Offensive Weapons Bill

Written evidence submitted by the British Shooting Sports Council (BSSC) (OWB80)

1. The BSSC is an ‘umbrella’ body incorporating the Association of Professional Shooting Instructors, the British Association for shooting & Conservation, the Clay Pigeon Shooting Association, the Countryside Alliance, the Deactivated Weapons Association, the Fifty Calibre Shooters Association, the Gun Trade Association, the Historical Breechloading Smallarms Association, the Institute of Clay Shooting Instructors, the Muzzle Loaders Association, the National Rifle Association, the National Small-bore Rifle Association, the Preparatory Schools Rifle Association, the Scottish Association for Country Sports, the Sportsman’s Association of Great Britain & Northern Ireland and the United Kingdom Practical Shooting Association.

Summary:

· BSSC does not accept that a case has been made for a ban on Fifty Cal rifles. We propose a proportionate measure would be to require enhanced security. This would not require legislation to achieve. Another alternative would be to permit re-barrelling for a lower performance cartridge.

· For ‘faster firing rifles, we do not accept that a case has been made for a ban. We propose exemptions to the ban for present owners (grandfathering) and new applicants for a firearm certificate who can provide evidence of at least two years competitive experience

· With regard to knives the BSSC considers that any ban on the sale to private addresses is disproportionate, given that every home contains necessary sharp objects.

· The BSSC also opposes the proposed ban the possession of certain types of knife at home, which would criminalise people who had such a knife, perhaps a trophy of war inherited from a veteran.

· The BSSC also opposes the extension of the offence of possession of offensive weapons to further education colleges, etc since many courses involve the use of knives.

· The BSSC seeks to safeguard the continuing legitimate and wide use of corrosive substances in the countryside, museums, the health and food industries and in other areas.

2. When the Home Office consulted on its proposal to ban offensive and dangerous weapons, the BSSC challenged the term ‘.50 cal’ and objected to the proposal to ban MARS system ‘faster firing’ rifles. The Home Office responded as follows:

a. "Firstly, let me re-assure you that the consultation is in no way intended to include the section 58(2) antiques you have listed below. However, as Graham Widdecombe explained when he met you and Andrew Mercer after the firearms meeting here in the Home Office on 6 October, the concern focus not only on the .50 cal BMG but on other similar high power, long range rifles which can be broadly characterized as anti-materiel.  The concern is around the potential for serious risk of loss of life if this type of weapon were to fall into the wrong hands whilst recognising the need to avoid other established classes of firearms, such as those used for big game hunting and which share some of the same characteristics, being caught by the definition. 

b. We are aware that any controls based solely on calibre is unlikely to be effective and one of the main purposes of the consultation is to obtain views on how any restrictions thought necessary might be framed. In particular we would welcome thoughts on how best to differentiate between "anti-materiel" type weapons and rifles used for sporting purposes. One particular suggestion is to use muzzle energy perhaps utilising the 10,000ft lbs limit imposed in relation to rifles fired at Home Office approved clubs."

3. The BSSC does not accept a muzzle energy of 10,000 ft/lbs as the threshold as it has no ballistic significance. The BSSC has been advised that a .50BMG rifle with a 22" barrel produces sub-10,000 ft/lbs muzzle energy, which complicates the issue.

4. Under its own "Consultation Principles 2016" the Home Office has a duty to ensure that within a Consultation Document the information provided is sufficient for those considering it such that they "can give informed responses" and should include "validated assessments of the costs and benefits of the options being considered".

5. The consultation document and impact assessment is very inaccurate, misleading, unvalidated and skewed towards supporting the proposed ban to the point that these "Principles" have not been met.

6. The proposal to ban .50 calibre target rifles was based upon an assertion that they posed a "serious threat to the public" due to their "range and penetrative power" and "would be uniquely difficult for the police to control" despite no evidence being put forward to support these assertions.

7. The BSSC does not consider that a case has been made for a ban on either .50 cal or faster firing rifles. Nor do we consider a ban to be proportionate, since neither .50 cal rifles nor faster firing rifles have any track record in terrorism or crime in Britain.

8. .50 cal rifles:

9. There is a recognised sporting use for the .50 cal rifle. Long range rifle shooting has been a British interest since the 1850s and the .50 cal is a natural progression of the sport. British competitors have been competing for years at an international level with considerable success. The Fifty Calibre Shooters Association (FCSA) which is dedicated to target shooting with this calibre has its origin in the early 1980s in the USA and has over 2,500 members internationally. It is affiliated with .50 calibre target rifle shooting groups in Australia, Switzerland and the United Kingdom and, in addition to regular competitions hosts, the annual World Championship in which UK FCSA target shooters compete. The UK FCSA is a Home Office Approved Club, has existed as a well-respected target shooting club since 1991 and has a membership of over 400.

10. It is asserted by the Home Office that such rifles posed a significant risk to public safety were they to fall into criminal or terrorist hands. There is, however, no evidence presented to suggest that they are particularly suited for either criminal or terrorist activities. Fifty calibre target rifles are intrinsically unsuitable for criminal purposes, being unwieldly, difficult to conceal and loud. Rifles in general, regardless of calibre, feature very low in criminal use of firearms, other than poaching. Their unsuitable nature for malign use is also evidenced by their not being used for any terrorist activities in the country in which they are generally freely available, the USA, where there are no instances of them being used in homicides.

11. Much is also made of the purported range of .50 BMG target rifles in the misleading hyperbole of the Consultation Document which states "this firearm can deliver a projectile over several miles which can pose a danger to public safety should it be used in a criminal capacity". The overall maximum range of a .50 target rifle is not that much greater than many other centre-fire rounds. While a good propaganda soundbite for the Home Office’s proposal, any person with reasonable knowledge of rifle shooting would recognise that the term "maximum range" is not the same as "maximum effective range" or "useable range".

12. Fifty calibre target shooting in competition is generally undertaken at 1000 yards against paper targets, it takes considerable training, practice and skill to use such target rifles accurately at this distance and beyond.

13. .50 cal rifles are particularly unsuited for misuse, being unwieldy, and slow firing. We present the following information and proposals as more proportionate alternatives to a ban. In the event that a ban is introduced, compensation will be required for both the rifle and for the associated equipment which has lost its purpose and thus its financial value (see Appendix A).

14. Rifles only function as an anti-materiel weapon if used with armour piercing, incendiary or explosive projectiles which are already prohibited, and not with the projectiles permitted for target shooting. We must stress that these rifles are most certainly not materiel destruction devices. The .460 Steyr target rifle round runs at 11,000 ft/lbs but no projectiles other than monolithic/inert core are currently manufactured. The only .50 / 12.7mm / 14.5mm ammunition available to section 1 certificate holders is loaded with inert projectiles or tracer projectiles, not AP or explosive ones.

15. We would press for the exception of historic anti-tank rifles chambered for the .55 Boys, a cartridge of British design. The First World War 13.2mm Mauser is already treated as an antique. Anti-tank rifles were very soon overtaken by tank technology during the Second World War and are rare collector’s pieces.

16. We note that this Bill does not encompass shotguns or weapons other than rifles.

17. Enhanced security: We consider that the central measure to satisfy the concerns raised would be a requirement for those possessing these rifles to provide enhanced security. This could be achieved by amending the conditions placed on the holder’s firearm certificate by the chief officer of police, and would not require primary legislation.

18. Our view is that the appropriate level of security for .50 calibre rifles should be the equivalent of that required for Section 5 firearms. The Home Office Firearms Security Handbook 2005, specifies that (2.51) "Where any section 5 firearm is held in a dwelling, the provisions of Level 3 security should be applied," and that (2.52) "The alarm system should include personal attack facilities for the safety of the occupants."

19. Level 3 security is specified in the Handbook as follows:

"2.23 If the risk is assessed as being greater than the previous level due to additional factors such as: a higher crime rate, certain high-profile certificate holders, other factors which substantially increase the risk of burglary, a larger number of firearms held,

then the following should be considered as well as the previous level of security:

a) Dividing the risk, for example by the provision of separate cabinets, perhaps in different locations within the premises, to break down the number of firearms per enclosure.

b) Additional target hardening of the storage (cabinet with individual gun locks, or extending to a gun room).

c) Installation of an audible intruder alarm to protect the whole of the premises.

d) If there is a particular risk attached to the property or its area, then a system with signalling should be sought. The provisions of the current ACPO and ACPOS intruder alarm policy should be considered if a signalling system is to be installed."

20. Re-barrelling: We consider that, since these items are not Section 5 at present, in the event of a ban there should be an exception to the ‘once a Section 5, always a Section 5’ rule to allow re-barrelling of .50 cal rifles for a different, lower performance cartridge.

21. Faster firing rifles:

22. The Consultation document identified "VZ58 (MARS) rifles" as there was "uncertainty whether they should be defined as a self-loading rifle already prohibited under Section 5 of the Firearms Act 1968 because a second pull of the trigger is required to discharge a round".

23. Firearms manufacturers are innovative and will inevitably engineer new models close to wherever legislative boundaries lie; the rate of fire of current Section 1 firearms is a result of the combination of mechanics and shooter competence. Furthermore the Home Office has provided no evidence demonstrating that the VZ58 (MARS) rifle poses any particular credible threat to public safety or has ever been used for criminal purposes.

24. Under its own "Consultation Principles 2016" the Home Office has a duty to ensure that within a Consultation Document the information provided is sufficient for those considering it such that they "can give informed responses" and should include "validated assessments of the costs and benefits of the options being considered".

25. The consultation document and impact assessment is, however, very inaccurate, misleading, unvalidated and skewed towards supporting the proposed ban to the point that these "Principles" have not been met.

26. The use of ‘faster firing’ designs by the elderly and handicapped shooters should be a ‘good reason’ for an exemption from any ban. Exemptions should be made for present holders of a certificate for a faster firing rifle and for applicants for a FAC who have at least two years competitive experience. This ‘exemptions’ approach is similar to the EU’s Firearms Directive’s approach to category A weapons (see Appendix B below), so is in line with a lot of European thinking. It would enable continuing participation in an established sport while ensuring that only dedicated shooters prepared to wait for two years would be allowed to acquire a faster firing rifle.

27. In the event of a ban, we would strongly support ‘grandfather’ rights for existing owners, as was done with Brococks, but with the option of selling the rifle should they so wish. If such an exception is rejected, ‘faster firing’ designs to be converted to a ‘straight pull’ mechanism, should the owner so wish.

28. We would urge that full compensation to be paid to those who suffer financial loss from any new restrictions.

29. If the Government insists on proceeding with this unfair, unfortunate and disproportionate proposal, to address the original concerns raised by the Consultation we recommend defining the prohibition of "any rifle which ejects an empty cartridge case using energy which comes (directly or indirectly) from propellant gas and subsequently chambers a cartridge by mechanical means through the operation of the firing trigger mechanism alone, other than a rifle which is chambered for rim fire cartridges". (.22 rim-fire rifles must be specifically excluded).

30. Knives:

31. The Council could not support the proposed ban on the sale of knives to private addresses, since anyone’s home already provides immediate access to numerous sharp or pointed instruments used in the course of everyday life. The inconvenience of a ban to the legitimate purchaser would therefore substantially disproportionate. The Council strongly opposes the proposed ban on the possession of certain knives in the home. This potentially would adversely affect collectors and ‘collecting’ would need to be added to the list of defences. The existing 100 year rule would need to be applied to establish the antique status of knives and the wording of the offence would require care and precision to avoid adverse effects and unintended consequences on the legitimate collecting of swords, bayonets, hunting knives and so on. The proposal also gives the police far too wide a power speculatively to enter and search people’s homes. The Council disagrees with the proposal that it would be in the public interest to extend the offence of possession of offensive weapons/articles with blade or point to further education colleges, sixth form colleges, designated institutions and 16-19 academies. Exceptions would have to be made for a wide variety of non-academic vocational training, for instance trainee chefs, pattern cutters and butchers. It would affect educational establishments offering courses in agriculture, wildlife, conservation and game keeping.

Corrosive substances:

32. The Council is also seeking to safeguard the continuing legitimate and wide use of corrosive substances in the countryside, museums, the health and food industries, and in other areas.

July 2018

Appendix A: FCSA estimate of the compensation costs that would be incurred should Fifty Cals be banned.

.50 rifle numbers

As the consultation has been opened up to include anything over 10,000ft/lbs, this will increase the number of rifles and firearms considerably.  We estimate the following numbers:

1. 120x .50 target rifles (by which we mean .50", 12.7x77, 12.7x99, 12.7x108),

2. 50x historic anti-tank rifle type weapons. These are held as collectors’ items to preserve the heritage. Improved tank armour soon made these redundant. Their intended use was mainly short range.

3. Unknown but considerable number of target rifle calibres below .50" and above 10,000ft/lbs such as the .460 Steyr

Approximate costs for each of the three categories above

1.       £3500 to £20,000 (Fortmeier to DSR)

2.       £10,000 to £24,000 (based on recent sales)

3.       £3500 to £5000

Ammunition/component costs

1.       Projectiles, non target specific, £1.20 each, quantity in stock with FCSA 60,000: £72,000

2.       Projectiles, target specific, £3.65 each, quantity in stock with FCSA members estimated at 14,000: £51,100

3.       Empty .50 cases, non target grade £1 each, quantity in stock with FCSA 2500: £2500

4.       Empty cases, target grade, £5.50 each, quantity in stock with FCSA members estimated at 6000: £33,000

5.       Live rounds, non target grade £3 each (unknown quantity)

6.       Live rounds, target grade (for example Hornady Amax) £6 each

7.       .50 primers, 0.39p each. Estimate 20,000 in members possession (based on club sales in the past 12 months)

8.       .50 reloading powder, £65 - £80 per Kilo

Dedicated scopes for .50 calibre rifles

1.       Assuming 1 scope per rifle, typical costs between £2000 and £4000. 120x £3000 = £360,000

Specialist .50 rated scope mounts

1.       Assuming 1 mount per rifle, typical costs between £250 and £400. 120x £325 = £39,000

Reloading equipment.

Note: Most .50 owners reload due to ammunition costs, using some or all of the following equipment

.50 sized press with 2 die kit (RCBS) £999

neck sizer die £190

case trimmer (hand) £140 - £195

case trimmer (motor driven) £280

case neck uniformer £90

case annealer £350

primer pocket uniformer £37

flash hole uniformer £28

Appendix B: EU Firearms Directive Article 6 Paragraph 6:  Member States may authorise target shooters to acquire and possess semi-automatic firearms classified in point 6 or 7 of category A, subject to the following conditions:

(a)

a satisfactory assessment of relevant information arising from the application of Article 5(2);

(b)

provision of proof that the target shooter concerned is actively practising for or participating in shooting competitions recognised by an officially recognised shooting sports organisation of the Member State concerned or by an internationally established and officially recognised shooting sport federation; and

(c)

provision of a certificate from an officially recognised shooting sports organisation confirming that:

(i)

the target shooter is a member of a shooting club and has been regularly practising target shooting in it for at least 12 months; and

(ii)

the firearm in question fulfils the specifications required for a shooting discipline recognised by an internationally established and officially recognised shooting sport federation.

 

Prepared 23rd July 2018