Offensive Weapons Bill

Further written evidence submitted by Michael Ebbage, in a personal capacity as a competitive target shooter (and licensed firearms owner) (OWB135)

Dear Sirs,

Summary:

This my second submission related to the proposed ban on so called "rapid-fire" rifles, as it has become very clear in the debate and committee stages of the bill that no one (experts included) understands accurately and completely as to what is actually included in the current wording of the proposal - and that endangers both the intention of the ban (leaving loopholes) and lawful owners of others types of rifles (banning them accidentally).

I will demonstrate that the current wording of the bill does not effectively prohibit the desired type of rifles (MARS / trigger-release) and instead manages to unintentionally include several other rifle types with its overly broad legal definition, that does not mirror the consultation - instead including rifles that are incapable of firing more than one shot, let alone any "rapid-fire" potential.

I also detail several examples of ways the proposed ban can be avoided, within the law as it stands, by anyone who applies basic design changes to current MARS-type rifles. I conclude with a proposal to change the wording to address both areas, so that both rapid fire rifles are included in a robust, future proof way and that other niche action types, that do not include the same capability are avoided.

Evidence:

1. The bill's consultation and many of the people and organisations giving evidence to the committee are apparently ignorant to the fact that the wording of the proposed legislation is much broader than people intend or assume - potentially impacting thousands of additional unsuspecting owners of unrelated rifle types that cannot be considered to be offensive weapons (I provide material examples below).

2. Because, in general, people are very unfamiliar with MARS action rifles, the focus has seemingly been to ensure that rifles of that (and similar) types can be prohibited with the use of some basic technical wording. The current wording does achieve that for the most part, but also includes an easy loophole and manages to impact owners of some single-shot only rifles, with no magazine and are incapable of firing more than one shot before being manually reloaded by hand.

3. The approach to use the extraction and ejection of a firearm to base the wording on is very problematic - as the action-type of a firearm is normally defined by how cartridges are loaded - not how they are unloaded - so there no data to call upon to accurately estimate the numbers involved. Therefore, there is also no way for the police or Home Office to accurately assess the impact of this change (it is not data that is currently recorded) or even to be able to notify all of the people this may affect. The consultation quotes only MARS type rifles - it is important to understand that this is likely to be a small subset of the overall numbers involved.

4. For example, a Peiper-Bayard self-ejecting rifle (which would be banned with the current wording) could be recorded on a firearm certificate as a "single-shot" or "bolt-action" rifle - but never as a "MARS" action (as that is not what is - the trigger isn't used to load the rifle) or as a "self-loading" rifle as the rifle does not self-load by any definition (it is entirely single shot and has no magazine capacity). The reason for this is there has never been a previous need to categorise how a firearm unloads, so an FEO or RFD would previously use their own personal assessment of how a user would operate the rifle (acting on the bolt or a lever etc.). These action types are fairly niche in comparison to typical bolt-action and other manually operated rifles, but none the less, there are a number of manufacturer's rifles the legislation would impact (H & R, Peiper-Bayard, SGC, Degtyarov, Xado are just a few that I am aware of that have made self-ejecting rifles) - including many historic makers that are no longer active. The consultation failed to realise that owners of these rifles could be caught up in the proposed ban - and even now, it would be difficult to identify all of the lawful owners (even with their rifles already recorded by the police), potentially exposing them to unexpected criminal prosecution.

5. Just as importantly, the same wording contains a significant loophole. Because the proposed legislation focuses on unloading rather than how a rifle loads, MARS-type rifles would continue to be legal in the UK (if the bill goes ahead without amendments), simply by changing the design to use more modern and / or niche types of ammunition. For example, if someone were to redesign a current MARS-style action to use Gyrojet-type rocket rounds or some form of caseless ammunition, these would continue to be UK legal Section 1 firearms as they do not self-load, self-extract or eject. The same applies to anyone that adapts the trigger into a ratchet mechanism to cycle the action or uses an alternative source of power (battery and electronic motor etc.).

One would imagine, with new technology and innovation, even more options would be available for creating similar rapid-fire (trigger-release etc.) rifles. In an case, they would retain the same rate of fire as the rifles the bill seeks to ban.

6. When we look at the written evidence submitted by the National Crime Agency (NCA) (OWB71) we see they use the term "interrupted self-loading rifle" when they describe their support for a ban. We can see they are also trying to use a more generic term than "MARS" to describe these types of rifle, but I would suggest there is no implied desire for the bill to ban rifles that do not actually fire quickly, only those that load quickly (and by extension, provide the ability to fire rapidly).

Recommendations:

1. My proposal is to use a simpler definition, which continues in the same manner of the existing wording used in legislation. For example, a firearm is said to be fully-automatic (effectively a machine-gun) when two or more projectiles are fired with a single pull of the trigger. To prohibit them, the Firearms Act 1968, Section 5 states:

"(a) any firearm which is so designed or adapted that two or more missiles can be successively discharged without repeated pressure on the trigger;"

2. Notice how the wording of the act does not concern itself with how a firearm fires multiple projects - only that it is the functional outcome. To include MARS action rifles (and others of similar types and behaviour) we need only change the definition of "self-loading" to one similar to that of paragraph a). For example, consider:

"a self-loading rifle is defined as any rifle that is able to fire more than one missle, with only repeated pressure on (presses of) the trigger"

3. This would also future-proof the legislation against the use of different ammunition types to get around the proposed wording, such a caseless or rocket (Gyrojet-type) ammunition along with anything that could be developed in the future that does not require extraction or ejection.

4. Finally, as BASC have already suggested, it may be prudent to refer the wording to an expert panel, including legal professionals, that are familiar with the specific nuances of the firearms potentially impacted, as this is a highly specialised area that even the firearms industry in general is unfamiliar with.

Yours Faithfully,

Michael Ebbage

August 2018

 

Prepared 13th August 2018