Offensive Weapons Bill

Written evidence submitted by Mrs Alison Castle (OWB26)

To the Honourable Members of the Public Bill Committee

Declaration – I do not own any firearms affected by this Bill. I have participated in organised shooting days at a local range with friends.

I am writing to submit my views and evidence to the committee and trust that these comments will inform the right decision on the proposal to further restrict legitimate firearms ownership by UK residents.

I am concerned about the Government proposals to remove the legitimate use of .50cal, Lever Release or MARS firearms, which is intended to prevent the unlawful acquisition by criminals or terrorists as a result of theft from a licensed holder.

Background

The proposed legislation is intended to prevent certain types of firearms being used for criminal or terrorist activity. I am not aware of any evidence that any of the firearms which may restricted, have ever been stolen from licensed holders, and then used in criminal or terrorist activity. However similar legislation brought in to stop the lawful ownership of hand guns, has had no impact on the number of shootings in the UK involving handguns.

There have been several dreadful events recently which have involved explosives, knives, acid and firearms. I wholeheartedly support all legislation which would be effective at preventing these incidents but there is no evidence that preventing lawful possession of the proposed types of firearms would be effective.

I would also ask that the term "offensive weapon" is not used as this is misleading. A firearm should not be considered a "weapon" unless it is used in a threatening manner. The firearms held by licensed holders are not kept for use as a weapon, just as a baseball bat or cricket bat is not considered to be a weapon. It is only when something is used in a dangerous or threatening way does it become a weapon.

The use of firearms in safe and controlled environment, for target shooting on a range, does not constitute a threat to public safety. There is a general lack of understanding of dedication and skill involved to be able to achieve accuracy and consistency in this sport.

The current situation in England and Wales

The current legislation controlling the legal possession of any firearm is already rigorous.

· Extensive background checks of the applicant and others in their household are made. Their GP is required to disclose any current or past history of mental illness. If for any reason or at any time, an applicant is considered not be a "fit and proper person", their application can be refused, or withdrawn if already issued.

· The applicant has to show they have good reason to possess a firearm and that they have adequate security and safe & effective storage facilities.

· Regular inspections by the police confirm these are in place and they will make requirements for improvements before applications are approved or renewed. This could include for example, lockable steel cabinets bolted to the internal walls of the house and alarm systems which immediately alert the owner, even when they are out the area, to request a police response to a burglary.

Currently there is no mandatory level of security and this is one area where legislation could be effective. Those applying for or holding licenses could be required to meet higher standards for storage and security. This could include separate, locked steel cabinets for the firearms, the bolts and the ammunition. In order to steal a useable and loaded firearm, a thief would need to gain access to the property and three locked cabinets before they were detected. These measures would be at the expense of the license holder and those not willing to or not complying with the standards would have their licenses refused or revoked.

Types of firearms to be prohibited by new legislation:

The Home Secretary has chosen to focus on two types of firearm to prohibit lawful access, high muzzle energy (.50cal) and "Rapid firing firearms" [MARS and Lever Release]

The .50cal firearm used for target shooting does not use the same bullet as that used by the military. The civilian round is designed to be less affected by wind and air pressure and so can be used for long range, target shooting but it has less destructive capability than the military round. There are a few ranges in the UK where it is possible to target up to 5Km. As there has been no recorded unlawful use or theft of one of these firearms, the fears about their misuse can be allayed by increased security measures, including separate storage of the bolts. The weight of these firearms makes it impractical to use them for criminal or terrorist activity. There is no justification for stopping their legal [and regulated] ownership, preventing citizens from enjoying their preferred sport.

The term Rapid Firing Firearm is often misunderstood; there is no clear definition of this type of firearm as most modern firearms can be operated quickly by an experienced user. The accuracy is reduced as it is necessary to re-acquire the target due to the recoil of the gun. Only MARS and Lever Release have been mentioned in the new legislation, although almost all firearms can be considered as rapid firing in experienced hands.

It would be more logical to enforce the removal and separate storage of the bolts from all firearms, rendering them unusable when not in a legitimate situation.

Lever release and under lever firearms are also the preferred choice for many older club members. The natural ageing process often results in reduced dexterity and hand strength, especially in cold conditions. The lever release and under lever firearms are easier, and hence also safer to use, in the winter months. By prohibiting their ownership, the legislation will have an impact on many experienced and lifelong enthusiasts, preventing them from continuing this pastime.

Consultation with shooters associations

I have been concerned to hear the National Rifle Association was not consulted before the proposals were published. This group represents a number of sporting / target shooters throughout the UK. It has considerable technical knowledge and expertise, which could have been used to inform more appropriate legislation.

Results of the consultation on restricting firearms

The majority of responses to the consultation opposed the intended legislation. There is no evidence the new legislation will improve "public safety". The firearms held by licensed individuals have not been a source of weapons used by criminals or terrorists.

There is a legitimate case to enforce improved security for all privately held firearms. This would incur costs for the owner but not the Treasury. The proposed legislation will cost the UK taxpayer a considerable amount in compensation to owners, with no resulting improvement in public safety. The same amount invested in police and security resources to prevent and investigate crime and terrorism is more likely to produce beneficial results.

Conclusion

We are all striving to make our society a safer environment however the proposed legislation will make no impact on this at all.

It may be seen as a "strong response" to an escalating situation, but it is actually an ineffective and expensive, knee-jerk reaction which will protect no one. There are several measures regarding home storage and security which I have already discussed, that would make a positive contribution to public safety whilst retaining the rights of us all to pursue our chosen leisure activities in a safe way.

I trust the committee will take a more informed and measured approach to the new legislation and ensure it is amended to something which is both sensible and effective.

Yours sincerely

Mrs Alison Castle B.Pharm.[Hons], Independent Prescriber, Post-Graduate Diploma in Clinical Pharmacy

Member of Royal Pharmaceutical Society

July 2018

 

Prepared 17th July 2018