Offensive Weapons Bill

Written e vidence submitted by Andrew Mercer, Chief Executive, National Rifle Association, Bisley Camp, Brookwood, Surrey (OWB98)

Evidence pertaining to Clauses 28 (1)(2) and 29 (1)(2)

1. Executive Su mmary

· The target shooting community are being unfairly treated by prohibitions proposed in the Bill.

· 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, but has provided no evidence to support these assertions.

· The Home Office has not proposed any initiatives in the Bill 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.

· Current firearms legislation demonstrably protects public safety; Section 27 Firearms Act 1968 (as amended) requires Chief Officers of police who grant firearms certificates to ensure "the applicant can be permitted to have the firearm or ammunition in his possession without danger to the public safety …"

2. The NRA and Target Shooting

2.1 The National Rifle Association (NRA) is a registered charity with a Royal Charter and the National Governing Body for full bore target shooting in the UK. We have been based at the world-famous Bisley range complex since 1890, and support the target shooting of some 55,000 participants.

2.2 The vast majority of owners of rifles affected by the Bill are members of the NRA and our 850 affiliated organisations. The NRA arranges access to MoD ranges for .50" calibre shooters; MARS and Lever Release rifles are routinely shot on our ranges at Bisley.

2.3 Shooting is a major sporting activity in the UK with some 2.25 million rifles and shotguns legally held on certificate.

2.4 Target shooting is a rigorously regulated sport practiced by some 55,000 shooters on hundreds of club ranges, around 30 MoD ranges, and the Bisley National Shooting Centre. UK shooters compete successfully in International competition; target shooters ages range from 12 to 95 years of age.

3. Firearms Affected by the Bill

3.1 "Rapid firing rifles" as defined in the Bill affect two main types of firearms namely:-

3.1.1 Manually Actuated Release System (MARS) effectively enables one shot to be fired for each two pulls of the trigger; and

3.1.2 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

3.2 Both are produced by UK companies; MARS by Caledonian Arms based in Scotland, and Lever Release by Southern Gun Company based in Cornwall. According to the suppliers over 2,000 lever release rifles have been sold over ten years, and 200 MARS actions sold over three years.

3.3 "High muzzle energy" affect primarily .50 calibre rifles; these are a type of long range rifles used in target shooting; this is a specialist discipline practiced by a few hundred shooters and has a rich tradition dating back over 30 years.

3.4 .50" calibre, MARS and Lever Release rifles are used for the sport of target shooting and can only be acquired by holders of a Firearms Certificate (FAC).

3.5 It is important to note that self-loading 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.

4. Firearms Licensing and Crime

4.1 Certificate holders are rigorously assessed by the police and are subjected to medical assessments, references, background checks and ongoing continuous monitoring.

4.2 UK Firearm Certificate (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.

4.3 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 FAC holders have been unable to own handguns since the ban which was introduced in 1997.

4.4 No evidence has been published that legally owned .50" calibre, MARS action or Lever Release has ever been used in any criminal act in the UK.

4.5 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.

4.6 The Home Office gave misleading references linking the rifles to be prohibited to shooting events in the USA; they quote the Las Vegas shooting despite the fact that the self-loading rifles used there were prohibited in the UK in 1988.

5. The Consultation

5.1 The shooting community views the proposed prohibitions as a gross breach of natural justice as the Home Office has failed to provide any evidence that these rifles pose any risk to public safety. They referred to vague but unpublished concerns raised by the police and the National Crime Agency (NCA).

5.2 To link civilian target shooters to gun crime is grossly misleading; pistols, illegal in the UK since 1997, remain the weapons of choice for the criminal fraternity.

5.3 The consultation and supporting documents to the Bill has consistently under estimated the number and value of the "rapid firing" and "high muzzle energy" rifles.

5.4 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, not 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 is designed to withstand knife attacks and can be defeated even by relatively low energy (e.g. handgun) ammunition at short 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.

d. Attractive to terrorists and criminals. We understand only one such rifle has ever been stolen in the UK and that was quickly recovered. I am not aware of any legally owned .50" calibre, MARS or Lever release rifle ever being used as part of a criminal act, actual or attempted, in the UK.

5.5 We feel the prohibition is an attempt to distract attention away from the serious matters of illegal firearms, acid and knife crime. To ban certain firearms on the basis of unsubstantiated claims of threats to public safety is an abuse of process.

5.6 The capacity for firearms to cause harm is subjective; almost all modern cars have the capacity to substantially exceed the legal speed limit but the licensed driver is responsible for driving safely.

6. NRA Proposals

6.1 Prohibiting firearms on the basis of muzzle energy (ME) makes no sense – it is illogical to assert that 13,599 joules ME is "good" but 13,601 joules ME is "bad". We suggest it would be sensible to limit ownership of .50" calibre rifles to license holders who have possessed their FAC for a minimum of 2 years; coupled with enhanced security requirements.

6.2 Current legislation already requires Chief Officers of police to allow ownership of .50" calibre, MARS and Lever Release rifles to FAC holders only when they consider such possession poses no danger to public safety. The fact that these rifles have not been used in criminal activity is testament to the rigour that licensing police apply when considering FAC applications for these rifles. If there is intelligence that .50" calibre, MARS and Lever Release rifles pose a particular threat then this should be communicated to licensing police and owners who can ensure such rifles are stored securely.

6.3 We recommend that the Bill be amended to remove sections 28(1)(2) and 29(1)(2).

July 2018

 

Prepared 23rd July 2018