Offensive Weapons Bill

Written evidence submitted by the Historical Breechloading Smallarms Association (OWB110)

We, the Historical Breechloading Smallarms Association, responded to the Public Consultation relating to this Bill.

We are members of the British Shooting Sports Council and our written evidence also supports their submission.

In the "Background to the legislative proposals" there is identification of the type of firearm mentioned, large calibre (.50 cal) rifles and rapid firing rifles as being of concern. However there is no specific or detailed mention of why that is so, or of their having been involved in crime or terrorism in the UK. 

The use of the term .50 cal caused us to write to the Home Office about historic and antique arms and large calibre sporting rifles being caught unintentionally or included in the category. 

We were glad to receive the Home Office assurance by email that :- 

the consultation is in no way intended to include the section 58(2) antiques you have listed 

and 

recognising the need to avoid other established classes of firearms, such as those used for big game hunting and which share some of the same characteristics, being caught by the definition.

We were also pleased to note that:-

We are keen to avoid any unintended consequences and look forward to working closely with you and other interested parties to ensure against this.  

The seeking of another potential yardstick was mentioned then, that is, muzzle energy, of 10,000 ft lbs (13,600 joules), being the limit imposed in relation to rifles fired at Home Office Approved Clubs. This too may present issues with historic arms (including artillery and armoured fighting vehicles) possessed by museums, collectors and re-enactors, and which are part of our heritage, but doubtless an exemption may be made for them. Even the largest calibre sporting arms do not generally reach that limit and exceptions could be made if necessary. Artillery and AFVs are at present kept outwith the Bill by the use of the term ‘rifle’ so it is important that this term be retained in any future re-drafting that might occur.  

The term "anti-materiel" rifle has been recognised as incorrect as such, since this refers to the ammunition (armour piercing and explosive) rather than the firearm. 

Quite apart from the above information we are highly concerned that there has been no actual evidence presented that the high energy rifles mentioned above have been used in crime in the UK or are a threat to public safety. To ban them without such actual evidence, but merely on an expressed concern, would be dangerously close to acting as though we are a police state.

The issue of use of antiques in crime was mentioned at a committee session. This issue is already in impact assessment stage at the Home Office and again we have serious concerns about unintended consequences and criminalisation of law abiding collectors because of the actions of a few criminals. This has been well covered at Home Office meetings, in which we participated, relating to the Statutory Instrument defining an antique for Policing & Crime Act purposes.

A number of speakers in the Commons debate stated that bans as such, generally do not work, and cited Dunblane as a case in point. Following Dunblane pistols were banned from public holding and a sport destroyed. This had no discernible effect on use of pistols by criminals and indeed still has not.

To take the step of removing certain pistol cartridges from the Obsolete Cartridge list is nothing short of repeating this mistake. Additionally it is important to keep in mind that the list is established in order to preserve heritage and historic arms which it successfully continues to do, as recognised by the Law Commission. 

Paul Edmunds and other recent deplorable cases relate specifically to the manufacture and supply of ammunition for antiques to individuals who did not hold a relevant firearms certificate. Both Dunblane and the Edmunds case were in part due to failures in police procedures.

NABIS statistics show that antiques are used in only 5% of overall gun crime. NABIS has recognised this and going forwards is looking at the overall issue of the move from lawful to unlawful in general. Theft is only one source of guns to criminals. We understand from police and NABIS that illegal import by mail, trucks, vessels are important and also the "dark web". 

We also are aware that police are working on introduction of improved national standards for firearms licensing one element of which will be to improve public safety. 

Turning to the other parts of this Bill, knives and corrosive liquids used in crime and violence have become an issue. 

However, once again there must be recognition of genuine collectors, researchers, and museums who preserve and study historic knives. bayonets and the like, and to ensure that there are no unintended consequences in any new legislation, especially in relation to preserving heritage. The same will apply to broad use of "working" knives across society for legitimate purposes e.g. kitchens, gardening, countryside, many industries, etc. and including training. 

With regard to the definition of a ‘Zombie knife’ (Section 23(2)(s)(iii), a serrated edge is not unique to Zombie knives, but was incorporated on bayonets also used as a saw. The serrations do not affect lethality.

 

Trading on line, as with any product or artefact, needs to continue to be allowed but with the requisite security element built in e.g delivery to a local shop or dealer allowing ID (and age) to be verified, and the legality of the purchase. Perhaps this can be achieved avoiding creating further offences to those which already exist. 

We have some concern about taking a step to create an offence in possession of certain "weapons" in private which may produce unintended consequences for serious collectors, researchers etc., and for innocent individuals who are not collectors but have inherited or otherwise acquired such a weapon, perhaps as a trophy of war. 

Regarding knives in educational establishments, clearly great care is needed not to inadvertently criminalise those using them for training and educational purposes 

It will no doubt also be recognised that acids and corrosive substances may be used by collectors and museums in various processes, including cleaning and preserving, and by the great majority of the population for legitimate purposes including health and hygiene. The situation is analogous to that of kitchen knives. Once again any unintended consequences should be avoided. 

We are aware that some of this has been raised and trust that these comments will be of assistance in this matter and re-inforcing the opinions already given.

We remain at your disposal.

yours faithfully

Derek Stimpson

Chairman

Historical Breechloading Smallarms Association

July 2018

 

Prepared 13th August 2018