Offensive Weapons Bill

Written evidence submitted by Mr Neil Plucknett MSc MBCS, Private Citizen (OWB133)

1. This submission to the Public Bill Committee is from a private citizen and contains my personal views on the proposals included in the proposed Offensive Weapons Bill.
From the outset I must state that it is my view that we have adequate legislation in place for the control of firearms and that the only additions required are the ones controlling the sale of corrosive substance and bladed weapons in line with the caveats I give in the submission.
I further declare that my interest in this bill comes from both my hobby as a member of a Living History Group and from my intent to take up target shooting in the near future as a member of an approved rifle club.
I believe that, rather than yet more legislation, more consideration should be given to the punishment by the judicial system of those involved in the criminal use of any kind or weapon and no consideration should be allowed to influence such punishments and that this requirement should also be reflected within this bill.

2. The new offence of possessing a corrosive substance in a public place.

2.1. The proposed new offence is, in my opinion, long overdue. However due care must be taken in the wording of this Bill to ensure that those who have a legitimate right to be carrying such liquids – i.e. those engage in lawful work or in transporting such substances from the point of retail to a home or works address for legitimate reasons are not penalised.

3. The new offence of selling certain harmful corrosive products to under 18’s.

3.1. This offence is also long overdue. There is no legitimate reason for an under 18 to be in possession of, let alone carrying and form of corrosive substance. The excuse of sending a youth to get the substance for an adult should be inadmissible. It is not legal for an under 18 to purchase alcohol so it should not be legal for an under 18 to purchase corrosive substances of any nature.

4. The new restrictions on online sales of bladed articles and corrosive products, including restrictions on deliveries to residential premises.

4.1. There should be restrictions imposed on the sale and shipment of any corrosive substance to a personal (or residential) address except where that address is the registered business address of a company with a legitimate reason to be in possession of such liquids. Where this is the case it should be further mandated within this Bill that, as with firearms, all such corrosive substances should be held in securely locked and immobile cabinets that only the owner of the company has access to.

4.2. Shipment of bladed articles to residential addresses should be the subject of controlled delivery. Any person attempting to order a bladed item from a retailer should be required by law to provide the retailer with adequate proof of both the purchasers name and address and a valid justification for the purchase. Such a valid justification may be for the purposes of being an active member of a Living History group that requires its members to be in possession of such items. E.g. a Gladius or Spatha for a Roman era group up through to an appropriate bayonet and combat knife for a 20th Century group. Adequate proof could be deemed to be:
* A copy of the purchaser’s passport or driving license,
* A copy of a current utility bill or official communication showing the address being shipped to,
* A copy of a current membership card for an appropriate group.
Retailers should be required to keep these records securely in their possession for a set period of time as defined by the Bill after which they are legally required to destroy them in such a way that the data cannot be retrieved by any means other than those available forensically.

5. The new offence of possessing certain offensive weapons (the weapons concerned are already subject to restrictions on their sale, manufacture and importation).

5.1. Where a type of weapon is already deemed by law to be subject to restrictions it is my view that it would be better to enforce existing laws rather than add to the burden imposed on both Police Officers and the public of trying to understand both existing and new one.

5.2. As with the clause above – if there is no valid reason to own such a weapon then it should already be illegal to own such a weapon. There is no reason to further burden Police and public with new scenarios when the existing ones are fit for purpose if enforced by both the police and courts.

6. Regarding the reclassifying of certain firearms as "prohibited weapons" under section 5 of the Firearms Act 1968.

6.1. This is my primary area of concern. Whilst the concern shown for the public’s safety is laudable the reactions of certain MPS is not. Constant reference is made to the attack in Paris where terrorists made use of "deactivated" firearms and this was the result of the EU act in 2016 that radically altered the rules on deactivation. Now, as then, no one in authority paid any attention to the established fact the firearms used were NOT actually deactivated to then EU or UK specifications but were "sonic firearms deactivated to the point where they would not fire/chamber live rounds just by pinning the barrel and smuggled into France from Slovenia. Something that was easily remedied by the terrorists as was all too clearly seen. Now with regards to this bill I am hearing MPs making wild claims of 0.50 calibre rifles shooting "several miles and of MARS action rifles being "as fast firing as fully automatic firearms. I will deal with these points below.

6.2. The range of 0.50 calibre rifles. This is not as simple as it is portrayed to be. In actuality there is:
* The actual distance a 0.50 calibre round will travel before its energy is expended.
* The range at which a 0.50 round can actually be accurately aimed.

6.2.1. The actual range a 0.50 calibre round will travel is dependent upon the charge in the cartridge used to fire the round. Usually for sport shooting these cartridges are hand-loaded but for the sake of example use the standard military 0.50 calibre round data. One of these – the 12.7 x 99mm NATO round - will have an effective range of approx 4400 yards or 2.5 miles shot from a Barrett M82 rifle(1) – far short of the "several miles" quoted. It should be noted at this point that the actual firearm – the Barrett - is already an illegal firearm in the UK being a Section 5 designated firearm due to its semi-automatic operation.
The operational distance of the 0.5 calibre round used as the exemplar is approx. 2000 yards or 1.14 miles. But to be effective at this range the user needs to be highly skilled in both use of the firearm and its sights and in long range shooting. More typically the working range is around 900 yards or just over 0.5 miles. In short no one outside of the Army’s School of Sniping could realistically hope to operate at the 2000 yard range. And given that, not only is the average firearm around nearly 5 feet long and weighing in at around 30 lb, snipers work in teams of 2 – spotter and shooter. Not exactly the kind of combination favoured by the current theme of terrorist who prefer their deeds performed up close and personal.
It should further be noted the ONLY death in the UK from a 0.5 calibre round to date was caused by the IRA using a Barrett smuggled in from the USA by sympathisers. No 0.5 calibre sporting or target rifle has ever been used in the commission of a crime. If Police and/or the Home Office are so worried they might be stolen why not simply require owners to have additional levels of security? Zero cost to the taxpayer, peace of mind to the Police/Home Office.

6.2.2. Use of 0.50 rounds for materiel destruction. Whilst it is true the military do indeed use the 0.50 round for this purpose it must be noted that a single 0.50 round does not, of itself, constitute a massive amount of damage to materiel. Yes, it will penetrate the body armour worn by police officers and military personnel – but again it should be noted that this level of body armour is meant to resist either 9mm handgun ammunition or NATO 5.56 rifle rounds. The standard 7.62.51 and 7.62x54R rounds used in full bore rifle shooting will go through one of these vests just as easily at the same working range of 900 yards or 0.5 miles. And we are talking about single shot 0.50 calibre weapons which of necessity entail a longer reloading process than a 7.62 round. The military use semi-automatic and fully automatic weapons to achieve the levels of materiel damage alluded to in seeking to ban this calibre weapon. In my opinion this is scare mongering at its very worst.

6.3. M.A.R.S. (Manually Actuated Release System) action firearms. These operate on the basis that the firing causes the empty case to be ejected and then locks the firing mechanism. A second pull of the trigger is required to unlock the mechanism ready to fire again. A third pull on the trigger is required to fire the next shot. It is claimed that these firearms are as fast in action as a semi auto firearms because of this action and should be banned for this reason. In this regards I quote now a letter published by the Czech Small Arms Company(2) who actually manufacture these types of firearms and thus can be considered to have some small knowledge of the matter :
"This is to certify, that we tested the cyclical rate of fire of the M.A.R.S Vz.58 Sporter and we found it mechanically unable to fire more than 2 rounds in 1 second. Compared to a semi-automatic firearm, the M.A.R.S Vz.58 cyclical rate of fire is approximately 3 times slower than that of a semi-automatic firearm action where a semi-automatic firearm would be capable to fire 5 rounds or more in 1 second, this largely depending on how fast the shooter can pull, rest, and then pull the trigger again. This cyclical rate of fire of the M.A.R.S Vz.58 is comparable, but definitely not faster than that which can be achieved with other firearm actions such as bolt action, straight pull, lever action, SMLE actions… (i.e. not automatic or semi-automatic actions) and, therefore, the M.A.R.S. Vz.58 cannot be rationally described as more or less dangerous because of its design. ".
Contrary to the opinions expressed publicly to date the manufacturer of these firearms has stated quite categorically they are NOT as fast in action as a semi-automatic firearm.
Further – this kind of action is used extensively by disabled shooters. Banning this kind of firearm would have a distinctly adverse action on the disabled sporting community without conferring any real or tangible security benefits.

6.4. Lever Release firearms – as with the MARS the physical action of operating the action is akin to working the bolt on a single action rifle in speed only. Unlike the M.A.R.S. system a Lever Release requires the shooter to operate a small lever o the grip to release the action ready for firing again. Despite the attempts I have heard publicly to lump the two systems together they are separate and distinct that offer different advantages . So once again – a ban on these types of firearm will not produce tangible benefits in security or safety. Rather it will simply serve to disenfranchise voters from a political system already under threat from the issues relating to Brexit
To date the preferred choice of firearm of terrorists – be it the IRA or ISIS - in Europe in regards to firearms is the ubiquitous Kalashnikov range. Which are already illegal to own in the UK being classed a Section 5 firearms due to being semi or fully automatic.

6.5. In summary it is my position and belief that whilst the proposals on corrosive substances and bladed weapons are – with the caveats specified - both needed and acceptable the additional proposals on firearms are in my view neither warranted nor justifiable, being a public relations "knee jerk" reaction to score political points rather than actually improve safety and security. I feel quite strongly that the proposals will adversely affect a group already afflicted by draconian weapons control laws and also the disabled sporting community without any benefit to the public. Referring to the Home Office Assessment relating to this issue – HO0298(3) – it beggars belief that a UK Gov’t founded in the core precepts of democracy would consider enacting legislation, let alone trying to push it through, based on a document where EVERY clause is a "what if" one with no historical, factual, evidence to back up even one of the assumptions used to try and ban these weapons. The document contains no record of ever having held discussions with the manufacturers of the firearms involved to determine the reality of the theoretical risks. Even the costing figures used make no financial sense - £2.7 million of tax payer’s money to enforce and £0 in return benefits?? Truly - if such a document were to be presented to a Commercial Company as an Impact Assessment then the presenters would soon be seeking new employment.
Finally – I believe better results could be gained together with the goodwill of the shooting community if, instead of trying to penalize firearm owners – yet again - to score public points for votes Parliament looked instead at centralising control of firearms along the lines of Vehicle licensing such that there is one central point of contact for both firearms owners and police thus ensuring commonality of standards across the country. This one action would confer both cost and efficiency savings as well as safety and security benefits because currently all this is duplicated in every single police force in the country

6.6. References
(1) Barrett 0.5 Official Specifications: https://barrett.net/firearms/model82a1/

(2) Czech Small Arms, s r.o.

Jablůnka 651

756 23 Jablůnka

Czech Republic

tel : +420 775 298 603

e-mail: info@csa.co.cz

website: www.csa.co.cz

(3) Impact Assessment No: HO0298
Prohibit the purchase, ownership or possession of .50 calibre ‘materiel destruction’ rifles
and Manually Actuated Release Systems rapid fire rifles, under section 5 of the Firearms
Act 1968


August 2018

 

Prepared 13th August 2018