Firearms Control - Home Affairs Committee Contents

Written evidence submitted by Mr Colin Greenwood


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 be helpful.

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 if asked.

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.
CircumstancesFirearm Legally Held Firearm Illegally HeldNot
Organised crim, drugs-related, contract killing etc 07543
Domestic2862 6
Robbery or gain233 17
Argument, jealousy, revenge6 4916
Other924 47
Total—7 Years45 243129
Average per year635 18

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 purchase—legally or illegally—in 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 armed crime.

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 of shotgun.

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 effect.


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


1988155,400 882,000
1997133,600 623,100
2004-05126,400 572,400

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).



1. In this paper, serious firearms crime is limited to homicide and robbery.

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")

Total +
Shotgun Sawn-off ShotgunPistol
198062124 1118
198155634 21-11
198261846 2879
198355242 2758
198461967 34721
198562545 2278
198666051 31610
198768677 331010
1988645 36198 7
198962245 19713
199066160 25822
199172555 25719
199268156 20528
199367574 291035
199472766 221425
199575370 181039
199667949 9830
1997753 59124 39
1998*73149 4732
199976162 613 42
200085073 12247
200185897 20159
20021,045++81 20340
200385868 7435
200483878 121137
200576649 4722
200675756 6327
200777553 1239
200867041 4329

+ 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.

Shotgun Sawn-off
198015,0061,149 127181529
198120,2821,893 2622921,001
198222,8372,560 3643721,440
198322,1191,957 2693421,011
198424,8902,098 2163781,106
198527,4632,539 2823991,221
198630,0202,651 2564711,196
198732,6332,831 2804501,374
198831,437 2,688241 4511,321
198933,1633,390 2805241,772
199036,1953,939 2804482,233
199145,3235,296 3816502,988
199252,8945,827 4066023,544
199357,8455,918 4375933,605
199460,0074,104 2743732,390
199568,0743,963 2352812,478
199674,0353,617 2242322,316
199763,072 3,029121 1781,854
1998*66,1722,973 1381931,814
199984,2773,922 1382172,561
200095,1544,081 981992,700
2001121,3755,323 1432013,841
2002108,0454,776 1011743,332
2003101,1954,117 981482,799
200490,7473,727 711572,501
200598,2044,120 891322,888
2006101,3763,979 1151362,684
200784,7063,939 1071422,706
200880,1043,617 1081272,565

+ 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.



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 general.

GunHomicide SuicideGun
CountryOwnershipTotal GunTotalGun Accidents
Argentinabb b** *
Australiadb acc a
Austriacb a** *
Belarusad -d* b
Brazilad daa d
Burkino Fasoaa *aa a
Canadada acc a
Costa Ricacc bcb b
Czech Republicbb acb a
Estoniabd cdc d
Finlanddb add a
Germanyda acb a
Greececa abb a
Guineada *** *
Hungaryac ada *
Jamaicaad daa a
Japanaa adaa
Malaysiaab aaa a
New Zealandda acc b
Peruaa baaa
Philippinesad c** *
Polandab aca a
Moldovaad a** *
Romaniaac a** *
Singaporeaa ac* *
Slovakiabb aca *
South Africacd d** *
Spainca abab
Swedenda acb a
Trinidad & Tobagoa dcca d
United Kingdomba aca a
Tanzaniaac aaa a
United Statesdd ccd d

(a) - Very Low. (b) - Low (c) - High (d) - Very High * No figure.



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 provides:

"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 owned firearms.

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 court.

5. There is no limit on the number of firearms that may be acquired or possessed.

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 Canada.

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 rates.

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.

England and Wales1.76
Canada 1.81
U S A5.59
South Africa48.84

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.

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