Offensive Weapons Bill

Written evidence submitted by the National Crime Agency (NCA) (OWB71)

Proposed firearms prohibitions (partial extracts only)

(ag)    "Any rifle from which a shot, bullet or other missile with kinetic energy of more than 13,600 Joules at the muzzle of the weapon can be discharged"

(ah)    "Any rifle with a chamber from which empty cases are extracted using; energy from propellant gas or; energy imparted to a spring or other energy storage device by propellant gas."  

(ba)    "Any device (commonly known as a Bump-Stock) which is designed or adapted; if it is capable of forming part of or being added to a self-loading lethal barreled weapon & if it forms part of or is added to such a weapon it increases the rate of fire of the weapon by using the recoil from the weapon to generate repeated pressure on the trigger."  

NCA position

Ø The National Crime Agency recognises the history and legitimacy of UK sports shooting within the context of appropriate governance and also the innovation of the industry which supports this activity.

Ø NCA however balances this view with our primary role in tackling serious and organised gun crime. The four pillars of the NCA approach are; reduction of the threat (Prevent), reduction of vulnerability (Protect and Prepare) alongside direct operational activity against criminal use of firearms (Pursuit). It is in the context of threat and vulnerability reduction that the NCA supports the three new prohibitions set out above.

Ø Recently the threat response has developed to recognise the crossover between access to firearms by organised crime groups and a firearm enabled terrorist attack. The types of weapons being discussed today would all have devastating consequences and therefore the protect and prepare responses should also be considered in that context.

Ø Finally, whilst the level of firearms offending in the UK is among the lowest in the world, the level of criminal firearms discharges in the UK is rising. Whilst those weapons being proposed for prohibition are not currently being recovered in criminal circumstances, there is evidence that organised criminals are seeking to obtain weapons capable of greater firepower.

Taking each of the proposed prohibitions in turn:

Ø [High muzzle-energy rifles] The National Crime Agency supports the prohibition of rifles with muzzle energies exceeding 13,600 Joules. This position is on the grounds of threat and vulnerability reduction where the justification for firearms of such excessive energy and range characteristics is not reasonably made, in the view of the NCA, for civilian, target-sports applications.

Ø Such a firearm, (albeit illegally acquired) was used against British security forces in Northern Ireland in the 1990s. More recently, NCA is aware of an incident in 2016 involving the theft and criminal modification of a rifle chambered for the .50 Browning cartridge which is capable of producing energies well in excess of the proposed 13,600Joule threshold. The theft, from a firearms certificate holder, included suitable ammunition. A .308 rifle stolen at the same time was subsequently used to shoot and injure 3 people. The .50 Browning rifle was later recovered with the barrel shortened reasonably inferring that the criminal was attempting to modify it for some future application.

Ø The impact of the misuse of such enormously powerful rifles, if realised, would be devastating.

Ø [Rifles using propellant gas extraction] The National Crime Agency supports the principle of limiting the availability of powerful, rapid-firing, firearms by prohibiting private ownership of the mechanically-interrupted, gas-operated rifles described in the Offensive Weapons Bill. This principle is consistent with that introduced by the earlier Firearms (Amendment) Act 1988 which prohibited full-bore, self-loading and pump-action rifles on grounds of their high "fire-power" (powerful ammunition combined with high rate of fire), following the use of such a gas-operated, self-loading rifle in the Hungerford mass-shootings in 1987.

Ø Recent frontier and inland seizures of gas-operated rifles and sub-machine guns and criminal reversal of insubstantial, ‘live to blank’ conversion of gas-operated, rifles acquired in Europe such as those involved in Operation SEVENTY and the Paris & Belgian terrorist attacks, supports the assessment that criminals are increasingly seeking powerful, rapid-fire weapons from a wide variety of sources. A number of contemporary cases have identified the diversion of firearms (though not in this category) from lawful to unlawful use within the UK meaning that the possibility of firearms leaking from the lawful supply chain cannot be discounted.

Ø [Bump-stocks] The device known as the "bump-stock" is designed to amplify the rate of fire of self-loading firearms. The NCA is not aware of any recognised, legitimate, sporting application for such a device. The applicability of such a device to the UK market is limited by the prohibition on full-bore, self-loading rifles introduced in 1988, however there are designs of this device specific to .22 rim-fire self-loading rifles which remain legal in the UK. The potential consequences of the criminal misuse of the "bump-stock" was demonstrated with the unprecedented mass-casualties produced in the recent Las Vegas shooting.

17 July 2018


Prepared 23rd July 2018