Offensive Weapons Bill

Written evidence submitted by the Vintage Arms Association (OWB196)

The Vintage Arms Association Submission to the Public Bill Committee on the Offensive Weapons Bill.

The Vintage Arms Association was formed in 1973, to encourage the collection, study and use of all vintage firearms, being any small arm that was in production prior to 1945. We are a Home Office-approved club and shoot on various private and MOD ranges including Bisley. Most members are active shooters, as well as collectors of vintage and antique firearms. As these are either used for target shooting on approved ranges, or are kept as ‘ornaments or curios’, we do not regard them as weapons, as they will never be used as such while in our possession, regardless of their purpose in the past. Consequently, we do not believe that they should be regarded as ‘offensive weapons’ by the Home Office, or the police.

Certain vintage firearms fall into the category of high muzzle energy, due to the bore and bullet weight and there is concern that the current proposals will lead to these being prohibited. Some of our members also belong to the .50 Cal club and shoot high-powered, long range target rifles. They have an exceptional safety record and there are no cases of such rifles being used by criminals. It is therefore believed that prohibiting them will have no effect on public safety. If there is a concern about them falling into criminal hands as a result of theft, tighter security arrangements are possibly an option to safeguard against this. These are high value items, requiring a considerable level of skill in their use and consequently unlikely to be used in crime.

As the Vintage Arms Association membership tends to be in the upper age bracket, some members have purchased MARS, or Lever-release rifles, which do not require the same level of manual dexterity as bolt-action, or lever action rifles. These are particularly suitable for arthritic or disabled shooters, who would otherwise be restricted to short-rage .22 semi-automatic rifles. The MARS and Lever-release rifles allow them to compete at longer ranges, with full-bore rifles. There is a current myth that these rifles are designed for rapid fire. This is untrue, as any shooter knows. An attempt at rapidity with any rifle results in a decrease in accuracy, which is undesirable in a target rifle. The manufacturer of the MARS system considers that its maximum rate of fire is around one shot per second, which is hardly rapid when compared to that of a semi-automatic rifle in skilled hands. These rifles cannot work with bump stocks and their proposed prohibition appears to be based more on their appearance than on their performance. There are very few in the UK and they have never been used in crime, so their prohibition would have no effect on either gun crime or public safety.

As the Vintage Arms Association is mainly involved with the collection and use of vintage and antique firearms, we are concerned about proposed amendments which were left out of the public consultation. These relate to prohibiting hand-loading of ammunition. As must be obvious, the ammunition for most antique firearms is no longer commercially produced, thus it is necessary for the shooters to load their own ammunition. This has always been the case since the 1960s, with few issues. The components of such ammunition consist of a brass case, a lead bullet, propellant powder and a primer. Without the primer, it is not possible to ignite the powder and fire the round. Consequently, it is currently necessary to produce a valid Firearms Certificate before primers can be purchased. This is because the primer is the only component that cannot be readily manufactured. If there is a concern over the possibility of criminals making their own ammunition, then we propose that primers be treated in the same way as ‘factory’ ammunition, in that they would need to be entered on the Firearms Certificate at the time of purchase, which is not a current requirement. As shooters are required to record the number of shots fired on Range Records of rifle clubs, it would be a simple matter to correlate the number of shots fired with the number to primers purchased, as a control on where hand-loaded ammunition is used. Prohibition of ammunition components is seen as impractical, as anyone legally in possession of ammunition is also in possession of the components. It is believed that prohibition of ammunition components will only prohibit vintage shooting in the UK and have no effect on public safely.

Regarding antique centre-fire revolvers kept as ‘ornaments and curios’, these are expensive and rare items, prized by collectors who have invested in them. Their use by criminals is deeply deplored but it is felt that current laws are more than adequate in dealing with their criminals use, as evidenced by the lengthy prison terms handed down to recent perpetrators. These revolvers were legally purchased, in good faith, by serious collectors who wish to preserve British heritage. These collectors will suffer disproportionately if a prohibition is brought in to dissuade criminals who do not abide by current laws and will not abide by any new laws. Again, it is believed that any such prohibition will have little or no effect on public safety.

Ian Barclay

Acting Chairman

Vintage Arms Association

September 2018

 

Prepared 12th September 2018