Offensive Weapons Bill

Written evidence submitted by Adrian Hale, Honorary Treasurer, Blackpool & Fylde Fullbore Pistol & Rifle Club (OWB83)

I am writing this submission as the Treasurer of Blackpool and Fylde Fullbore Rifle and Pistol Club. Our members are chiefly concerned with proposals to ban 'rapid-fire' rifles and rifles with muzzle energy above 13,600 joules but also are concerned over proposals to ban the ownership of offensive weapons and items to be reclassified as offensive weapons that they hold for collecting purposes and also for use as tools.

1. Proposal to ban rapid fire rifles

1.1 The Offensive Weapons Bill proposes to ban the ownership of 'rapid firing rifles' which is to include MARS action rifles and Southern Gun Company lever release rifles. Both these rifles have similarities in that the fired cartridge is automatically ejected from the rifle after firing. Their are differences though in the method of reloading with a fresh live round. The MARS action rifle requires a second pull of the trigger to reload the rifle. The lever release rifle requires the operation by the shooter's thumb of a lever mounted to the side of the rifle. As a long time owner and user of a Southern Gun Company lever release rifle I am able to comment on the claims that these rifles have a rate of fire that makes them particularly dangerous and in need of prohibition.

1.2 To quote from the Home Office impact assessment,

"Their firing system however means that they can discharge rounds at a much faster rate than conventional bolt-action rifles, and are therefore closer to self-loading rifles which are currently prohibited for civilian ownership. The fire rate of these rifles means that they are capable of large amounts of casualties or damage within a very short period of time and before police are able to respond"

It is true that these rifles can fire faster than bolt action rifles. However the same is true of many types of firearms as bolt action rifles are amongst the slowest of rifles. Semi automatic and pump action shotguns and .22 rifles, long barrel revolvers and cowboy style lever action rifles are all capable of firing faster than bolt action rifles.

1.3 By way of comparison, a semi automatic firearm can be fired at a maximum rate of around 6 shots per second.

The bolt action Lee Enfield rifle as used in World War One and Two can easily fire 20 aimed shots in one minute, the record for the Mad Minute competition being set in 1908 of 36 hits at 300 yards in 1 minute. With a significant cost to accuracy - such as firing into a crowd as a terrorist might do, the Lee Enfield can fire 10 rounds in just over 6 seconds.

A lever action rifle of the type used in the American 'Old West' can fire almost 2 rounds per second. In particularly skilled hands it can reach a rate of fire of 5 rounds per second.

The Southern Gun Company lever release rifle can fire 2 rounds per second

A MARS action rifle can fire 2-3 rounds per second

1.4 The MARS rifle can fire slightly faster than the lever release rifle as it only requires a repetition of the same physical movement (pulling the trigger) to reload. The lever release rifle requires the operation of two separate controls with two separate digits - the trigger with the finger and bolt release with the thumb. This requires a greater level of co-ordination from the shooter and results in the rifle having a similar rate of fire to old fashioned lever action rifles. The principal benefit of using a lever release rifle over a lever action rifle is that it allows for more accurate shooting in competition as the reloading method creates less disturbance to the aim. the furniture of the rifles also allow for the adding of more accuracy enhancing accessories such as laser sights, foregrips and adjustable stocks.

1.5 A further important comparison between lever release rifles and other rifles is that of calibre. The majority of lever release rifles in the UK are chambered for the 9mm parabellum and .45ACP cartridges. These are pistol rounds that typically generate approximately 360 foot pounds of energy in 9mm or 370 foot pounds of energy in .45. This is comparable to the .22 Winchester Magnum Rimfire cartridge that generates approximately 350 foot pounds. .22 WMR rifles are legally available in semi automatic form. The pistol calibre lever release rifles generate similar levels of power while having a rate of fire of only one third that of the .22 WMR semi automatic rifle and a shorter accurate maximum range.

1.6 It must be mentioned that regardless of their capabilities, despite their being several thousand lever release rifles and several hundred MARS rifles in private hands no lever release or MARS rifle has ever been used to commit a violent crime. No evidence has been presented that criminals or terrorists are seeking to acquire firearm certificates for these rifles or making special efforts to target lawful owners of these rifles in order to steal them. There is nothing about these firearms that justifies their confiscation from their lawful owners.

1.7 The truth is that all firearms are dangerous when in the wrong hands. Lever release rifles have the same capabilities for misuse as bolt action and lever action rifles and are no more or less deserving of prohibition. To refer back to the Home Office statement mentioning police response, if the police were to take only 10 minutes to arrive on the scene of a mass shooting incident, a terrorist armed with a Lee Enfield bolt action rifle would still have had time to fire hundreds of shots.

Rifles of any type account for less than 1% of all firearms used in crime. The most common type of firearm to feature in armed crime is handguns, these were prohibited from general ownership over 20 years ago yet continue to be the preferred weapon of criminals. This is evidence that confiscating firearms from their law abiding owners does not reduce the use of the guns in armed crime.

The money that would have to be spent on confiscating lever release, MARS and high energy rifles would save far more lives if it were invested in the NHS or in law enforcement to allow them to better monitor those people who might seek to harm the public.

1.8 An individual could purchase a surplus armoured personnel carrier for around the same price as a high quality .50 calibre rifle. However, there would be no restriction on purchasing the vehicle compared to stringent background checks for purchasing the rifle. If such a vehicle were then driven into the crowds on Blackpool Promenade for example, the death toll would be far higher than if the attacker used an ordinary car or van. The police would be powerless to stop them as the vehicle would be impervious to police issue firearms. Yet there are no proposals to confiscate military surplus vehicles just in case one were used in such a crime. The same should be true of firearms. 'just in case' is not sufficient reason for a ban.

1.9 If a ban and confiscation of these rifles still goes ahead then compensation to the owners must be fair and cover not only the rifles but all ancillary equipment for them. The current proposal offers compensation only for items that have no use with other non-prohibited firearms. In the case of the 9mm and .45 calibre lever release rifles this is particularly unfair regarding ammunition and ammunition components (bullets and empty cartridges). While there are a handful of bolt action and lever action 9mm and .45ACP rifles in circulation these are extremely rare and the former owner of a lever release rifle will have no use for these components and almost no market to sell them to. They should therefore be compensated fully for any equipment and accessories that they acquired for use on the firearm they are now required to surrender even if there may somewhere be a firearm that can use it.

2. Proposal to re-define a flick knife

2.1 The newly proposed definition of a flick knife is so vaguely worded that it could be taken to include almost every folding knife, even the traditional Swiss army penknife. All folding knives have either a locking method or a method of requiring some force to close the blade from the fully open position. This is to prevent the blade swinging loosely when open. The result of this is that when opening the blade the pressure from the locking or friction device will cause the blade to automatically snap to the fully open position in the final part of its arc. As the new definition includes knives opening from a partially opened position, this will have the effect of making nearly every folding knife capable of being defined as a flick knife. The major problems of this are covered in the next section.

There has of course been no evidence provided to show that knives that would be banned under this proposal feature significantly in knife crime

3. Proposal to ban offensive weapons in private

3.1 There has been no evidence produced to show that weapons such as foot claws, shuriken, kusari gama, kyoketsu shoge or any of the other weapons that are to be banned are used significantly in violent crime. All the available evidence shows that the most commonly used knife in crime is the kitchen knife. Many of the weapons to be banned are far less capable of causing significant injury than such knives. Any butterfly knives, flick knives and assisted opening knives that are to be banned would be instantly replaced by kitchen knives should any of those likely to use them for violence actually surrender them in the first place.

3.2 The definitions of weapons to be banned would make a mockery of the law. A so called zombie knife would become legal merely by scratching off the words "zombie killer" from the handle while making no changes to the style or size of the blade. A knife identical in all respects to a zombie knife other than the omission of words or images would be legal while one displaying a biohazard symbol would not be.

3.3 A blowgun is defined in the legislation as "a hollow tube out of which had pellets or darts are shot by the use of breath". This would include pea shooters. It also a 'weapon' that could be constructed merely by dis-assembling a biro.

3.4 The Home Office have previously stated that the ban on "a straight, side-handled or friction-lock truncheon (sometimes known as a baton)" also applies to toy truncheons. Yet a baseball bat wrapped in barbed wire would remain legal.

3.5 Would a flick knife become legal if its spring were broken?

3.6 A curved sword with a blade 50cm long would be banned, one with a blade 49.5cm long would be legal. A straight sword of any length would be legal.

3.7 Assisted opening knives that are currently legal and used by many people for work or hobbies would be banned by being redefined as flick knives. Potentially any folding knife could be banned as a result of the new definition as outlined above. These knives are widely owned for legitimate uses and are no more dangerous than other knives.

3.8 On all occasions when weapons have previously been banned and confiscated these have only been firearms. In those situations there were records of who lawfully owned firearms that were to be banned and of what firearms they own. There are no such records of the ownership of the offensive weapons now to be banned.

In previous firearms prohibitions the Police wrote to all affected owners to inform them of the surrender arrangements. This will not be possible with non firearm weapons. There are an unknown number of knives and other weapons that could have been owned for decades and long forgotten by their owners. These owners face being criminalised without realising it. There is no way to ensure compliance with the ban. To have any chance of avoiding people unknowingly becoming criminals the Government would need to write to every household in the country to inform them that they may be in possession of items that must be surrendered. Taking the cost of the Government issued Brexit leaflet as an estimate, this would cost £8 million. This is before the costs of compensation that must be paid for newly banned weapons. If the goal is to save lives then this money would save far more lives by being invested in the NHS or in law enforcement.

3.9 Cheaper and more effective ways to prevent criminals accessing these weapons would be to apply the ban on possession in the same way that a ban is imposed on firearms possession, i.e. banning possession by people who have been sentenced to certain periods of imprisonment. However, they would doubtless continue to arm themselves with non-banned knives.

The claims in the Home Office consultation that owners of such weapons with no criminal intent could be targeted for theft by criminals seeking to steal the weapons are beyond ludicrous. How would a criminal know which house to burgle to find a butterfly knife? Why would they risk being caught for burglary when they can far more easily buy an equally lethal kitchen knife from Aldi for a few pounds.

4. Human Rights

4.1 The proposals to ban ownership of both rifles and other weapons violates both the Bill of Rights of 1689 which makes fines or forfeitures without conviction illegal and also Article 1 of the Protocol to the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms that states,

"Protection of property
Every natural or legal person is entitled to the peaceful enjoyment of his possessions. No one shall be deprived of his possessions except in the public interest and subject to the conditions provided for by law and by the general principles of international law."

No evidence whatsoever has been provided that it is in the public interest to ban these weapons. No evidence has been provided showing that they are used significantly in crime. No evidence has been provided that banning the holding of these weapons in private will enhance public safety There is no information showing that any crimes have been committed with items such as footclaws, handclaws, shurikens, kusari gama or any of the other listed weapons therefore it cannot be shown that the public will gain from their prohibition. Without any provided evidence of public interest or benefit there can be no claim of the ban being a proportionate act. Both bans are likely to face court challenges further increasing the costs of the proposals.

Adrian Hale

Honorary Treasurer

Blackpool & Fylde Fullbore Pistol & Rifle Club

July 2018

 

Prepared 23rd July 2018