Offensive Weapons Bill

Further written evidence submitted by The Fifty Calibre Shooters Association of the United Kingdom (FCSA-UK) (OWB95(a))

In response to verbal evidence provided at the second sitting provided by:

- Christopher Lynn

- Mark Groothuis

- Jo Chilton

and further concerns regarding the process of gathering verbal evidence.

Specifically regarding:

Clause 28 (1)(2)

Clause 29 (1)(2)

The prohibition of rifles with over 13,600 Joules muzzle energy

To be considered in conjunction with first submission of 17 July 2018 - https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201719/cmpublic/OffensiveWeapons/memo/OWB95.htm

Executive Summary

- In our opinion, the verbal evidence presented to the Bill Committee on the 17 July 2018 by Christopher Lynn   "a senior firearms and explosives officer" is so grossly inaccurate and misleading that it significantly calls into question its validity such that we would respectfully suggest that the Committee disregards it.

- The verbal evidence presented to the Bill Committee on the 17 July 2018 by Mark Groothuis is somewhat inaccurate , potentially misleading and shows evidence of bias such that we respectfully suggest that the Committee treat it with an appropriate degree of scepticism.

- The verbal evidence provided, particularly once corrected for factual inaccuracies, fails to provide an evidence base to support the proposed prohibition of rifles with over 13,600 Joules of muzzle energy.

- Any concerns could be assuaged by enhanced security.

- The Fifty Calibre Shooters Association (FCSA) had requested to meet with the Rt Hon Nick Hurd and those advising him, specifically including offering to meet with Mark Groothuis , to clarify inaccuracies in the perception and understand of the sport, this offer not being taken up when the request was passed to the Minister responsible for the Bill, Victoria Atkins .

- The FCSA, despite being the group most affected by the proposed prohibition and that with the greatest civilian knowledge of such rifles and their use, was not afforded the opportunity to provide verbal evidence .

- We believe that we have shown that Government is trying to implement disproportionately restrictive legislation of unnecessary expense that is based on hype, hyperbole and hunch rather than evidence of clear need and benefit such that Clause 28 and 29 be withdrawn .

1.1 Issues regarding the verbal evidence of Christopher Lynn   , a " senior firearms and explosives officer with the National Crime Agency, working in the national firearms threat centre and the expert evidence group " .

1.2 Christopher Lynn made various statements that were either misleading or false.

1.3 " On the capabilities of those rifles, there are shooting sports that deal with extreme-ranged weapons, and they fire at screen targets to register an extreme group at a range of about 2,000 yards " .

1.4 This is incorrect , the repeated use of the word " extreme " is hyperbole and the statement that the aim is "to register an extreme group at a range of about 2,000 yards" is false.

1.5 We do not know what he means by " screen targets " nor recognise the term " extreme group ".

1.6 The FCSA World Championships are shot at a range of 1000 yards and onto paper targets.

1.7 " A lot of that sport has grown around weapons that originally had a military application " .

1.8 This is grossly misleading. Bolt action rifles for target shooting preceded and led the development of military rifles.

1.9 It should also be noted that being a " military rifle " does not preclude it from being used for target shooting, by way of example the venerable .303 Lee Enfield is a military rifle now used exclusively for target shooting.

1.10 " We have engaged with and met the Ministry of Defence to take an objective look at the power of these weapons, and it has adopted two of those .50 rifles for anti-structure use in an MOD context " .

1.11 For the MOD to have " adopted " a rifle for use does not preclude it from being suitable for civilian use.

1.12 T he term " anti-structure " is again hyperbole. The correct term is " anti-material " and to fulfil this function requires ammunition that is already prohibited.

1.13 The ammunition permitted for target shooting is not " anti-material ".

1.14 " In order to get an idea of the power, we have identified that one of the MOD’s user requirements for these weapons is for it to immobilise a light or medium-size vehicle or truck at 1,800 metres " .

1.15 It is not stated that the rifles can achieve this " anti-material " role on a consistent basis, how many rounds would be required to achieve it, whether the rifles are semi or fully automatic nor acknowledges that to hit such a target would require considerable skill and ability to interpret meteorological conditions.

1.1 6 Such an " anti-material " role would be difficult to achieve outwith using an already prohibited .50 fully automatic rifle or with already prohibited ammunition and in particular virtually impossible against a moving target at that range with a bolt action rifle.

1.1 7 If it was considered in this regard that to damage a radiator, tyre or distributor would suffice to achieve this role, this could be done with rifles with less than 13,600 Joules of muzzle energy and with greater ease.

1.1 8 " These weapons have an enormous energy, and we would support the view that they are inappropriately energetic for a sporting application " .

1.1 9 We would challenge why muzzle energy alone should be considered a reasonable premise upon which to prohibit a rifle from a " sporting application ". There is no ballistic evidence for this.

1. 20 " The sport seeks to register a hit on a screen or electronic target at 2,000 metres, and the NCA’s position is that there is no justification for a weapon of such excessive power to have such an effect " .

1.2 1 Apart from being false to state that " the sport seeks to register a hit on a screen or electronic target at 2,000 metres", the statement " there is no justification for a weapon of such excessive power to have such an effect" makes no sense in English and further the term " weapon of such excessive power" is again hyperbole.

1.2 2 " The MOD has a requirement out to 1,800 metres and 2,000 metres, but the .50 Browning round-the prohibition would not deal only with that cartridge- is effective out to 6,800 metres , according to MOD data. That is 6.8 km, which is an enormous range " .

1.2 3 While a .50 rifle, fired at around 35 degrees of elevation may send a projectile this distance, this is far beyond its " effective range ", ie that at which it can be used with any degree of accuracy.

1.2 4 We are astounded that this statement would be made by a senior firearms and explosives officer in advising parliament in a specialist capacity who should have known such a basic ballistic fact.

1.2 5 In our view, to have made such a statement, whether though ignorance or to be deliberately misleading, is deeply concerning and calls significantly into question the reliability of the other evidence he has provided and the weight which the Committee should place upon it.

1.2 6 " The quote that I took from the user requirement required a system that can immobilise a vehicle with all UK in-service .50 calibre ammunition   . That is not the exotic stuff; that is standard ball ammunition. It is enormously powerful, even with standard ammunition that is not of a specialist nature " .

1.27 He fails to make mention that target projectiles used in target shooting, such as Amax, disintegrate on hitting a hard surface.

1.2 8 Th e following is a direct quote from a UK .50 rifle manufacturer and a supplier to the military regarding the capabilities of ball ammunition:

" FMJ 650 Nato . A standard Nato 50 calibre round. Not designed for specific destructive or long range performance.

Tends to offer poor performance in terms of accuracy and long range capability ".

"All ammunition which is available under section 1 (i.e. to civilian users) in the UK failed to achieve penetration of the standard target at any of the tested distances".

1.2 9 Standard "ball" ( ie no t armour - piercing, incendiary, explosive or combination thereof) ammunition is manufactured primarily for use in .50 calibre machine guns using linked ammunition, usually with one tracer projectile in five rounds (to guide the shooter onto target) which fire around 600 rounds per minute (as opposed to the two or so rounds that can be fired from a bolt action .50 rifle) have no sporting utility and are already prohibited in the UK .

1.30 The nature of standard ball ammunition , particularly it being considerably less accurate than some other rounds, is thus such that it would be difficult to envisage a scenario where it would be preferentially or successfully solely utilised to immobilise a vehicle, for example a truck, with a bolt action rifle at such ranges.

1 . 31 Additionally, to immobilise, for example a truck, even with specialised ammunition requires not just to hit the truck, but also to hit a vulnerable part thereof , a task that would be beyond virtually anybody on a moving target at such a range with a bolt action rifle.

1.32 We note that Christopher Lynn in this respect makes reference to a " system " and would thus wonder if he is referring to a fully automatic system, namely a m achine gun, which is already prohibited.

1.3 3 We would ask that the Committee ask Christopher Lynn to respond to this and provide written evidence of his claims in this regard.

1.34 We also note that he states " all UK in-service .50 calibre ammunition" meets such an anti-material requirement .

1.35 Having addressed the issue of ball ammunition in this respect, it is virtually impossible to envisage that tracer ammunition would have such a capability through a bolt action rifle and it is utterly impossible that blank ammunition, that has no projectile, would have any such a capability at even two yards.

1.37 Given that Christopher Lynn is a "senior firearms and explosives officer" the gross errors in his testimony calls , in our opinion, significantly into question the reliability and validity of his verbal evidence such that we would respectfully suggest that the Committee disregards it .

2.1 Issues regarding the verbal evidence of Mark Groothuis , the " national firearms licensing liaison officer   for counter-terrorism policing"

2.2 On enquiry as to where such rifles can be fired Mark Groothuis stated :

2.3 " They tend to be fired on Ministry of Defence ranges because they are the only ranges that are large enough to incorporate this very long-distance target shooting " .

2.4 This is inaccurate in that they can be used on numerous other ranges which are privately owned.

2.5 S horter ranges can be used such as Kymacco and for longer range WMS or Eskdalemuir .

2.6 In response to the question " We heard concerns on Second Reading that none of the rifles that are proposed to be prohibited has ever been used in a crime before. Can the panel help us with that? "

2.7 Mark Groothuis responds " Certainly, there is no example of their being used in crime recently. We have to go back to the troubles in Northern Ireland, when there was a suggestion that the .50 was being used to snipe members of the armed forces. So, we are going back to the ’80s. Other than that, there is no suggestion that legally held .50 rifles have been used in crime " .

2.8 The phrase " other than that there is no suggestion that legally held .50 rifles have been used in crime " indicates that he perceives that such rifles were held legally.

2.9 This is clearly incorrect and deeply misleading as such rifles had been imported to Northern Ireland illegally and were possessed and used illegally by terrorists.

2.10 No legally held .50 rifle has ever been used in a crime.

2.11 There was a follow up question " So, what is the risk and threat posed by these weapons, such that we should ban them? "

2.22 Mark Groothuis response is " The threat, as I see it, is that we see an increasing trend of legally held firearms being stolen from certificate holders. The number of guns being stolen is going up. I can give you some statistics, if you like. So far this year, on the national firearms licensing management system, we have got 39 rifles stolen, all of a different range of calibres-none of them .50-and 165 shotguns have been stolen. Again, we are seeing an increase in the use of firearms in crime-mainly shotguns, as they are the volume guns that are being stolen, but there have been examples of rifles coming into use by criminals. They are using them in possibly gang-related shootings " .

2.23 This does not appear to answer the specific question with regard to .50 target rifles . If anything, it does the opposite of providing any evidence base as why these rifles should be banned.

2.24 The question is then put to Marc Groothuis " So, why is banning them the answer to that? "

2.25 Mark Groothuis response is " It is simply a question, I suppose, of removing the risk. In having licences for these hugely powerful guns in the community there is always a risk that they will be stolen. Most, in fact all, of these guns are being kept in private domestic circumstances. If I am a firearms certificate holder and I have got a .50 rifle for long-range target shooting, I will keep it at home.

2.26 Although we could say, "Let’s increase the security," there is only so much you can do to protect these sorts of premises. There are no club armouries for these sorts of guns; they are all kept at home. It is whether we wish to take the risk of these things being stolen. There was one stolen in July 2016, together with ammunition, along with four other rifles that were stolen. One of those was actually used in crime-in a shooting. The .50 was ultimately recovered and, in fact, it had had its barrel sawn off.

2.27 That does show that maybe the crime gangs-the criminals-do have an appetite to use these guns if they are stolen. My concern is that, if one of these guns were to be stolen, again with the ammunition, and if it were to get into terrorist hands, it could be very difficult to fight against or to protect against. There is very little-nothing, as far as I know-that the police service have that could go up against a .50 in the way of body armour or even protected vehicles   .

2.28 It is just a risk you have to make a decision on. Because of the nature of the sport- it is just long-range target shooting ; there is no quarry shooting involved in this   -do we want to take that chance? "

2.29 This again does not identify a specific threat through the possession of such rifles.

2.30 It has been demonstrated in our previous submission that these rifles are inherently unsuitable for criminal or terrorist use.

2.31 To state " There is very little-nothing, as far as I know-that the police service have that could go up against a .50 in the way of body armour or even protected vehicles" fails to acknowledge that this would also be the case with other calibres of considerably less than 13,600 Joules muzzle energy.

2.32 With regard to requiring enhanced security for their possession his response indicates that he does not consider this as sufficient.

2.34 As the " national firearms licensing liaison officer " we would have expected him to know that prohibited weapons (Section 5 firearms) are already being kept in individual’s homes and that the security in such situations has been deemed sufficient.

2.35 Perhaps the most disturbing element of his evidence is the statement " it is just long-range target shooting" which demeans the many target shooters, the sport of target shooting of which many disciplines are recognised in the Olympics and the inference that to accept this somehow makes it acceptable to ban a sport enjoyed by many responsible citizens.

2.36 The including of the qualifying sentence " there is no quarry shooting involved in this" is utterly nonsensical in its irrelevance.

2.37 A further question on the issue of security is put to Mark Groothuis " On Second Reading, my hon. Friend the Member for The Cotswolds (Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown) said that actually we do not need to ban these things; all we need to do is to enhance security and storage. Do you think that that is practical? "

2.38 His response is " I think it is very difficult, because this is not statutory at the moment . One way forward might be to make it statutory. Then it is a question of trust. All firearms licensing is based on trusting the individual to store the firearm away securely. We do find sometimes when guns are stolen that they were not secure. The person has come home; they have been shooting. They may have left the gun out to dry and not put it away, and it is stolen. That is a breach of the conditions of the certificate. Again, it can be difficult to get to the bottom of what actually happened and how the gun was stolen " .

2.39 We in the FCSA take security very seriously indeed, have already taken measures to enhance it and would meet any other enhanced security requirements placed on our certificates by Chief Officers of Police.

2.40 To suggest that we would ignore such conditions and " leave a rifle out to dry and not put it away " for it to be stolen is verging on being insulting to our professionalism.

2.41 Overall, we consider the verbal evidence of Mark Groothuis is somewhat inaccurate , potentially misleading and exhibits a degree of bias such that we would respectfully suggest that the Committee treat it with due scepticism.

3.1 Issue regarding the verbal evidence of Detective Chief Superintendent Chilton , a detective chief superintendent and head of the National Ballistics Intelligence Service.

3.2 A question is put to DCS Chilton " But none of the guns that have been stolen so far this year are those that will be prohibited by the Bill? "

3.3 Her response was " The ones we are looking at are shotguns and rifles. The .50 calibre that Mark spoke about earlier was stolen in 2016 and recovered in 2017, and there was evidence that it had been fired and had been stolen at the time that the .308 rifle had been stolen, along with eight others. The .308 had been used to shoot three people and the .50 calibre one was recovered in a bag on wasteland, which is a modus operandi for offenders to store firearms, so they are not caught with them in their properties. That one had not actually been discharged in crime " .

3.4 To associate the theft of the .50 rifle with the others in .308 calibre being used to commit murder disingenuously associates the .50 with such offenses.

4.1 Issues with the process and selection of those providing verbal evidence   .

4.2 While we , the FCSA, had been in contact with the Home Office, offered to meet with Nick Hurd and those advising him, specifically mentioning Mark Groothuis , this offer was not taken up when passed to the Minister for the Bill, Victoria Atkins.

4.3 It is also noteworthy that the opinion of the British Shooting Sports Council (BSSC) was not sought prior to the Consultation as would have been normal practice in such matters.

4.4 To have taken up such opportunities may have avoided the current situation where the Government is trying to support the implementation of disproportionately restrictive legislation of unnecessary expense that is based on hype, hyperbole and hunch rather than evidence of clear need and benefit.

 

Yours sincerely,

Mr Christopher Stevenson Dr Scott Wylie

Chairman FCSA FCSA BSSC representative

July 2018

 

Prepared 5th September 2018