Offensive Weapons Bill

Written evidence submitted John Rossiter (OWB36)

I have no special qualifications except that I am currently in my 70’s and have been a shotgun and firearm holder, hunter and deerstalker most of my adult life.  I am also a member of 4 rifle clubs and shoot regularly as a hobby.  I also spent most of my business career in the MoD and prepared and briefed Ministers for appearances before select committees and for Parliamentary business. I was also fairly close to some pretty far reaching Government policy decisions.

Can I say from the outset that I fully support the moves to curb the sale and possession of corrosive substances and knives because there is clear evidence that these things are being increasingly used in terrible crimes and these measures will make it difficult for people to be in possession of these things unless they can show a valid reason. In other words this element of the proposed legislation is evidence based and it is easy to see how good results will follow from it. I just hope that the Parliamentary draftsmen can ensure that the final Act does not penalise legitimate users of these things.

Sadly the same cannot be said regarding the proposals to move certain firearms into the prohibited category of the Firearms Acts. There simply isn’t any evidence that .50cal or MARS weapons have been used in terrorist or criminal activity or why they would be a weapon of choice for these groups, although MARS does increase firepower so it might become attractive to them, but as they don’t have access to the Police Firearms database how are they going to target owners of these; they simply won’t know who or where they are?

The MARS system also has valuable legitimate uses amongst the disabled community and enables them to continue with their hobby of shooting whilst the use of more conventional type weapons is denied to them because of their physical condition.

I have seen responses from other MPs to their constituents that mention that these proposals are in response to intelligence which cannot be shared with the public. My own view of intelligence is coloured by the fact that the intelligence community rolled over to the politicians regarding the existence of WMD in Iraq instead of standing firm, so my view is tainted by the fact that intelligence has in the past been manipulated for political ends.

If any event If such intelligence exists then it is getting a bit long in the tooth as this legislation was first proposed in October 2017 when this bill was first put forward and even if it survives current scrutiny it won’t become law for another 12 months. Anyone involved with intelligence will tell you that it has a sell by date; unless of course the terrorist and criminal community are doing the decent thing and waiting until we are ready before they act!

There has never been a criminal or terrorist act committed in the UK with a legally held .50 calibre firearm. Although some MPs have cited that terrorist organisations in Northern Ireland may have used such firearms at the height of the troubles, I cannot recall it and I was working in the MoD department closely concerned with dealing with the "troubles" at the time and certainly these firearms would not have been held legitimately by private citizens in Northern Ireland.

Policing is to deal with the criminal fraternity or otherwise disrupt their activity without impinging on the activities of the law-abiding majority. I am concerned then why the opposite approach seems to be the favoured option in this case. The effect, if this proposed legislation is enacted, will be to disrupt the lawful activity of law-abiding citizens whilst having, at the very best, a minuscule effect on the criminal fraternity.

Although I understand that one privately held .50 calibre firearm has been stolen, this was very quickly recovered by the police and it had been shortened by the thief. Probably a pity that it was recovered at this point as it is pretty certain that it would have severely injured the shooter had it ever been fired in that condition. The security requirements that the police need to see in place before the grant of a Firearms Certificate (FAC) are extensive (as it should be). If the police find that an individual can be trusted to hold a FAC, then they can be trusted with a .50 calibre. All firearms are dangerous and can do harm and the current procedure for granting legal firearms has a pretty impressive record.

My experience with the .50 calibre is quite limited but I firmly believe that such firearms are very unattractive to the criminal fraternity. They are very heavy, bulky, cumbersome and unwieldly very much the opposite of what a criminal would wish. The notion of the .50 calibre being a weapon of material destruction is largely irrelevant as the ammunition designed to achieve material destruction is already listed within Section 5 and therefore not available to the civilian enthusiast.

I find it regrettable that the proposals, if enacted, will interfere with the enjoyment of law abiding people and have no impact on the terrorist or criminal fraternity.

The greater risk to the public from the misuse of firearms arises from smuggling in firearms from former soviet bloc countries; returning with ‘trophies of war’ and the reactivation of deactivated firearms. I find it perturbing that the proposed legislation therefore addresses a problem that does not exist whilst failing to take any steps to address the real source of firearms that may fall into criminal hands. Legally held handguns were banned by the Government following the Dunblane disaster but figures show that criminal use of handguns did not decrease after this, but has risen steadily ever since. I think that proves conclusively that taking forearms away from legitimate owners has no impact whatsoever on criminal or terrorist activities involving firearms.

When this legislation was first mooted I made representations to my local MP Kwasi Karteng which he passed on to the Home Office and I drew his attention to a far more serious area of current firearms legislation which could easily put firearms into criminal or terrorist hands and this was Section 11 of the Firearms Act (The fairground exemption). Nothing was done and yet some few months ago a man walked into a leisure facility in Hastings which put on archery, axe throwing, air rifle and pistol shooting and .22 rifle shooting (held under this exemption) and walked out with a .22 rifle and ammunition and tragically used it to shoot dead two members of his family. There are other areas of much greater risk than what is being proposed in this ridiculous piece of legislation which has been proposed  by people who have no or little understanding, and seem determined to stay that way.

Yours sincerely

John Rossiter

10 July 2018

 

Prepared 17th July 2018