Offensive Weapons Bill

Written evidence submitted by Charles Murton, Deputy Chairman, SLG Bisley (Home Office Approved shooting club) (OWB85)

Executive Summary

1. This submission concerns the firearms elements (sections 28-35) of the Bill. The key points I am raising for Committee consideration are:

a. The Home Office has repeatedly asserted that legal ownership of "high energy rifles" and "rapid firing rifles" poses a significant risk to public safety. However, they have presented no evidence to support their assertions.

b. The evidence which is available in the public domain shows that the vast majority of firearms risk to public safety arises from illegal firearms, not from legally held firearms.

Introduction

2. SLG Bisley is a Home Office Approved target shooting club which promotes international competitive shooting. It is affiliated to both the UK National Rifle Association (NRA) and the German Bund Der Militär- und Polizeischützen e.V. (BDMP). The majority of our members are UK residents but we also have members resident in other European countries. Our club teams compete regularly in the UK, Germany and Ireland; we also occasionally compete further afield, e.g. in Sweden, Canada and Australia in recent years.

3. I am currently the Deputy Chairman and Police Liaison Officer for SLG Bisley. My personal history includes 34 years in the Civil Service working in the field of Defence and National Security. I have been an active national and international target shooter for the same length of time. I have also served in a number of club and national roles, in particular as the Vice Chairman of the Trustee Board of the UK NRA from 2009 to 2012. Through my professional and private life I have amassed considerable knowledge of firearms and firearms law in context of both national security and shooting sports. My professional life also gave me significant insight (including classified material) into the national security threats facing the UK.

4. The members of SLG Bisley have a direct interest in the Bill’s provisions affecting "rapid firing rifles" as many of them own such firearms. We have significant concerns about the basis for the ban which the Bill would place on such firearms; we do not believe the Home Office has in any way made the case for such a ban.

5. We do not, as a club, shoot "high energy rifles" with muzzle energy of 13,600 Joules or greater. Nevertheless, we have the same concerns about the basis for the ban which the Bill would place on such firearms.

Firearms Use in Crime

6. In August 2017, the Home Office published a Briefing Paper entitled "Firearm Crime Statistics: England and Wales", Number CBP 7654. This clearly showed that less than 1% of firearms crime was committed with rifles of any type. A far larger proportion of firearms crime, 42%, was committed with handguns. UK Firearms Certificate (FAC) holders have been unable to own handguns since the ban which was introduced in 1996.

7. UK FAC holders are among the most law-abiding people in the UK; we have to be in order to retain our FACs. We are required to secure our firearms to a very high standard, set by the Home Office and inspected by the police. Although they do happen, thefts of firearms from FAC holders are rare and account for only a tiny fraction of the firearms in the hands of the criminal community.

8. Firearm-related crime has recently risen in the UK; such crime has gained particular publicity in London. The only initiative the Home Office has proposed to address this is tighter restriction on legal ownership of firearms – despite the fact that legal ownership of firearms is clearly not the main risk posed by firearms to public safety.

Rapid Firing Rifles

9. In considering this issue, it is important to note that semi-automatic rifles (which fire a single shot for each pull of the trigger without the firer having to take any other action) have long since been banned from private ownership in the UK, with the exception of .22 rimfire rifles. We are one of very few countries to have taken such a step; between this and the handgun ban, our firearms laws are already among the strictest in the world.

10. The definition of "rapid firing rifles" adopted by the Home Office encompasses two types of firearm in current target shooting use in the UK:

a. Manually Actuated Release System. The MARS system effectively enables one shot to be fired for each two pulls of the trigger. The original consultation focused almost exclusively on this type of rifle which I understand is available as an import.

b. Lever Release System. This type of rifle incorporates a lever which must be pressed after a shot has been fired in order to chamber the next round ready for firing. These rifles are manufactured by the Southern Gun Company (SGC Ltd), based in Bodmin. There are believed to be far more of these than MARS rifles in private ownership in the UK; SGC Ltd should be able to provide precise numbers.

11. To the best of my knowledge, none of these firearms have ever been used in a crime, actual or attempted, nor have any been stolen. Given the current availability of illegal firearms (particularly handguns) to criminals in the UK, it is hard to envisage such criminals having any interest in firearms which are slower and more complex to fire, and more complex to maintain, than the firearms they can obtain through illegal channels.

12. In any event, the Home Office has presented no evidence which withstands scrutiny to show that legal ownership of this particular type of firearm poses any specific risk to public safety.

High Energy Rifles

13. In the public consultation, the Home Office attempted to justify the proposed ban of high energy rifles on a number of bases, all of them flawed.

a. Materiel destruction. As was pointed out in the responses to the consultation, and subsequently acknowledged by the Home Office, such rifles only have materiel destruction capability when firing specific types of ammunition – none of which are of interest to, or indeed legally available to, target shooters.

b. Penetration of body armour. It is true that such rifles are capable of defeating body armour. However, the majority of police body armour in the UK can be defeated even by relatively low energy (e.g. handgun) ammunition at close range and by most rifle ammunition at much longer ranges.

c. Accurate at extremely long range. Such rifles can be fired accurately at extremely long range. However, doing so requires considerable specialist skill which is very rare even among experienced target shooters. Anyone attempting to fire such a rifle without such expertise risks personal injury from the recoil.

d. Attractive to terrorists and criminals. To the best of my knowledge, only one such rifle has ever been stolen in the UK and that was quickly recovered. I am not aware of any such firearm ever being used as part of a criminal act, actual or attempted, in the UK.

14. It is also worth noting that such firearms are extremely large and heavy, making them difficult to carry and very difficult to conceal.

15. The Committee may wish to seek specialist advice from independent government sources, for example from the Defence Science & Technology Laboratory (DSTL), on some or all of the issues raised above.

16. In any event, the Home Office has presented no evidence which withstands scrutiny to show that legal ownership of this particular type of firearm poses any specific risk to public safety.

Conclusions

17. The Home Office is attempting to restrict the legitimate sporting activities of UK citizens based on repeated assertions that the restrictions will enhance public safety.

18. No evidence has been presented to support these assertions.

19. The Home Office has not proposed any initiatives to directly target the availability and use of illegal firearms, despite the fact that its own statistics show that these present a far greater risk to public safety than any legally held firearms.

20. If the proposed bans are enacted, the compensation paid to UK sport shooters will run into millions of pounds. The Committee may wish to take a view on whether this amount of public money could be spent to better effect elsewhere.

Recommendations

21. If, after due consideration, the Committee reaches the same conclusions as above, I recommend that the Bill be amended to remove all of the firearm elements (sections 28-35).

22. If the Home Office genuinely believe that existing firearms law needs to be tightened on the grounds of public safety they should present clear evidence to support this view and develop proposals in conjunction with the relevant experts, i.e. the shooting sports national governing bodies.

July 2018

 

Prepared 23rd July 2018