Offensive Weapons Bill

Written evidence submitted by Leonard Sellwood (OWB149)

I thank you for your invitation, (your e mail of 01:15 10/7/2018), to have my say in respect of the Public Bill Committee concerning, acid, knives, offensive weapons and firearms, which I have indicated an objection to by signing petition 223361.

I have taken some time in responding to your invitation because my initial reaction was that it was not for us to prove that you were wrong to carry out such curtailments of freedom but for you to show that there is necessary and sufficient need to do so. I have seen little evidence of such need but have decided to clarify my objections if only to prevent you being able to say that no objections had been made.

I am a 66 year old male pensioner who has held shotgun and firearm certificates since at least 1983. I have no criminal record and am in fact a retired police officer having served my 30 years in an English Midlands police force, the Midland Regional Crime Squad, the National Crime Squad and SOCA. I have been retired from law enforcement for almost 10 years. I will add that I consider myself fortunate to have served when I did and not now when political decisions have undermined the police, reduced their numbers and insulted their professionalism by the imposition of PCCs and direct recruitment to the upper ranks.

When I was a child and young person it was normal for children to have penknives and as a onetime member of the Scouts, I was required to have a knife. I do not recall knife crime being rampant at that time although I accept that there were problems with Teddy Boys and flick knives and I read of Glasgow ‘razor gangs’. Flick knives were legislated against, although provision was made for possession with lawful excuse. My point here is that despite knives being widely available, stabbings and killings were not as they are now. In fact there already exists a lot of legislation banning knives and offensive weapons but despite this increased prohibition of such items the stabbings and the killings go on. So are further restrictions on the law abiding going to result in reductions of offending by the lawless? Might it not make more sense to look at where current legislation is failing? Might it in fact make more sense to fully enforce existing legislation, perhaps by reducing some of the handicaps that the police have to face when dealing with young people? Maybe people committing adult style crimes should be treated as adults and not as children. Maybe sentences of life imprisonment should mean life and not a few years. Maybe people should be sentenced to a minimum of X with provision to extend it to Y if they fail to comply rather than the automatic reduction of sentences to save money. I have bought knives by post and will admit that I have my concerns over it, but then again if a criminal wants a lethal knife they can shoplift a lethal bladed cook’s knife from a supermarket or they can use an electric grinder to make the back of a hacksaw blade razor sharp and wind duct tape round one end as a handle. Any prison will have a collection of ‘offensive weapons’ contrived by prisoners from such ubiquitous articles as toothbrushes, pencils and bars of soap in socks 

I will not pretend to know about the availability of acid, but I know that bleach can be nasty and so can ammonia, both of which can easily be sourced as they are freely available because they have a myriad of innocent uses. I have no personal objection to your banning acid because I can think of no good reason why I might need it. Others though may well have good reason to need it and your deliberations will need to discover such things and ensure that you do not impede law abiding citizens, in your attempting to frustrate the actions of people who do not obey laws but who’s rights are often better protected than those of an average passenger on a Clapham Omnibus. 

I signed the petition because I shoot. I started shooting in the Combined Cadet Force at my school and have enjoyed it in many forms since. I own both shotguns and rifles. With the shotguns I shoot clays, game and vermin. The rifles I use for pest control and target shooting. I belong to Offa’s Dyke Rifle Club, this club utilises military ranges and is licensed accordingly by the Home Office. The discipline of the club is good with members being required to demonstrate safety at all times. The club is also affiliated to the 50 Calibre Club, although I am not a member of that. Members from both clubs often share ranges. I do not shoot .50 Cal, I can’t afford to, I can’t afford the rifle, the scope or the ammunition. You will no doubt find out about the cost if you decide to ban them and have to compensate the law abiding people that you are depriving of them! In fact the calibres that I shoot - .308 - equivalent to Nato 7.62, 6.5x47, .222 almost equivalent to Nato 5.56 and .22 rimfire are all more useful to the criminal/terrorist than the large, unwieldy and very heavy .50 Cal rifles. In fact the average shotgun is of greater use for misuse than all of the rifles. 

However my main objections are these:

1.   That the UK Firearms Licensing system is already one of the most stringent in the world with applicants being vetted and references taken. Their homes are visited and their security checked. They are required to permit access to their medical records - something that would otherwise be a breach of Doctor Patient confidentiality. Compare this with the difficulty of breaching the confidentiality that a lawyer has with the criminal that she represents! We make no objection to this because we accept that there is a risk, that possession of firearms can lead to horrible circumstances.

2.   On application for a firearms/shotgun certificate the applicant is made to pay a not inconsiderable fee and also for variations and renewals. It currently costs £90 for the grant of a coterminous shotgun/ firearm certificate, £65 for renewal of same and £20 for a variation. The current top rate of the State Old Age Pension is £164.35 a week. Therefore these sums are not inconsiderable expenses to many of us. The current run-down number of police staff and officers frequently fail to carry out the enquiries within the necessary time limits, therefore leaving certificate holders technically without authority to continue to possess, let alone use, their legally held sporting implements. PCCs, Chief Constables and Civil Servants constantly try to increase the fees in order to stimulate another income stream. Perhaps it should be remembered that the checks are said to ensure public safety and therefore should be a part of the police budget that our taxes already contribute towards.

3.   I was one of the people who had handguns taken off me after Dunblane. Despite being a law abiding, indeed than a law enforcing member of society, I was judged by the actions of one deranged individual. If memory serves that person had not been properly assessed under then existing legislation, had he been his guns would have been confiscated. But in a knee jerk reaction to that atrocity some of the most law respecting members of the UK community were collectively punished by being deprived of their ability to continue possessing pistols. This is despite pistol shooting having the status of an Olympic Sport that the UK used to do well in.

4.   In order to ban something in a supposedly free society an argument should be put that demonstrates the need for such a ban. Have High muzzle energy target rifles been used criminally in the UK? Have UK Firearms Certificate holders demonstrated any inability to possess firearms without causing risk to the public, risks that cannot be dealt with under existing legislation? From whom have these proposals been sourced, are they based on any evidence, have the sources demonstrated any prejudice against lawful gun ownership or is there any likelihood that somebody, somewhere in some agency is building a CV as the person who removed such a weapon from the UK?

5.   Rather than invite me and other members of the shooting community to demonstrate why we should be allowed to carry on our lawful activity, a lawful activity that is far more deeply probed than any other activity, I say this as a person who underwent and passed developed vetting while at SOCA, it should be up to you, the committee, to prove that you have good reason to propose such bans. So far no good reason has been given for targeting .50 Cal and similar rifles. The only reason why ‘bump-stocks’ are on the list is because of an atrocity in the US where the gun laws are so different from the UK that it makes no sense to use a random example from the US as a basis for UK legislation. As for MARS rifles, of which I know little, please do consider the effect that your deliberations might have on disabled shooters, some of whom might have acquired their disability in the service of this country.

6.   I would also ask that you also remember that outside of the Police and Armed Forces only the criminal community have firearms as weapons. The shooting communities have firearms as precision tools in pursuit of legitimate activities not weapons. I would therefore ask that in debates and discussions concerning firearms legislation the use of the word ‘weapon’ should be strongly objected to. The only weapons dealt licensed under existing firearms legislation are those allowed for personal protection in Northern Ireland. The Police and Armed Forces do not hold their weapons under Firearms Certification and criminals hold their weapons illegally already.

7.   I also draw your attention to the fact that on 20/4/2017 a terrorist, Khalid Masood, used a vehicle and knives to kill P.C Palmer, an unarmed Metropolitan Police Officer guarding the Houses of Parliament and those who attend there. He also killed and injured pedestrians unfortunate enough to be there. Masood was shot and killed by an armed police officer who was assigned as a bodyguard to a politician. Had that politician not been in attendance then presumably the bodyguard would have been absent and therefore not available to stop this murderous rampage. I remark on this for two reasons, first that nobody has suggested that your committee should investigate the misuse of road vehicles in terror attacks despite other examples of this both in the UK - the murder of Lee Rigby, and in the EU. This despite the fact that intelligence exists to show that muslim extremists have called for vehicle and knife attacks against soft targets. Soft targets being the general population as opposed to politicians with armed bodyguards. My second reason is to ask why a minority section of the population, politicians, shielded by dedicated police officers and armed bodyguards should decide whether or not law-abiding citizens can, or cannot, have access to sporting firearms and target rifles. Legislation already exists to prohibit the possession of easily concealable weapons like handguns - although the average criminal seem to have little problem in acquiring them. Automatic and semi-automatic weapons are similarly banned as is the possession of anti-material ammunition. The last point about ammunition makes a nonsense of the reasons so far given to ban the category of target rifle that this proposed legislation seeks to outlaw. 

8.   In closing I will make mention of the rule of thumb that operated when I was occasionally involved in dealing with applications for shotgun and firearms certificates some years ago. It was one of the many jobs of patrol officers to visit applicants, check their security and the fitness of the land they intended to use a firearm on, such checks were then reported via line-management to the specialist firearm department. That rule was we had to show good reason why they should not have a shotgun, they had to show good reason why they should be allowed a Section 1 firearm. I put it to you, given the intrusive checks made by the police before grant of these certificates, that anybody who currently has official permission to possess the types of firearm that you are thinking of banning has demonstrated that they have a good reason to possess same.

L. Sellwood.

August 2018

 

Prepared 30th August 2018