Firearms Control - Home Affairs Committee Contents

Supplementary memoranda submitted by the Gun Control Network

  We thank the committee for giving us the opportunity to answer questions about our recommendations for legislative change to:

    (i) reduce the risk of another mass shooting following the terrible events in Cumbria; and

    (ii) bring down the overall level of gun crime in the UK.

  We would like to add to our previous written and oral submissions as follows.

1.  What could have prevented the Cumbria shootings?

  Under a more rigorous licensing system, such as the one GCN is proposing, Derrick Bird's gun licence would have been revoked on account of his having a significant criminal record. He would therefore not have had access to legally licensed guns. Since it is generally believed he would have been unlikely to have gone in search of illegal weapons, he would not have had the means of killing such a large number of people.

  Police believe that our tightly enforced gun laws have made it difficult to acquire illegal guns. The claim made by another witness—a gun owner himself—that he would be able to get hold of an illegal weapon within 48 hours is idly made and not borne out by police information. In January 2010 Detective Chief Superintendent Paul James, NABIS programme director, was quoted as saying that it was wrong to suggest illegal guns could be bought cheaply and easily. "It's a myth that you can go into a pub and pick up a gun for £50".

  Ironically, in the United States which we regard as having very lax gun laws, Bird's convictions would probably have barred him as a legal gun owner.

2.  Do legal weapons contribute to gun crime?

  There are two sorts of legally-held guns: licensed guns and those for which no licence is required.

  Licensed guns - predominantly shotguns, rifles and high powered airguns:

    — Almost all mass shootings around the world, including Hungerford, Dunblane and Cumbria, involve licensed gun owners using licensed guns. The lone mass murderer is almost always a man who loves his guns and acquires them perfectly legally.

    — Figures for licensed guns involved in crime are not recorded in the UK, and the information is not in the public domain. GCN's FOI requests are repeatedly denied. However, the Home Office do seem to have produced some information for the HAC and we hope that in future this data will be routinely collected and published as in other countries.

    — In Canada where data about the criminal use of licensed weapons is routinely collected and published, 1/3 of all traced murder guns are licensed. This, and anecdotal evidence collected by GCN of domestic homicide in the Great Britain, suggests that legal guns are used to kill on a regular basis.

  Weapons for which no licence is required—airguns and imitations (including BB and airsoft guns)

    — 53% of gun offences in England and Wales involve airguns and imitations; 57% in Scotland;

    — 23% of serious injuries involve airguns and imitations;

    — 67% of slight injuries involve airguns and imitations; and

    — most reported convictions for armed robbery with a gun are of people who were armed with an imitation firearm or air weapon.

  In 2010 GCN has logged 55 domestic gun incidents (ranging from affray and possession of a firearm with intent to cause fear of violence, to murder and unlawful killing). From the information given in the reports 65% of these probably involved a legally-held gun.

3.  What changes should be made to the licensing procedures?

  Improved licensing procedures should be:

    inclusive—involving all guns that are routinely used to kill and injure ie rifles, shotguns, airguns);

    simple—a single system up to Section 1 standard; clear purpose for each gun.

    rigorous —onus on the applicant to prove s/he is suitable, offenders (for offences carrying a prison sentence) refused, involve partners and/or ex partners in the process as in Canada/New Zealand , GP to be notified, mandatory checks for mental health, alcohol and drug abuse, domestic violence;

    frequent—renewable every two years; and

    cost neutral—fee to cover all administration. No cost to the taxpayer or police.

4.  Why introduce a Hotline for registering concerns about gun owners?

    — GCN receives many messages from people fearful about partners or neighbours who have guns. There is currently no procedure in place for people to register their concerns;

    — in 1995 Canada introduced a package of measures to combat armed domestic violence, including a toll free hotline and greater involvement of spouses/partners in the application process. Around 26,000 calls were received in the first four years of the hotline. The rate of firearms related spousal homicide decreased by nearly 50% between 1997 and 2006 (Statistics Canada 2008) suggesting, though not proving, a causal link. Other countries to have harmonised their gun control and domestic violence laws are South Africa, Australia and Trinidad and Tobago; and

    — good intelligence is the key to public safety.

5.  Why should we be more open about gun ownership?

    — secrecy is not justified in the public interest;

    — certain people have good reason to want to know if there is a gun in the house viz potential partners, neighbours, medics and paramedics, care workers, parents of visiting children; and

    — criminals already know where the guns are and there has been, for example, a significant recent rise in theft of shotguns. If gun owners were more exposed to scrutiny they might take more care to keep their guns secure.

6.  Why and how do we need to connect information about domestic violence and gun ownership?

    — there is evidence that guns are frequently used to threaten women in domestic violence scenarios;

    — in 2009-10 there were 44 gun murders in Great Britain of which 12 appear to be domestic with 10 female victims;

    — in 2010 there were 55 domestic gun incidents logged by GCN (ranging from affray and possession of a firearm with intent to cause fear of violence, to murder and unlawful killing); in 65% of these the gun was probably held legally;

    — in Canada partners and ex partners (two yrs) must sign the application; failure to do so is not a veto but will trigger a review; there is a toll free spousal hotline; and

    — in New Zealand a partner must sign the application, and the police manual requires "partner to be interviewed in a separate room with the door closed".

7.  Why and how should GP's records be tagged?

    — mental ill—health should be a contraindication for gun ownership;

    — GPs may have relevant information about a gun owner's mental health;

    — a clear protocol is necessary to protect GPs from pressure and allegations of breaking confidence; and

    — the removal of discretion would be helpful to the GP.

8.  Why and how should airguns be registered?

    — airguns are not "boys toys" but as they are not registered the wrong message is given and they proliferate and fall into the wrong hands;

    — around 20% of serious gun injuries involve airguns;

    — around 50% of all gun injuries involve airguns; GCN's list of airgun incidents in 2010 is attached;

    — offenders banned from ownership of firearms are able to purchase an airgun (including a realistic imitation) without any checks being made;

    — although realistic imitation guns now cannot be bought or sold, no such restrictions are placed on realistic airguns which are frequently advertised online as looking like the "real thing";

    — Scotland is about to take control of licensing its airguns; and

    — Australia treats airguns in the same way as any other firearm and licenses them.

8 November 2010

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