Offensive Weapons Bill

Written Evidence submitted by Doug Eckford on behalf of Axiotech Automotive Ltd (OWB171).

Written Evidence submitted by Mr Douglas Eckford MIET

relating to proposed Offensive Weapons Bill clauses 20, 22, 28 (1)(2) and 29 (1)(2)

1. Introduction

The author is a professional engineer with some experience in military ordnance and has conducted basic compliance trials on weapons systems.

In addition, had served with H.M. Forces for nearly two decades and was a Small Arms and Gunnery Instructor.

Now an active member of a U.K. civilian target shooting club and member of the National Rifle Association and British Association for Shooting and Conservation.

2. Executive Summary

· Clauses 20 and 22 will criminalise and punish innocent members of the public where no intent to commit any crime has occurred whilst in the privacy of their own home and is therefore disproportionate.

· Clause 28 (2) (ag) and Clause 29 (2) ( ea ) f ails to achieve the stated aims of the Bill and has no evidential base and is speculative so therefore disproportionate and unfairly targets legal private firearms holders who are some of the most responsible and regulated members of the public.

3. Overview

3.1. The seemingly increased media coverage of the effect of knife and firearm crime in the U.K. has resulted in a heightened public perception and fear of violent crime. This seems to be compounded by the UK media, police and National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC), to name a few, continuously requesting more and more specific powers from politicians and parliament by creating changes in the public’s perception of crime and exploiting fear by using somewhat questionable loaded wording to support the intense and targeted lobbying being carried out.

3.2. Whilst we will all commend the good work carried out by the Police Services across the U.K. in combatting crime and disorder, it must be noted that the vested interests that organisations such as the NPCC seek to pursue are only one part of a multitude of points of view on how ‘we’ as a modern society wish to address the problems of crime prevention.

3.3. Public fears are often quite misguided and can be badly informed by both the media and representatives from the police and Government. It is urged that the committee works only with the facts to dispel the myths and ignore any irrational fear or personal bias.

3.4. It must be remembered that we all have a vested interest in the balance between legislative police powers and our own individual rights as responsible law-abiding citizens.

3.5. It would be disingenuous to simply presume that the police and Home Office are the only legitimate and expert voices on such matters, and whilst evidence of trends in criminal activity monitored by the police is a valuable source of intelligence assessment from which government can form legislation, there are a great many civilian organisations, businesses and individuals who can evidence that the proposed Bill will not only affect them adversely but will do so no verifiable evidence that public safety would be enhanced in any way.

3.6. The current level of legislation already targeting violent crime and offensive weapons within the U.K. is some of the widest ranging and comprehensive in the world. The specific new offences being proposed under Clauses 20, 22, 28 and 29 in this Bill do not demonstrably achieve any of the primary claims of crime reduction made by the Government in its Policy Equality Statement nor in the published overarching ‘facts’ insomuch as it ‘is’ and ‘was’ always an offense in the U.K. to be in possession of an offensive weapon illegally.

3.7. The addition of any new clauses and amendments to primary legislation for the reduction of violent crime, use of illegal firearms and offensive weapons must only be passed into law based on factual evidence that is impartial and reasonable. Secondly, whilst there is a moral obligation by the legislature to reasonably be seen to be acting in the interests of the general public and the safety of its citizens, it would be wholly undermining for strict legislation to not only prohibit, but make criminals of those otherwise law abiding people, who should be free to be able to go about their lawful business without undue interference from the state.

3.8. The cases where violent crime involves knives or firearms is, thankfully, low in the U.K. when compared to many other countries, however, whilst most of this proposed Bill is a gallant attempt to aid the police in fighting violent crime it still remains a fact that the crimes it is aimed at targeting are in the main already illegal, and legislation currently in force is adequate for bringing criminals to justice without unduly or unfairly targeting a large number of the population, who until this Bill was to be enacted are not committing any offence.

3.9. These proposals in their current form indicate that the Government seeks to undermine the individual responsibility of its electorate to be responsible and law abiding and permit them to able go about their normal lawful pursuits.

3.10. There is nothing being introduced in this entire proposed Bill that fundamentally is not already an offence in one form or another in the current legislation in force.

4. Prohibition on Possessing Certain Dangerous Knives and Offensive Weapons.

Clauses 20 and 22

4.1. Whether an item is deemed to be an offensive weapon or not, possession in its self does not wholly justify an offense without some element of intent or reason.

4.2. Prohibited offensive weapons as listed in the Schedule to the Criminal Justice Act 1988 (Offensive Weapons) together with other current law clearly applies the common sense standing that a person in possession of such an item without good reason in a public place has committed an offence of possession. Extending this to creating an offence for any person who may be deemed to have in their possession, within their private premises, where at present no defence for the possession is required as it is perfectly legal, is an unnecessary and disproportionate law.

4.3. In the proposed clauses, any person found in a property where an allegedly offensive weapon is also found, whether they have knowledge of its existence or not, has automatically committed an offence, which will result in the police arresting and charging the person for this new offence irrespective of the circumstances that arose in the discovery of the item. This new offence can carry a term of imprisonment, fine or both.

4.4. Therein also lies the issue of who would the police arrest and charge. If there were more than one person on the premises at the time of the alleged ‘offence’, the police would invariably have no option but to arrest everyone at the address for the same offence and it would not be clear as to exactly who could be successfully charged with the offence. This would therefore be a disproportionate response simply as a direct result of these proposed legislative changes.

4.5. It is unacceptable for this legislation to actively remove the element of ‘intent or cause to commit an offence of possession of an offensive weapon’ such as would be evident if a person was found to be carrying an offensive weapon in a public place without good reason. This would appear to overstep the underlying premise of fairness that underpins the British legal system.

4.6. These proposals have seemingly eroded and shifted the essence of legislation from ‘innocent until proven guilty’ to simply ‘guilty’ by proximity.

4.7. It is for these reasons that the committee should recommend rejection of these proposed clauses from entering into the final bill.

5. Prohibition of certain firearms etc: England and Wales and Scotland

Prohibition of certain firearms etc: Northern Ireland

Clauses 28 and 29

5.1. Firearms legislation in the U.K. is already the most restrictive in the World and the vast majority of violent crime committed is carried out with illegally obtained firearms.

5.2. Firearms are not designated as Offensive Weapons; however, some firearms under the Firearms Act are classed as prohibited and require specific authority to possess.

5.3. There are a small number of legally held firearms that are stolen each year which may find their way into the hands of criminals, this of course is of great concern, but when compared to the number of firearms that have been smuggled into the country or acquired by other means for use by criminal gangs the numbers are relatively insignificant.

5.4. Many firearms offences carried out in the U.K. are carried out using prohibited firearms which are classified as Section 5 and are already illegal to possess without specific Home Office Approval, these are mainly handguns as being seemingly favoured by the criminal elements of society as they are easy to conceal and have value to criminals. It must be noted that these prohibited firearms were subject to a total ban of private ownership in the Firearms (Amendment) (No.2) Act 1997.

5.5. The majority of firearms legally held by private individuals and shooting clubs are rifles as classified under Section 1 of the Firearms Act, and these rifles are very rarely used in crime generally.

5.6. Under British law firearms are not illegal, their possession and use is restricted, and unlawful possession or use is illegal. To possess a firearm, and there are many thousands of legitimate firearms users across the country who through good reason are legally permitted to own and use firearms for sport and business, authority must be gained from the police. Additionally, there are many Home Office Approved shooting clubs, associations and ranges where members of the public are authorised to shoot for sport and competition.

5.7. The National Rifle Association (NRA), British Association for Shooting and Conservation (BASC), UK Practical Shooting Association (UKPSA) and the Fifty Calibre Shooters Association (FCSA) to name but a few are the main civilian shooting associations for the sporting and professional use of firearms in this country and they liaise closely with both the Home Office and police on all matters of private firearms ownership.

5.8. Most of these organisations will have sent representation on their views of the proposed Bill from their members perspective to highlight their collective concerns. But the committee should note that it is through these organisations that the private ownership and use of legal firearms by their members is in full cooperation with both the police and Government, and as a result it can be evidenced that their members are some of the most law-abiding and responsible members of our society.

5.9. The proposal to include Clauses 28 and 29 of the Bill target the shooting community unfairly by implementing specific prohibitions which are not founded in evidence or fact.

5.10. The Bill is attempting to restrict legitimate sporting activities frequently exercised by UK citizens and is based solely on the repeated assertions by the police and Home Office that the restrictions will enhance public safety but has provided no evidence to this effect.

5.11. The re has been no attempt by the Home Office to directly target the availability and use of illegally acquired firearms, even though it s own statistics indicate that these present a far greater risk to public safety than any legally held firearms.

5.12. The c urrent firearms legislation demonstrably protects public safety; Section 27 Firearms Act 1968 (as amended) requires Chief Officers of police who grant firearms certificates to ensure "the applicant can be permitted to have the firearm or ammunition in his possession without danger to the public safety " , together with ensuring all firearms are held safety and securely against theft .

6. Clause 28 (2) (ag) and Clause 29 (2) ( ea )

6.1. In the proposed Bill, Clause 28 (2) (ag) and Clause 29 (2) ( ea ) adds the definition within Section 5 of the Firearms Act a limit to muzzle energy in which there is no tangible evidence that the level of 13,600 Joules at the muzzle of the firearm has any significance or meaning.

6.2. The energy level of 13,600 Joules stated is arbitrary and does not ‘define’ a firearm adequately for the purpose of the amendment, so would be an unsafe amendment to the legislation.

6.3. There have been many instances during the parliamentary discussions relating to this Bill where members have used incorrect definitions and loose language interchangeably regarding ‘Materiel Destructive’ capabilities of so called High Powered We a pons’ with the result that the lay understanding of such matters appears to have been corrupted . The committee therefore needs to be aware of some of the terminology relating to the meanings specific to the proposed clause within the Bill .

6.4. Rifle: Type of firearm. A gun, especially one fired from shoulder level, having a long spirally grooved barrel intended to make a bullet spin and thereby have greater accuracy over a long distance.

6.5. Projectile: Bullet, Ball, shell or missile designed to be fired from a gun.

6.6. Weapon: An object or item designed or used for inflicting bodily harm or physical damage .

6.7. Materiel Destructive : M ilitary term that relates to the ability of a military grade armour piercing, armour piercing incendiary or armour piercing explosive projectile to defeat hard targets .

6.8. Muzzle Energy: Kinetic energy of a bullet at the point it leaves the end of the barrel .

6.9. Terminal Energy: Kinetic energy of a bullet remaining at the target distance .

6.10. Effective Range: The maximum range at which a rifle can:

a. be fired,

b. hit the target,

c. retain adequate terminal energy .

6.11. In terms of the civilian use of a target rifle at ranges of up to 1,200 m to 1,500 m these are used solely for precision distance shooting and competitions. In the U.K. these rifles are bolt action as Section 1 firearms and are incredibly heavy and long.

6.12. These target rifles are undesirable for criminal use due to cost, size and weight and they are not easy to obtain even by legitimate holders of firearms certificates as the police require extra conditions to be place d on the certificate user’s safe storage , good reason for possession and where these rifles can be used.

6.13. The type of ammunition used by shooters in the U.K. is of standard civilian jacketed bullet type s of a diameter up to 0.5 in which are not ‘Materiel Destructive’ in their design.

6.14. All of the ‘ M ateriel Destructive’ ammunition types that have been discussed during parliamentary debates and in evidence to the committee are already illegal to possess and use in the U.K. This bill does not address these concerns.

6.15. The energy of a projectile at the target distance is greatly reduced at range and a smaller calibre bullet traveling faster over the range may have exactly the same energy a s a large calibre slower bullet and may well retain a higher energy than that of a large calibre round over the effective range.

6.16. Under the existing Firearms Act there is no definition of a level of Muzzle Energy for the classification of any firearm as a ‘lethal barrelled firearm ’. I t is not possible to quantify what level ‘ lethal actually is , therefore the addition of a muzzle energy threshold level as a definition in the Bill is quite arbitrary and unnecessary.

6.17. The capability of a given firearm to cause damage is a function of both the type of firearm together with the type of ammunition used and the nature of the target , and it cannot be so defined without extra qualification . The Clause amending the Bill fails to satisfy this requirement as it does not prohibit either the firearm nor the ammunition, only prohibiting any firearm used with certain ammunition that then would exceed this muzzle energy . The legislation would have little or no effect on Public Safety as claimed by the Home office.

6.18. Clauses 28 (2) (ag) and 29 (2) ( ea ) do not address adequately the intent of the Home Office to directly ban a particular type of firearm such as the .50 BMG type rifle as it is evident from th e wording of the proposed Bill that the legislature does not fully understand the issue.

6.19. The fear that the p olice and Government seem to exhibit from what the Home Office class as a powerful firearm is wholly unfounded and has no factual evidence to support the claims for prohibition of a particular type of firearm , as it has been construed that the civilian held firearms are military grade materiel destructive weapons and in the name of ‘Public Safety’, whereas in fact this is not the case.

6.20. This amendment would not achieve any of the Home Office’s stated aim s under its own definition s in the Policy Equality Statement .

7. Clause 28 (2) (ah) and Clause 29 (2) ( eb )

7.1. Clauses 28 (2) (ah) and 29 (2) ( eb ) seek to define an extension to Section 5 of the Firearms Act 1968 and the Firearms (Northern Ireland) Order 2004 and classify firearms that extract an empty case from the chamber of a firearm as prohibited.

7.2. The Home Office and police consider this type of firearm as especially dangerous as they deem it to be more powerful and dangerous than firearms already permitted for civilian ownership under section 1 of the Firearms Act. The police have been using misleading wording to strengthen their argument against firearms generally, as in reality the lever release and MARS type actions do not result in a firearm which is more powerful or dangerous than any other section 1 firearm.

7.3. Firearms of this type have been defined by the Home Office as rapid firing rifles on account that the firing action is checked by a safety sear mechanism and a disconnector to allow the shooter to manually load a round into the chamber each shot and when fired the empty case is ejected without undue awkwardness and loss of stable shooting stance or position which is essential for precision target shooting.

7.4. This mechanism or ‘Action’ of these firearms is no more inherently dangerous than any other type of firearm and the Home Office is purposely associating these firearms to criminal and terrorist risks in a manner that is unfounded and contrary to their own data on the criminal misuse of firearms.

7.5. The action between each shot is not only a separate action but is manual and the rate of fire of this type of firearm is significantly slower than what would be universally termed a high rate of fire.

7.6. The reason this type of firearm has been developed and has gained popularity with many shooters in the U.K. is that the reduced recoil of this type of design has many advantages over other manual bolt locked rifles.

7.7. This design of rifle particularly suits shooters who are disabled as it permits the user to shoot very accurately with less recoil on each shot and to be able to reload each new round unassisted permitting a user with less dexterity to safely and accurately fire the rifle.

7.8. This type of firearm allows young and disabled shooters to enjoy the benefits derived from full bore target shooting without the discomfort that can arise when shooting older design firearms that require significantly more strength and dexterity as well as allowing the shooter to remain in a more stable shooting position which drastically improves the shooting skill required for precision target shooting.

7.9. For able bodied and other experienced target shooters the lever release and MARS type rifles allow many other types of sporting discipline to be pursued in addition to standard target shooting just as that carried out by members of the UK Practical Shooters Association.

7.10. The premise that these firearms are especially dangerous is based solely on a notion that a bolt action target rifle cannot be fired rapidly and that these firearms inherently can which is not strictly correct.

7.11. A competent shooter using a bolt action rifle can fire 20 to 30 accurate shots per minute and effectively fire substantially faster than this albeit at the expense of some accuracy, this rate of fire is also typically the fastest rate that a user would realistically fire a lever release or MARS rifle to exactly the same effect. Certain other rifles that are extremely common in the civilian ownership is the under-lever type rifle with can be fired at rates far in excess of those stated.

7.12. The assertion by the Home Office and police would have us believe that these firearms would be especially dangerous based on no evidence that this is the case. The fact that all semi-automatic and fully automatic ‘rifled’ full-bore firearms are already subject to prohibition as section 5 firearms in the U.K. the nature of these lever release and MARS action rifles is in no way comparative.

7.13. All of the firearms that the Home Office is seeking to prohibit are no more or less dangerous than any other legally held firearms when in the wrong hands and as such the Police already enact restrictions in the granting of this type of firearm on firearms certificate holders together with the enhanced security requirements enforced for these firearms.

7.14. The risk to the public of this type of firearm being in civilian ownership is less than the evident risk of criminal use of already illegal firearms. Firearm crime in London and other large cities has seemingly involved illegally obtained firearms smuggled in from overseas .

7.15. The Home Office has pursued these much tighter restriction s on the legal and legitimate ownership of certain types of firearms even though legal ownership of firearms is clearly not the main risk posed by firearms to public safety.

7.16. In support of these amendments within the Bill the Home Office has provided misleading references to tragic shooting incidents in the U.S.A. which has absolutely no bearing on the types of crime that occurs in this country.

7.17. The addition of these clauses in the Bill wholly undermines the entire lawful shooting community together with a raft of shooting sports clubs and associations and adds to the alienation of a great many law abiding and responsible citizens.

7.18. It is for these reasons that Clauses 28 (2) (ah) and (2) ( eb ) should be rejected from the Bill.

8. Recommendations

8.1. In the pursuit of ensuring ongoing public safety that this Bill attempts to achieve it is recommended that clauses 20, 22, 28 and 29 are rejected for inclusion as they do not adequately address any of the concerns that the Government seeks to enact.

8.2. The Bill in the proposed form is designed to address the issues relating to increased knife crime and assaults involving dangerous chemicals and for that it must be commended, However, the addition of clauses 20 and 22 are not conducive to the freedoms that we expect our citizens to enjoy in the privacy of their own home, and as no offence would have been committed until this Bill was introduced, the change in legislation on these points would be an irreversible infringement upon the civil liberties of the mass of respectable and responsible law abiding people of this country.

8.3. The inclusion of the clauses relating to a re-classification of certain legally held firearms under clauses 28 and 29, the Home Office have failed to address the main points of the Home Office’s argument and they have tried to justify this against the claim of ‘Public Safety’ which they have not sufficiently evidenced.

8.4. To reduce the risk of any firearm finding its way into criminal use the Home Office and police would be better tasked with dealing with the illegal firearms being smuggled across borders rather than penalising the law-abiding public.

8.5. A greater level of police background checks of prospective firearms certificate applicants together with an increased emphasis of firearms security and storage would be applauded by the majority of people, whether in the shooting community or widely across the populace and would go much further than these amendments in reducing the risk of violent crime with offensive weapons.

8.6. The Bill as originally designed to address unlawful and criminal use and possession of knives or harmful chemicals has some merit but should not have included in it any additional re-classification of firearms, as the current legislation in the form of the Firearms Act 1968 which is already in force restricting or prohibiting certain firearms is not only already adequate but highly restrictive.

8.7. Any proposed amendments to the Firearms Act 1968 and the classification of, and the possession and use of, firearms, together with safeguards to protect against criminal or terrorist mis-use of firearms, should be squarely debated and a Bill produced specifically for this subject matter, as the implications of this type of legislative change should justify greater scrutiny and attention by parliament than by the Home Office trying to get it passed in such a disingenuous manner.

8.8. The bolting-on of clauses relating to firearms onto an unrelated Bill of other important legislative change undermines the gravity that such an amendment deserves when implementing changes to the Firearms Act and should be approached by Government in a more reasoned and evidence-based manner.

8.9. I implore the committee to take all the evidence in to account in the most level and impartial manner and consider deeply the contribution many of us in the shooting community have provided evidentially to the committee and recognise that the potentially loaded influences created by certain elements of media, police and Government hold only one view of this complex and important issue that affects us all.

September 2018

 

Prepared 10th September 2018