. Virtually the only provision in state law that the restricts
the carrying of firearms (VSA 4003) provides:
"A person who carries a dangerous or deadly weapon, openly
or concealed, with the intent or avowed purpose of injuring a
fellow man, or who carries a dangerous or deadly weapon within
any state institution or upon grounds or lands owned or leased
for the use of such institution, without the approval of the warden
or superintendent of the institution, shall be imprisoned for
not more than two years or fined not more than $200.00, or both."
3. Some provisions of Federal Law apply in Vermont so that a person
wishing to acquire a firearm from a Federally licensed dealer
must be subjected to an instant background check with the FBI.
There are 323 State dealers who may carry out such checks directly
with the FBI. Such checks are not required for private sales.
The law requires the keeping of a register of sales by pawnbrokers
and retail dealers. The record must include a description of the
purchaser and his signature. The purchaser requires no form of
permit and the State is forbidden to maintain records of privately
4. Federal law prohibits the acquiring or possessing a firearm
by felons, certain domestic abusers, and certain people with a
history of mental illness. Vermont has not extended that list,
but in some cases allows for the courts to order that a person
may not acquire a firearm without the written permission of the
5. There is no limit on the number of firearms that may be acquired
6. Firearms may not be possessed in a school building or bus,
or on any other school premises with intent to injure another.
7. A person may carry a firearm concealed or openly, without any
form of permit.
8. There are no provisions about secure storage.
9. With only one exemption, long guns carried in motor vehicles
must be unloaded.
10. The laws in other US States were generally more strict than
those in Vermont but by comparison with Britain or with Canada
would be thought to be extraordinarily liberal. Pistols have
been subject to some forms of control in Canada since 1919 and
the controls were extended in 1977. Regardless of the provisions
of local legislation, Centerwall found that handgun ownership
in the US States was, on average ten times higher than that in
11. When mean annual criminal homicide rates for Canadian Provinces
were compared with those of adjoining US states, no consistent
differences were observed . . . Major differences in the prevalence
of handguns had not resulted in differing total criminal homicide
12. Professor Centerwall prefaced his report with, "If you
are surprised by my findings, so am I. I did not begin this research
with any intent to "exonerate" handguns, but there it
is - a negative finding, to be sure, but a negative finding is
nevertheless a positive contribution. It directs us where not
to aim public health resources"
13. Criminal Statistics, England and Wales 2008-2009 (Table 1.14)
shows the following homicide rates per 100,000 population for
various countries averaged for the three years 2000 to 2002.
HOMICIDES PER 100,000 POPULATION
|England and Wales||1.76
|U S A||5.59|
14. The homicide rate for England and Wales is continuously adjusted
downwards to take account of subsequent events and should be slightly
increased for a valid comparison. The figure for the USA includes
enormous variables. The District of Columbia (including Washington
DC) had a homicide rate of 31.4 per 100,000 in 2008 (down from
a high of 80 in 1999) in an area where firearms were banned until
a recent Supreme Court decision. Vermont has one of the most
"liberal" (or lax) gun control regimes in the United
States, indeed in the world, but the average homicide rate in
Vermont over the same three year period was 1.5 per 100,000.