Firearms Control - Home Affairs Committee Contents

Written evidence submitted by Animal Aid

1.  There are too many shotguns and firearms legally held for good reason in the United Kingdom. (2,043,990 in England, Wales and Scotland but excluding Northern Ireland. This incredible statistic means that one firearm or shotgun is legally held for every 29 men, women and children of the population.

2.  The interpretation of Good Reason in law for possessing a shotgun or firearm is not exacting enough.

3.  Firearms and Shotgun Law in the United Kingdom is not fit-for-purpose.

4.  Persons with convictions for criminal violence are not prevented from possessing firearms and shotguns in the United Kingdom.

5.  In the context of prohibited persons and firearms and shotgun certificates, there is no distinction between custodial sentences for criminal violence and other custodial sentences. A distinction is only placed on length of custodial sentence, which is related to tariff, not suitability to be entrusted with firearms.

6.  There is inconsistency between chief police officers on the application of their powers of discretion when reviewing or revoking firearms and shotgun certificates.

7.  A shotgun or firearms certificate is not needed to discharge a firearm. A person who is a prohibited person may fire a firearm or shotgun on private land with the occupier's permission, with the occupier's gun and within his vicinity. Occupier and vicinity are not defined by the law.

8.  There is no minimum age for the issue of a shotgun certificate.

9.  The law on supervision is illogical. A person under the age of 15 with a shotgun must be supervised by a person over the age of 21 who does not need any experience whatsoever of using a shotgun, nor need he possess a shotgun certificate.

10.  The law allows shooting from public highways and other public rights of way. It is an offence only if in consequence on a carriageway capable of carrying vehicles, a passer-by is injured, impeded or endangered.

11.  The law does not protect the public from firearms use in the countryside.

12.  Compulsory training and examination for competency is not required prior to the issue of a shotgun or firearms certificate.

13.  Our analysis suggests the cost of administering legally held firearms and shotguns in the United Kingdom is borne by the public and not by the custodians of the firearms and shotguns. The feasibility of creating a cost-effective agency to administer the licensing system could be investigated with the added potential for raising revenue for government.


14.  In the aftermath of Derrick Bird shooting dead 12 people in and around Whitehaven in Cumbria, the prime minister stated in parliament that the United Kingdom Firearms Laws are amongst the toughest in the world. This is not true. Our firearms Laws are lax and anomalous. They are a patchwork of amendments to earlier legislation. The government called for a public consultation on Firearms Law in 2004. The content of the consultation was never published. No related legislation was introduced.

15.  There is no minimum age set in Britain for the licensing of a shotgun. Very young children are periodically licensed by UK police forces. A child of ten years of age was licensed in 2010 by Bedfordshire Police. This is by no means the first time this has happened. He was one of 49 shotgun licensees under the age of 18 created by the same police force. If press reports are to be believed, Bedfordshire Police satisfied itself that the child was able to handle the gun safely.[14] But this is not a requirement for the issue of a shotgun certificate. There is no compulsory training or examination of safety or competence for shooting in Great Britain. There are organizations which provide training and publish Codes of Practice. The British Association for Shooting and Conservation (BASC) is one of these organizations. Perversely, the BASC absolutely opposes compulsory training and examination in the use of firearms and shotguns.[15]

16.  The law requires that the ten year old boy must be supervised by an adult over the age of 21 years. Age is the only qualification required. The supervising adult need not possess a shotgun certificate himself nor need he prove any knowledge or prior training in shotgun use.[16] This can be likened to a situation where a child may be accompanied when driving a car by a person aged over the age of 21 who has never driven a car himself.

17.  In the granting of firearms and shotgun certificates, no conviction is considered spent under the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act.[17] This implies that even convictions for minor offences could debar the issue of a certificate. Shotgun Certificates are valid for five years.

18.  The reality is different. Derrick Bird was a convicted thief. Yet trustworthiness is for chief police officers to examine in the context of issuing and revoking shotgun certificates.[18] In another high profile case, Vinnie Jones the footballer-cum-actor had two convictions for violence before his shotgun licence was revoked. The revocation was not the result of a police or court bring-up system in place for Vinnie Jones. Information about his convictions for violence was provided by Animal Aid.

19.  A conviction and custodial sentence in excess of three months is necessary before a person becomes a prohibited person. Providing the sentence is less than three years, the convicted person is not a prohibited person following the expiry of five years from the completion of the custodial sentence.

20.  A conviction and custodial sentence in excess of three years is required before a person is permanently barred from the issue of firearms or shotgun certificates. Such custodial sentences are rare even for crimes of violence. The crime is immaterial and trustworthiness to possess a firearm or shotgun is determined purely by sentencing tariff. This makes no sense. There is already a public perception that sentencing tariffs are too light. But it should be the nature of the crime that results in a person being prohibited from possessing a firearm or shotgun. The threshold of tolerance within the law should be realigned by parliament.

21.  In consideration of granting or revoking a firearms or shotgun licence, Chief Police Officers must take into account an applicant's sobriety or intemperance as well as his soundness of mind. Domestic dispute and violence is also a consideration.[19]

22.  In the December 2009 issue of Sporting Gun magazine, a man named as *** of Egremont Cumbria was photographed posing with a shotgun and an arrangement of shot pigeons and crows.[20] In March 2005, a report in the Hexham Courant and other Cumbrian newspapers revealed that a man named as *** of Egremont Cumbria was convicted of common assault and ordered to complete a community rehabilitation order and 40 hours community service.[21] He had attempted to strangle his wife and threatened to drown her. In mitigation his solicitor offered to the court that *** had an alcohol problem and was seeking help from his GP. Magistrates said it was a vicious domestic assault in the presence of children.[22] Animal Aid established that both reports referred to the same man. Despite 2 requests under the Freedom of Information Act about ***, Cumbria Police have continued to obfuscate about why he was apparently in possession of a shotgun within five years of receiving a conviction for violence linked to an alcohol problem.


23.  The shooting industry wishes to see the wide use of legally held firearms and shotguns in the furtherance of live-quarry shooting. It has already been seen that the leading pro-shooting group absolutely opposes compulsory training and examination. It is consistent in its claims that crime is rarely connected with licensed weapons. Nevertheless, a quick and cursory search on the web easily reveals that there is a steady catalogue of illegal use of licensed firearms, shotguns and airguns in the UK. Some recent events are listed below:

24.  Andrew Dixon, a Lincolnshire gamekeeper, shot a man seated in his car in the face with a licensed shotgun and was jailed for 17 years for attempted murder in 2009.[23]

25.  Christopher Foster of Oswestry shot his wife and daughter in the head with a licensed firearm before killing himself and setting fire to the family home in 2008.[24]

26.  Former gamekeeper Christopher Docherty-Puncheon was remanded in custody during 2010 charged with the murder of retired Lt Col Riley Workman in the Furneaux Pelham Hertfordshire doorstep murder of 2004. He was also charged with having a shotgun with intent to commit an offence.[25]

27.  Helen Lawson shot her husband dead in his bed with a licensed shotgun on the Isle of Wight in 2009.[26]

28.  Christopher Bayfield was arrested and released on bail in connection with an incident prior to 19 August 2010 in which five year old and seven year old children trespassing on land were exposed to a warning shot with a licensed shotgun. The charged man was a regular shooting sportsman.[27]

29.  Legally held firearms and shotguns are frequently involved in suicides and domestic disputes.

30.  All three gun massacres occurring in the UK; Hungerford l987, Dunblane 1996 and Cumbria 2010, were committed by men who were licensed gun owners using legally held guns and ammunition held in the home.


31.  On 26 August 2004 a 52 year old man was acquitted of causing grievous bodily harm to a walker on a public footpath at night. The walker was looking for badgers and owls and was using binoculars. Trevor Lawson, a freelance contributor to the environmental pages of the Guardian newspaper, was illuminated by lamps and shot with a high power expanding bullet.

32.  The accused claimed that he had previously seen a fox and had confused the reflection from the binoculars with fox's eyes. Trevor Lawson was seriously wounded and suffered the loss of a lung. The gunman's defence successfully argued that his shot had not been reckless.

33.  The law allows shooting from or near public footpaths with no consideration for the safety of the public. The law also allows shooting at night, when this case clearly showed that there is considerable scope for error and accidents, possibly with even more tragic results.

34.  The present law allows shooting to take place on or near footpaths, at night and by individuals who have received no training, with no obligation to adhere to any code.


35.  But the largest abuse of legally held firearms, shotguns and airguns is the illegal destruction of wildlife. Give a young person a gun and he may look for something to kill with it. The novelty and amusement of firing at inanimate objects soon wanes. Shotguns are made for killing, not target practice. "Pest" Control is accepted as valid good reason for possessing a shotgun without any investigation of what "pests" are to be controlled. Derrick Bird gave "pest" control as his good reason to possess a shotgun. He was a taxi driver who lived in a terraced house. It would not be unreasonable to argue that anyone claiming 'good reason' to possess a shotgun for pest control should either at the very least domiciled or employed on land with the safe range for a shotgun to be more effective than many other pest control measures. Failing that he should be an employee of a professional company engaged in pest control.

36.  Thomas Cook an England football fan, shot a seagull dead with an airgun in Seaton Devon. In court he said he did it because England lost to Germany in the 2010 World Cup, he was frustrated when Frank Lampard's goal was disallowed. He pleaded guilty to killing a wild bird and was given a conditional discharge for six months.[28]

37.  Under the General Licences for pest control issued by Natural England and other agencies of devolved government in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, certain birds may be shot only to prevent serious agricultural damage, or threat to public health and aviation. Shooting magazines like Sporting Gun with regular features on trophy-hunting type shooting of pigeons and crows show clearly that this wildlife is routinely shot for sport alone.

38.  According to press reports Derrick Bird gave "occasional target practice" as good reason for possessing a 0.22 calibre rifle.

39.  The easy acceptance in the UK of good reason to possess a firearm is quite different to the Netherlands where:

(a)  Shotgun Certificate holders must be 18 years of age.

(b)  must have an insurance policy covering third party risk to a minimum sum dictated by parliament.

(c)  must have passed an approved hunting examination.

(d)  must be able to prove that they have an opportunity to hunt on private land.

(e)  are not allowed to shoot between sunset and sunrise except with a special extra licence.

(f)  are bound by restrictions under unfavourable weather conditions and other circumstances.

(g)  Shooting takes place on private land. There is no concept of the public footpath in the Netherlands. Shooting grounds must consist of an adjoining area of at least 40 hectare, have a width of at least 300 metres and it must be possible to describe a circle with at least 150 metres within it.


40.  According to the most recent figures for England and Wales, there are 138,728 people certificated to hold firearms and they own 435,383 weapons. There are 574,946 shotgun certificates which cover 1.4 million shotguns.

41.  Statistics for Scotland show that 70,839 firearms were held by 26,072 certificate holders at the end of last year. Some 50,000 people in Scotland are certificated to hold shotguns - and 137,768 weapons are covered by that scheme.

42.  Police chiefs can revoke certificates if they conclude that the holder can no longer be trusted. In 2008-09, almost 1,300 certificates were revoked.

43.  In Cumbria, there are 9,868 shotgun certificates covering 22,476 shotguns, figures which are broadly similar to those in other rural counties. Of the 370 new applications between 2008 and 2009, two were refused. Seven licences were revoked.[29]

44.  The population of England, Wales and Scotland was projected as 60.003 million in 2009.[30], [31]

45.  There are 12.18941 firearms and shotguns in England, Wales and Scotland.

46.  There is one legally held firearm or shotgun to every 29 men, women and children in England, Wales and Scotland.

47.  The number of legally held firearms or shotguns must be proportionally related to the number of illegally held similar weapons. The volume of legally held firearms and shotguns must be proportionally related to the volume of firearms crime, suicide and wildlife crime. The volume of legally held weapons must be related to the number of weapons that are misappropriated or stolen. In other words, the greater the number of firearms and shotguns in circulation, the greater the number of problems that follow.


48.  When an application is made for a firearm or shotgun licence, chief police officers carry out the checks demanded by the law but we have seen no evidence of a system that records and highlights convictions in courts of law that should have a bearing on existing licence holders during the five year term of the licence. (Vinnie Jones and ***)

49.  Conversely, some chief police officers have revoked or refused certificates because applicants have recorded driving offences or have relatives allegedly involved in crime.[32]


50.  On 7 June 2010, a letter was published in the Daily Telegraph from Cumbrian Firearms Licensing Inquiry Officer Mick Turner.[33] He pointed out that despite evidence written to the contrary on the Cumbria Police web site, applicants for firearm and shotgun certificates in Cumbria are visited on every occasion an application is made.

51.  It has already been shown that there are 9,868 shotgun certificate holders in Cumbria covering well over twice as many shotguns. Each certificate holder would need to be visited at least once every five years, making 1,974 visits a year. The visits must be achieved in the 260 working days of each year.[34]

52.  For Cumbria shotguns alone (not including other firearms), there must be nearly 8 home visits a day by Firearms Licensing Inquiry Officers. Assuming that the rural geography of Cumbria is involved in many visits, it can be assessed that an Inquiry Officer can make only 2 thorough inquiries per working day. The total of Cumbrian visits could involve at least 4 Firearms Licensing Inquiry Officers. Using the same figures, an officer could make only 520 routine visits per year at a nominal cost of £48 per visit.

53.  Using the national average wage of £K25 and ignoring the much higher capitation rates of public sector workers, home visits alone must exceed a cost of £K100 in Cumbria. The total cost of running a Firearms Licensing Department is a questionable burden for the Cumbrian taxpayer. The cost of a shotgun certificate is currently £50 and its renewal is £40.[35]

54.  It is not understood why firearms and shotgun licensing is the responsibility of the police. Other licensing such as vehicle licensing is managed, probably more cost- effectively, by agencies. A single agency could probably be more consistent than the 52 police forces in the UK. Devolving firearms and shotgun licensing to a central agency could reduce the financial burden on the tax and ratepayer and leave enforcement of all firearms and shotgun law to the police. There would also be an opportunity for central government to generate tax income from firearms and shotgun licensing.

31 August 2010

14   Daily Mail 8 July 2010. Back

15 Back

16   Firearms Law-Guidance to the Police. Home Office 2002. Back

17   Firearms Law-Guidance to the Police. Home Office 2002. Back

18   Firearms Law-Guidance to the Police. Home Office 2002. Back

19   Firearms Law-Guidance to the Police. Home Office 2002. Back

20   Sporting Gun December 2009. Back

21   Hexham Courant 28 April 2005. Back

22   Hexham Courant 31 March 2005. Back

23   Daily Telegraph 6 March 2009. Back

24   Independent 6 Februray 2010. Back

25   Daily Mail 10 July 2010. Back

26   Daily Mail 25 March 2010. Back

27   Daily Telegraph 21 August 2010. Back

28   Daily Telegraph 21 August 2010. Back

29   BBC News at time of Derrick Bird rampage. Back

30   Office of National Statistics. Back

31   Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency. Back

32   Firearms Law - Guidance to the Police. Home Office 2002. Back

33   Daily Telegraph Letters 7 June 2010. Back

34 Back

35 Back

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