Offensive Weapons Bill

Written evidence submitted by R Hawkins (OWB179)

I am writing to express concern about number of the proposals that are included in the Offensive Weapons Bill. If not amended they will serious consequences for collectors persons possessing effects of relatives and preserving items of historical importance. Part of the Bill Includes (Making it an offence to possess certain weapons in private 14. The aim of the proposal is to amend existing legislation so that it is an offence to possess any of the weapons specified under section 141 of the Criminal Justice Act 1988 or the Restriction of Offensive Weapons Act 1959 in private) In practise what this would do is totally ban the ownership of any item on the offensive weapons order. The government probably feels this will help to reduce crime as persons should not possess what they deem offensive weapons. The consequences of such a proposal have not been thought through. There are many categories of items That are of considerable historic importance .   Noticeably Swords with curved blades would be banned and all owners would be required to surrender them for destruction. This would effect most the British and  European Swords going back to middle of the 16 Century. and even earlier Middle eastern and Asian Swords. It would be of substantial cultural vandalism to require such items are destroyed. Antique Swords of this kind are almost never used in cri me and any benefits are far out weighed by the mass destruction of such historical artefacts. There are an untold number of Specialist collectors who collect and preserve history be establishing collections to conduct research and preserve history. Experts who study techniques of sword making and contribute to documentaries and other tv programs would be affected by this proposal. Such work will not be allowed to be undertaken if such a ban goes in to effect. Also there are persons who have an ancestors effects that has been passed down as a family heirloom. For example there ancestor may have been a high ranking officer or a private in the cavalry at the Battle of Waterloo and they are in possession of the Sword they carried at the battle. Removing their keepsake that has been in the family for hundreds of years and destroying it is totally unjust. It is stated in the consultation that the Government estimates that the total compensation Bill for the confiscation of all offensive weapons will be about £200,000. This is a gross underestimate by Hundreds of Millions. an associate who specialises in restoration was telling me about their customer who has a Japanese Sword valued at over 1 Million pounds. Now that is just one sword that's own value far outweighs the governments total estimate. There are tens of thousands of Swords in private Collections and owned by family's as heirlooms, many can be valued in the £100s of thousands and £10s of thousands each  substantial numbers the majority in fact of antique Swords valued at £1000 plus. So such a ban just on the Swords not taking other items on the offensive weapons order will run in to hundreds of millions. It will do nothing to prevent violent crime as such items are not the choice of criminals. Why would they want to spend a substantial sum on such items when they could buy a cheap kitchen knife that is far more concealable and used in the majority of stabbings. Such a ban will destroy vast amounts of very precious and historic items without any reduction in crime. Spending hundreds of millions of destroying heritage will not reduce violent crime in any way. Antique swords are almost never used in crime. 

Another category of item on the offensive weapons order that was added more resonantly is Traditional straight and side handle truncheons. In effect with this amendment the ownership of a length of wood is now illegal. There is no justification for tradition truncheons to be on the list of offensive weapons. There are many wooden items that a person could hit someone with such as rolling pin rounders bad or even a branch cut from a tree. it is not reasonable to bad the ownership of a small length of wood. There are many collectors of truncheons from early painted Victorian up to more modern that would have to surrender their collections for no benefit to public safety. It is suggested in the consultation document that a reason for this ban is owners of these items may be targeted by criminals and break in to their houses to steal offensive weapons to commit crime. A criminal is not going to go round breaking in to persons houses to steal a truncheon to hit someone with then they could do that with anything easily found in their homes or brought at DIY shops.  Such a ban again affects persons who possess a truncheon as part of the effects of a relative as a keep sake who was a police officer or Military police officer. From personal experience I know a number of persons who have there now deceased fathers truncheon as a memento. Such a ban will also affect retired police officers who have their service truncheon as a memento of service

There is a defence in the Bill that states a person may have a defence from prosecution if it can be shown the offensive weapon is of historic importance. This defence is not clearly defined enough. What is the definition of historic importance ? is there an age cut of date, it is it the case  that many items that were made after 1900 are still of historic importance for example a knuckle duster or gravity knife utilised by an SOE operative that is possessed by a relative  or collector along with other artefacts relating to their activities in occupied France in ww2 along with service records paperwork photographs is of historical importance. Also for example a person may have more modern items included in a wider collection that on their own right would not be of historical importance but are as they form part of a collection. For example you may have truncheon collector who collects and studies truncheons from 1800 to 1990 and wants more modern examples in there collection to compare study and show the evolution of his subject collection. specimens from the 1970s and 1980s may not be considered of historical importance now but in in 200 years they will be so if there is a cut of date to what is considered of historical importance history will stop at that date and in years to come there will be no specimens to study from the late 20th century as they all will have been destroyed.   

Then there is issue of what started out as a ban on .50 calibre rifles now has been extended to anything over 13,600J in muzzle energy This is problematic for a number of reasons First it will now ban historic artillery pieces that are in working order and kept as part of a collection. These are of no danger to the public as there use in crime is totally impractical. Live artillery shells are totally impossible to obtain and would not be possible to manufacture either. Such pieces are held to preserve heritage and are used for historical re-enactment and in acts of remembrance. For example many are fired with blank charge on armistice day such events using privately owned  artillery pieces will be prevented from taking place if such items are required to be destroyed. Also there are many tanks with live barrels that now fall under this ban again banning them will prevent historical re-enactment and lead to destruction of heritage. The compensation bill for these two classes if items will be substantial as such items are very expensive tanks can be £100,000 or more each up in to the millions and historic artillery pieces  can be £100,000 plus each.  A ban on these would cost millions in itself for no reason as there has never been any crime committed with either of the two  categories ever. Therefore it would just divert money away from being spent on useful prevention of crime strategies. Also the test of a firearms being capable of producing over 13,600 j does not provide legal certainty. Does this mean with standard ammunition or with any ammunition such as proof loads over pressured hand loads or loads using very light bullets that are unusual for that calibre. As some calibres they could fall just under the limit with standard ammunition but an over pressured hand load will put them over the threshold. Also barrel length is factor one calibre of rifle with one barrel length can be just under the limit but adding a longer barre will put it over the limit. Therefore there will be numbers of persons out there who ill not know if there rifles fall within this ban or not. Will the proof house have to test every rifle calibre that may fall close to the threshold  with every combination of barrel length ammunition and so on then approve rifles on a case by case basis like that. As that test as it stands gives no legal certainty for the owners of such rifles. Also a .50bmg rifle with a barrel of 20 inches or less will not be able to produce over 13,600 j again referring to the examples earlier this is why such a test is legally wrong and pointless as owners can just reduce the barrel length of a .50 bmg rifle to make it compliant. Such a test based on muzzle energy and theoretically capable of achieving a greater level should be changed.  

September 2018

 

Prepared 10th September 2018