Offensive Weapons Bill

Written evidence submitted by Alastair Haley, Chairman, County of Gloucester Rifle Association (OWB23)

Executive Summary

· This submission covers solely those elements of the bill referring to additional restrictions on sporting firearms.

· These firearms are already covered by comprehensive individual risk assessments undertaken by the licensing officer.

· These firearms, when legally held, cannot be shown to have been used in any crime. Therefore, no reduction in crime, or increase in public safety can be reasonably expected by further control.

· Residual concerns over theft can be addressed by less draconian measures, or by ensuring licensing officers are carrying out suitable risk assessments.

· Further controls will do nothing to prevent criminal use.

· Parliament misunderstands these rifles, and have made several incorrect statements. Legislation must not be created based on misunderstanding.

· Further restrictions on these rifles would be in contravention of A1P1 of the ECHR.

· The existing licensing procedures are adequate for control of firearms, and all references to further controls should be removed from the Offensive Weapons Bill.

1. As a sporting shooter myself, and competitor for Great Britain (2013 & 2014) Wales (2003-2018) and Gloucestershire (2002-2018), I have an interest in securing the future of my sport, and other shooting disciplines. I understand the necessity for suitable controls around potentially dangerous firearms, but this must be balanced against individual freedoms. Controls should therefore be introduced only when reasonably supported by evidence.

2. The firearms referenced in this proposal already require a license to possess. The purpose of the licensing process is for the police to assess the suitability of an individual to possess a firearm for sporting purposes.[1] The existing processes should be adequate to ensure only responsible individuals may possess these firearms. Firearms licensing already includes measures to assess suitable storage facilities, valid reasons to possess, and mental health screening. If the current licensing process works as intended, there should be no need for any further controls. It is up to individual police forces to properly carry out a risk assessment before granting a licence.

3. I submitted a FOIA request to the Home Office, and was, with no exaggeration, utterly stunned by their response (FOI 45787) that "The Home Office does not hold information on the calibre of firearm used in offences involving firearms or whether the offence was committed by a licensed firearm holder." How is it possible that the Home Office considers itself a competent authority to propose new legislation based on a perceived heightened risk of lawful ownership of certain classes of firearm, if they themselves do not record critical information allow them to assess that risk? This proposal simply has no evidential basis. It is deeply regrettable that any firearms offences occur in the United Kingdom, but penalising law-abiding sportsmen will have no effect on criminal use of firearms.

4. As a demonstration of the importance of these statistics, Home Office records show that the Firearms Act 1997 had no impact on handgun crime statistics. Around 160,000[2] legal handguns were surrendered, and there was no decrease in handgun crime. In fact, handgun crime increased from 2648 offences in 1997 to a high of 5874 in 2001/2002. I believe this is because the Home Office failed to understand the difference between licensed handguns and illegal handguns, and therefore were unable to adequately assess the impact of the proposed changes. That change in law resulted in no improvement to public safety. Instead, it simply robbed innocent individuals of their beloved sport, had a direct cost to Government in excess of £97 million, and had an unspecified ongoing cost to the economy. To be absolutely clear, the financial cost, and the significant personal impact to law abiding individuals, achieved no improvement to public safety. This change in law targeted not criminals, but law abiding sportsmen.

5. With specific reference to the current proposals, it is a matter of indisputable fact that the Home Office has provided no evidence that these types of rifle have ever been used in any crime, when legally held by a licensed individual. If there is no evidence of crime, than there can be no expectation of a reduction in crime by restricting the freedoms of sportsmen to possess these rifles. Indeed, Victoria Atkins MP stated, during the second reading of the bill, that gun crime would reduce as a result of the proposed changes to the bill. This is simply not true, as the rifles covered by the proposed changes have not been used in any recorded crime, when lawfully held.

6. Furthermore, Victoria Atkins mentioned that "there has been a recent increase in seizures at the United Kingdom border of higher-powered weaponry and ordnance. The assessment is that those weapons were destined for the criminal marketplace…". Whilst worrying, this is irrelevant to the debate. Weapons smuggling is already illegal, and prohibiting legitimate sportsmen from possessing these firearms will have no impact on the criminal marketplace. This fear-mongering is a distraction from the legitimate debate.

7. There is some further evidence that ministers do not understand the issues at hand. For example, in the original consultation, multiple mentions were made of "materiel destruction" rifles. It is the case that all "materiel destruction" ammunition is already prohibited under section 5 of the firearms act 1968. Indeed, Mr Nick Hurd gave an incorrect response to a written question claiming that armour piercing rounds were in use by a small number of clubs[3]. This has since been corrected, but does not excuse the factual inaccuracies in the original consultation, or how many individuals have been misled about the facts of the current licensing regime.

8. If the Home Office is unable to demonstrate criminal activity by licensed firearms holders, the sole remaining complaint possible in regards to public safety is that of theft. I contend that it should be the responsibility of the licensing officer to demonstrate that adequate storage facilities are available prior to granting a license[1]. However, if the Home Office does not place sufficient trust in regional constabularies, then additional requirements could be levied on these specific firearms. For example, storing the rifle in two parts in separate safes, or potentially even custodial storage at a registered armoury. Neither of these proposals seems to have been considered, yet would serve to reduce concerns over theft if parliament has lost faith in regional constabularies.

9. It seems clear to me that if the government cannot demonstrate a legitimate public interest, substantially supported by factual evidence, AND that any additional restrictions are reasonably proportionate, then they would be in breach of A1P1 of the ECHR. Neither of these clauses have been shown to be true.

10. Finally, I would urge the committee to re-read the numerous submissions to the Home Affairs Second Report on Controls over Firearms (2000) [4]. There are many excellent submissions, all relevant to the current debate. It is interesting to note that, at that time, the Home Affairs Committee recognised one of the "essential principles" that should underpin a "fair and consistent system" of firearms licensing is "No undue restriction on the legitimate occupational and recreational use of firearms". Furthermore, the committee concluded "We believe that the controls applied to section 1 firearms are stringent, and, if fairly and consistently applied, they make adequate and justifiable provision for their safe use". This would seem to support my position that no further controls are required, and all references to additional firearms controls should be removed from the Offensive Weapons Bill.

[1] - The chief officer of police for the area grants and authorises firearm and/or shotgun certificates to applicants who have a valid reason for possessing a firearm and/or shotgun and who are assessed to pose no threat to public safety. ( https://www.app.college.police.uk/app-content/major-investigation-and-public-protection/firearms-licensing/ )

[2] - 162,198 as of 19 January 1998 ( https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm199900/cmselect/cmhaff/95/9507.htm )

[3] – https://www.parliament.uk/business/publications/written-questions-answers-statements/written-question/Commons/2017-10-25/109587/

[4] - https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm199900/cmselect/cmhaff/95/9502.htm

8 July 2018

 

Prepared 9th July 2018