GCN ARCHIVE

 

Evidence

 

RESPONSE TO THE HOME OFFICE CONSULTATION PAPER

‘CONTROLS ON FIREARMS’

> View Consultation Paper

 

This response is supported by:

  • Mothers Against Guns

  • IANSA (International Action Network on Small Arms)

SUMMARY

Preamble

We have repeatedly been encouraged to believe that this review process presents an opportunity to think radically about firearms legislation and the contribution it makes to reducing gun crime. Indeed the Home Office states clearly that ‘it is important that all opportunities for reducing such crimes are explored’. We were therefore disappointed to learn at the outset that reform of the law on imitation guns and airguns would not be considered. It seems, after all, that the government has already made up its mind about what is going to happen, or at least what is not going to happen.

Despite this we have decided that we will submit our response as if the government was genuinely open to ideas, willing to confront vested interests and to consider seriously how to control the weapons that are most responsible for the rise in gun crime.

Context

  • A review of firearms legislation is long overdue. Existing law is complicated and difficult to enforce. It is also out of date and does not reflect current dangers and global trends.

  • Guns are an increasing global problem with an estimated 400,000 people killed by guns every year.

  • Almost all guns start out legal.

  • Almost all multiple gun murders in the last decade or so eg Dunblane, Hungerford, Erfurt, Zug, Port Arthur have been committed with legal guns.

  • A substantial proportion of the increase in recorded gun crime in the UK is attributable to the misuse of imitations (including replicas and blank firers) and airguns.

  • Gun manufacturers are always producing new weapons which are designed to circumvent current legislation. The simplest way to control the guns of the future is to base the law on lethality rather than on specific types of weapon eg shotgun and airgun.

  • We recognise that legislation is not the only tool in the fight against gun violence. Community action is vital too. But our laws define the kind of society we wish to live in and we now have an opportunity to establish just what the role of guns in our society should be.

  • Defining principles

  • Public safety is of paramount importance.

  • Tight control of guns is associated with low levels of gun violence.

  • Guns should therefore be prohibited except where they are issued under licence.

  • Gun ownership is a privilege and not a right.

  • The interests of the few who shoot must be balanced against the public safety interests of the whole population.

  • A responsible society should keep guns away from children.

  • Countries cannot solve the problem of gun violence on their own. International agreement and co-operation is necessary.

  • Basis of legislation – starting from scratch

    Guns are dangerous and frightening because of the death and injury they actually cause and because of their perceived potential to cause death and injury. Therefore legislation must control guns that look as if they can kill or injure as well as those that can actually do so.

    Guns that can kill ie are lethal, should be controlled regardless of the missile they discharge eg shots, pellets, bullets. A clear quantitative definition of lethality is required in law eg 0.5 joules of muzzle energy.

    There should be 4 categories of guns

    • Prohibited – issued only with the Secretary of State’s authority. These are the most dangerous weapons eg handguns, multishot and high calibre weapons.

    • Licensed - lethal weapons issued under licence eg some shotguns, rifles and airguns.

    • Imitation – anything which resembles a lethal weapon regardless of its function, including replicas and blank firers. These should remain unlicensed but with controls on public possession, sale, import, manufacture.

    • Deactivated – real weapons that are no longer able to fire live ammunition. These should remain prohibited or licensed after deactivation.

    A single system of licensing should apply. Applicants should be able to demonstrate ‘fitness’ and show ‘good reason’ for each and every gun they possess or use. High standards of storage and transport should apply.

    The sale of licensed guns, ammunition and component parts should be only through a Registered Gun Dealer and not by any other means eg mail order, internet or private sale.

    Simple age limits should apply to the use, possession and ownership of all lethal guns.

    • Under 16 year olds should not have access to lethal guns.

    • 16 –18 year olds should be able to have supervised use of lethal guns.

    • Over 18 year olds should be able to apply for a licence to own a lethal gun and to use it unsupervised.

    A Gun Safety Consultative Committee should be established to advise the Home Office on all matters relating to public safety and gun violence including crime, accident and suicide. The body should represent the police and other government agencies, the courts, the medical profession, community, youth, gun control and victims groups, and the shooters.

    UK citizens and government agencies, including those operating extraterritorially, should be required to apply for a licence to export, broker or transport abroad any weapons controlled by UK law.

     

    As a specific and urgent reform GCN proposes the following:

    Given that imitation guns are responsible for a high percentage of armed crime, we propose damage limitation legislation to ban their sale, import and manufacture using the same definition as appears in the new Anti Social Behaviour Act 2003. This means that it will still be legal to possess an imitation but illegal to have one in a public place or to sell, import or manufacture one. The government’s resistance to this proposal is irrational and based on a wholly fallacious argument about definition.

    ******

    RESPONSE TO THE SPECIFIC ISSUES RAISED IN THE CONSULTATION PAPER

    PART 1: FIREARMS

    Main points

    In the interests of public safety, clarity and common sense all lethal weapons should be prohibited or subject to a uniform rigorous licensing procedure similar to the current section 1 Firearms licence.

    A definition of lethality should therefore be enshrined in law eg 0.5 joules

    Convenience to shooters should not be a factor in determining the best and safest licensing arrangements.

    Bona fide shooters would still be able to practice their sport

    Classification

    Guns should be classified on the basis of their potential to cause fear or injury not on their mechanism or missile.

    We propose 4 categories of guns

    • Prohibited – issued only with the Secretary of State’s authority. These are the most dangerous weapons eg handguns, multishot and high calibre weapons.

    • Licensed - lethal weapons issued under licence eg shotguns, rifles and some airguns.

    • Imitation – anything which resembles a lethal weapon regardless of its function, including replicas and blank firers. These should remain unlicensed but with controls on public possession, sale, import, manufacture.

    • Deactivated – real weapons that are no longer able to fire live ammunition. These should remain prohibited or licensed after deactivation.

    Prohibition and Licensing

    The starting point for gun legislation should be that all lethal guns are prohibited.

    The most dangerous of these will remain prohibited eg handguns, multishot and high calibre weapons. This category will be reviewed on a regular basis by a suitably constituted Gun Safety Advisory Committee.

    Individuals may apply for a licence to own a lethal weapon for a specific purpose eg target shooting, clay pigeon shooting.

    We propose a single rigorous licensing process similar to the current Section 1 firearms licence which would cover:

    • permitted shotguns and rifles

    • all lethal airguns

    • permitted deactivated guns

    Deactivated guns must be included in the licensing process because of their potential to cause fear and be reactivated.

    The value of this approach is to ensure that the ownership of every single permitted lethal weapon is justified. Shotguns and airguns are often the weapons used in domestic disputes, sometimes with lethal consequences. There is no good reason to exclude them from a rigorous, uniform licensing procedure.

    The licensing process should be determined on the basis of public safety not the convenience of shooters.

    Lethality

    We believe categorisation on the basis of lethality would allow the law to cover new weapons resulting from developments in firearms technology. The figure of 1 joule has been put forward as the muzzle energy required to penetrate the skin and therefore to kill. Just as an engineer is required to build in a big margin of safety when calculating the strength of a bridge, so do we propose a figure significantly less than 1 joule on grounds of safety.

    Our suggestion is that a figure of 0.5 joules is adopted as the measure of lethality unless and until evidence is produced that it should be otherwise.

    Component parts

    Component parts of all guns should be regulated so as to ensure that no lethal weapon can be assembled through the legal purchase of such parts.

    Responsibility for issuing certificates should remain with the police for whom public safety is paramount. Certificates should be renewed every two years to ensure that changes in personal circumstances are taken into account as quickly as possible. Appropriate funding should be put in place to allow this to happen. Additional administrative costs are negligible when compared to the huge social and economic costs of gun related violence. Prevention is not only better than cure – it’s cheaper.

     

    PART 2: UNLICENSED GUNS

    Unlicensed guns are an increasing menace and are responsible for a large proportion of firearms crime in the UK. Unless further controls are introduced this trend will continue at great cost to the public.

    It is the government’s prime duty to take whatever measures are necessary to ensure that people feel and are safe and secure. The proliferation of imitation guns and airguns greatly undermines that sense of safety and security, and legislation is required urgently to control the availability of these weapons.

    Imitations

    We do not agree that there should be no changes to the licensing and restriction on sales of imitations. If the government genuinely wishes to reduce gun crime and the fear of it then it must address the problem of imitations. The measures taken in recent months to control the possession in public of these weapons are insufficient and do not deal with the real problem – their ready and unrestricted availability.

    Imitations are perfectly well defined in the 1968 Firearms Act and in the 2003 Anti Social Behaviour Act so definition cannot be a problem. We are at a loss to understand why the government is dragging its heels on further measures to control the proliferation of these weapons, which have become the scourge of our streets.

    We propose:

    • a ban on the sale, manufacture, transfer and import of imitation weapons as defined in the 2003 Anti Social Behaviour Act (an exemption could be made for theatrical, film and television productions, see below).

    • all lethal airguns should be licensed ( see above)

    • the law should define lethality eg 0.5 joules (see above)

    • the term ‘firearm’ becomes redundant when guns are defined on the basis of their potential to do harm.

    • the term ‘ readily convertible’ as applied to imitation guns is irrelevant since they can be used to cause fear regardless of their convertibility.

    • deactivated guns should be prohibited or licensed (see above) ie treated exactly as if they had not been deactivated.

     

    PART 3: YOUNG PEOPLE AND GUNS

    In principle, a responsible society should keep guns away from children. International comparisons show that gun violence is closely correlated to gun availability – legal and illegal. Societies with fewer guns are, and feel, safer than those where guns proliferate. Therefore the introduction of guns to children and young people should be actively discouraged.

    Age limits

    We propose simple age limits which would apply to the use, possession and ownership of all lethal guns:

    · under 16 year olds should not have access to lethal guns

    · 16 –18 year olds should be able to have supervised use of lethal guns

    · over 18 year olds should be able to apply for a licence to own a lethal gun and to use it unsupervised.

    PART 4: TRADE

    Registered Gun Dealers

    The sale of licensed guns, ammunition and component parts should be only through a Registered Gun Dealer. This would ensure that all the proper checks are made. We consider that all other means of purchase are inadequately controlled and are likely to be abused. Particular attention should be paid to stopping acquisition through the internet as this is likely to be increasingly attractive to some ‘would-be’ gun purchasers. Newspaper and telephone sales, and mail order deliveries are all open to abuse and should be prohibited.

    Gun shops should not be allowed openly to display what they are selling. It is to be hoped that this would deter young people from treating guns as simply another consumer product. Guns on open display cause alarm to members of the public and reinforce a sense of insecurity.

    PART 5: AMMUNITION

    Shotgun cartridges and primers should all be controlled on certificates. The quantities of ammunition and all component parts purchased should be justified in relation to the specified use of the relevant gun. This would not affect the shooters’ ability to undertake their sport but it would ensure that stocks of ammunition cannot be accumulated.

    Expanding ammunition is more likely to cause death and severe trauma and should therefore be banned except for the humane dispatch of animals. We believe that there is no justification for a relaxation of the ban and that it should therefore remain in place.

    PART 6: OTHER ISSUES

    Miniature rifle ranges

    In framing new legislation it is important that historical anomalies are identified and eliminated. Miniature rifle ranges are one such anomaly. The exemption which allows uncontrolled possession, purchase or acquisition of lethal guns to people operating in fairgrounds and travelling shows is an unnecessary and dangerous loophole. We propose that new legislation should remove this exemption.

    Borrowing of guns

    With regard to the exemptions which allow those without licences to borrow guns on private premises, we propose that the legislation ensures appropriate supervision and that the age limits set out above be applied. Exemptions should not apply to anyone who has had a certificate refused or revoked. We see no need for differential provisions for shotguns and rifles.

    Theatrical and film productions

    With regard to theatrical and film productions we propose that the exemption, which allows individuals to possess firearms without a certificate, should be removed. This means that a member of the production team should be in possession of a licence and should act in the capacity of supervisor. To eliminate the need for a real gun, producers may purchase an imitation weapon via a Registered Gun Dealer. We propose this as an exemption to the general ban on the sale etc of imitation guns.

    Group exemptions

    We see no need or justification for exemptions of any group. Exemptions which allow specified groups of people eg auctioneers, carriers, warehousemen to possess guns without a certificate are, in our view, not necessary or justified. Where there are special circumstances eg foreign troops or police, the Secretary of State has the necessary powers to allow exemptions.

    Target shooting

    In respect of target shooting clubs we are aware that controls are applied inconsistently across the country. Too often we hear of slack procedures and dangerous practice. While the criteria set out for Home Office approved clubs may be extensive there is a need for more rigorous monitoring by the police. To ensure the highest safety standards we propose that target shooting should only be allowed at Home Office approved clubs.

    Practical Shooting

    In respect of Practical (or Combat) Shooting, we propose that realistic sets or stages are not allowed and that targets are only of the standard circular design ie not humanoid.

    Appeals process

    The current appeals process against licensing decisions is appropriate and should not be changed. Any suggestion that appeals should be taken out of the hands of local courts and heard instead by special Shooting Appeals Tribunals, consisting of police and shooters, should be resisted. The courts remain the guardians of peace and justice in the community and as such are the proper place for licensing appeals to be heard.

    British Visitors Permits

    In respect of British Visitors Permits, the police should be able to issue licences to visitors from overseas on the same basis as they issue licences to UK residents.

    Gun Safety Advisory Committee

    We propose that a Gun Safety Advisory Committee should be established to advise the Home Office on all matters relating to public safety and gun violence including crime, accident and suicide. The body should be composed of representatives of the police and other security agencies, the courts, medical profession, community, youth, gun control, domestic violence and victims’ groups, and the shooters. Efforts should be made to ensure that the Committee is representative in terms of gender, age, region and race. A technical sub committee may be established to advise the Committee on technical matters. On a local level we believe that Firearms Liaison Committees should be made more representative of the local community. Currently they consist of shooters, dealers and the police.

    International Gun Trade

    Although this consultation document is produced by the Home Office the issue of guns in the UK cannot be considered in isolation from the problems in the rest of the world.

    UK domestic legislation must enhance and reinforce the UK government’s international commitments on firearms and small arms issues, including the Programme of Action to Prevent, Combat and Eradicate the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons in All its Aspects, the UN Protocol Against the Illicit Manufacturing of and Trafficking in Firearms, Their Parts and Components and Ammunition.

    There are approximately 640 million guns in circulation – one for every ten people. Around 8 million new guns are made every year, but only a tiny proportion of that number are destroyed.

    Almost all guns start out legal, most of them being sold and resold to state security agencies. Huge numbers end up in poor countries where they slip into the civilian population and fuel high levels of gun violence. Some of these are illegally imported back into the UK where they end up on British streets taking British lives.

    Guns are a global scourge, and the UK government has a responsibility to push for tough controls. Without an international Arms Trade Treaty guns will continue to move unregulated around world markets, killing and injuring civilians and disfiguring communities wherever they go.

    Guns are made for killing and imitation guns are made to look as if they can kill. The world is a safer place with fewer of them.

     

    > View Consultation Paper


     

    Submissions to the All-Party Parliamentary Committee on Gun Crime, July 2003

     

    Submission from Jayne Atkinson from the Gun Control Network

     

    I'm Jayne Atkinson, I am a mother but due to circumstances beyond my control I am now a bereaved mother and find myself in a position where I need to campaign for a change in the present laws.

     

    My son George was killed in a tragic shooting accident with an air rifle almost four years ago. I am a nurse and was going on duty, I dropped my two children, George and Lara at my sister Kay's house where I would pick them up after my shift at 21:00 hours. That is the last time I kissed and saw my son alive. My sister and brother-in-law had brought a .22 air rifle the previous year to control vermin in their large garden. James their eleven year old had been 'shown' how to load and fire the gun at objects. He was allowed to do this regularly without adult supervision. Due to my dislike of guns I had warned George previously not to touch the gun. After a day of playing in the sunshine James went to get the gun to practice hitting tins cans. As George did not know how to load the weapon he asked James to, this he did. When George took the gun from James, holding the barrel the gun went off and hit George at point blank range in the side of the head, he died instantly.

     

    As I was on duty at the time George was brought to the hospital under police escort, I was waiting for him in the accident and emergency department. Disbelief and shock come to mind; the hours that followed are etched in my memory. George was turned off the ventilator the following morning.

     

    This incident has obviously changed my life and that of my family.

     

    Firearms in the twenty-first century, including .22 air weapons are made with precision and refined to provide the user who may only have the basic knowledge on their use, with the confidence that the weapon is an efficient and accurate tool. With a reasonable amount of skill the user can hit target as a past time, sport or the sole practical use of killing vermin or animals. In the wrong hands or uneducated hand this weapon becomes lethal.

     

    Twelve pounds per square inch is the primary yardstick for classifying a weapon into the category of a section one firearm as stated in the firearms act 1968. Once a classified the user is required and bound by law to keep the gun in a secure, locked cabinet, the ammunition kept separately secured and any component parts detached and stored separately. The owner is restricted by age and also where they can use the gun, this is governed by the Chief Police Officer in that area. In contrast an air rifle is often view as being a harmless toy, these views are obviously misguided.

     

    With continuing improvements in these weapons, it does not seem unreasonable that laws governing use and storage of these weapons are completely inadequate and should be reviewed on a more regular basis than in the past. I am aware that these weapons, due to their easy access are involved in the increase in gun crime in the UK, they can be also be modified to increase their velocity. The gun that killed George was 11.8 calibre. I strongly feel that air rifles should now be certified and although critics state our gun restrictions are among the tightest in the world, from experience I can tell you that that they do not go far enough.

     

    There is also a need for educating people about the potential these guns have to kill. As these guns are handled by young children, education should start in the community such as youth clubs, the scout movement and schools. Had my sister been aware of the capabilities of the gun my son would be here today.

     

    Can you honestly say that when your children and grandchildren go to play in their friends house that they do not have access to an air rifle that may be in the back of the garage or in the utility room or placed in some other corner that they know about, would you sleep soundly tonight knowing that?

     


     

    Submission from Linda Mitchell from the Gun Control Network

     

    Community Perspective

     

    Background

     

    I am the mother of a child who survived an airgun attack. A young child who was left at home with a loaded high­powered air rifle, 3 shotguns, ammunition and a crossbow, shot my son in the mouth. As a result of this experience, and my very limited knowledge of the subject I have researched airgun misuse for the last 21 months in the hope that I would understand how this could happen and identify areas in which communities and concerned individuals can make a contribution. The misuse of air weapons is a widespread and increasing problem in communities throughout the country. Personal experiences of victims, their families and representatives from local communities have been entrusted to me in the hope that it would highlight the real issues and assist in my efforts to gain a balanced overview of the problem. A part of my research, I spent three months on the streets of the North East listening to public opinion. I also encouraged people with experience of airguns around the country to contact me press and media. It is my hope to increase firearms awareness and I base my work on information I have gathered from many thousands of people.

     

    It is estimated that there are around 6 million air weapons in circulation in the United Kingdom, but the actual number is not known, as there is no system of registration. Because they don't have to be registered, we have no precise knowledge of who owns them, though it is clear that most airgun crime is committed by young people. Secure storage is not a legal requirement and there is every indication that as a consequence some youngsters have very easy access to air weapons. The majority of guns misused by children were found by them in lofts, sheds or bedrooms, often already loaded. Children's use of air weapons on private property is a real cause for concern amongst residents.

     

    Many children who have committed offences have little prior knowledge of guns. Too many remain unaware or oblivious of the dangers they and others face when they are in possession of air weapons, ball bearing (BB) guns or imitation and replica weapons. Although there are legal minimum ages for purchasing and owning airguns, the law is easily flouted. There have been at least two occasions when a national newspaper has advertised air weapons for the price of a phone call. Internet and mail order purchases can easily be made with a postal order or solo card, which children as young as twelve are able to do. BB guns can be brought at most toyshops or newsagents, sometimes by very young unaccompanied children. Even guns that fire plastic pellets have caused nasty injuries or trauma. Shop keepers who display or sell imitation guns can only be advised by police or trading standards to consider the implications of their actions. A shop in Sussex was recently persuaded to withdraw its display from its window only after pressure from residents and the local newspaper that thought such displays were not community spirited.

     

    On many occasions, alarmed members of the public have reported seeing children with air weapons, BB guns, imitation or replica weapons and armed police have been deployed. The police are placed in very difficult situations and although highly trained they have to make split second decisions over the danger posed by the weapon. It is often impossible for even trained police officers to distinguish the easily purchased guns from real lethal weapons. The increasing need to deploy Armed Response Units to such incidents not only wastes police time but also places them, the public and those handling weapons in danger.

     

    Surviving an airgun attack is increasingly being described as "lucky". However, being shot is a life-changing event, and the implications surrounding any gun incident are enormous for victims, families of victims and the wider community. Victims are regularly blinded and maimed some with life threatening injuries and some have sadly died. The trauma associated with being threatened by someone with a gun, loaded or not, has lasting consequences. If it is possible to recover from physical injury, psychological injury can last a lifetime. Families of victims suffer greatly as they try hard to help a loved one come to terms with and move on from an incident. Young people often face difficulties on returning to education, taunts and threats from their peers as a result of reporting an attack can be hard to endure and families are faced with decisions on removing their children from schools, social activities and other situations in an effort to reduce anxiety. Many families have considered moving home or actually move out of an area due to intimidation. Young people who have committed gun related offences have also suffered as a result of an incident; they too are faced with challenges that ensure they can also become victims. Many of the perpetrators of gun crime have no ability to make an informed decision when faced with choices as they come into contact with guns.

     

    The majority of people expressed fears at increasing airgun incidents and around one in three of them knew someone who had experienced an attack. Most alarmingly was a reluctance to report such incidents, in spite of the injury to people or animals or the damage to property. The reasons given were a fear of reprisals and appropriate authorities. Of the people who said they had reported youths firing airguns in their area, the perpetrators were not usually caught in the act but often returned when there was no police presence. At best youths misusing airguns were considered to be an intolerable nuisance and at worst risking life or serious injury.

     

    Planned initiatives to reduce gun crime

     

    INFER Trust is a charity that is working for a safer society. A 3-year project that will raise firearms/gun crime awareness in the North East region is planned and an application fro funding is currently being made. The project aims to address gun related issues within schools and youth groups, encourage and empower local residents groups by promoting good relationships with statutory bodies and raised awareness. It will also assist police and community workers as they identify problems and reduce gun crime through education. Work on the project has already started and planned meetings with police and local authorities will take place within the coming weeks as the need for such a project has already been established and welcomed. Presentations by the charity are already underway with students who will eventually work with communities as they try to discourage the misuse of guns by raising awareness of the inherent dangers among young people. INFER Trust is confident that this awareness programme will compile and disseminate information, written and visual, this material will be constantly updated on the basis of regular comprehensive reviews to ensure that the material is delivered in an efficient and effective way. The programme will illustrate the hazards associated with carrying guns in public and provide information on firearms law and their application. It is an important aspect of the programme that communities and organisations are kept up to date with firearms and social behaviour law. The programme will use local examples and take advantage of other relevant research conducted by INFER Trust. The outcome will be the provision of a broad and balanced body of knowledge. Since children as young as 6 have been found in possession of, and have even used, air weapons and BB guns, programmes will be designed that are suitable at both primary and secondary school level. INFER Trust Is confident that through greater awareness the children of this and future generations will come to understand what they can do to reduce the scourge of gun crime. This will have a positive effect initially on in the North East region.

     

    Difficulties faced addressing the problems of gun crime

     

    It has been very difficult to persuade statutory bodies that non-statutory organisations can and should be able to play a vital role as we aim to reduce gun crime. Gun crime is not always a priority for local authorities even when there is cause for concern locally. There Is much to be achieved in areas like the North East, Sub-cultural values are present and with help from non -statutory bodies, those at risk of adopting such values would benefit from community delivered education in schools or social settings. Potential offenders feel comfortable with non-statutory organisations and have indicted they would be willing to act upon guidance. People who are capable, willing and able to make a contribution to their community need support and encouragement to make a difference. They need to see that their commitment is valued and their efforts do not constantly end In failure due to negativity from decision makers. Many people who have personal knowledge of the impact of gun crime are willing to help by speaking to groups of offenders and potential offenders but find it difficult to get information on how to do this and give up due to lack of support. The financial cost to someone who has experienced gun crime can be a great cause for concern, victims and parents of their victims may need time away from work to recover or support a relative in their recovery, volunteering to help raise awareness can further stretch finances, writing letters making phone calls and visiting organisations may be out of their financial reach and applying for grants to fund such work can be difficult and time consuming. Communities need clear, accessible information on where to find help.

     

    Recommendations to further reduce gun crime

    • Minimum age for ownership, use and possession of all guns

    • Ban the sale, manufacture and import of imitation guns and their possession in a public place

    • Certification of all deactivated weapons

    • Inclusion of airguns in certification system

    • One certification system for all legal weapons i.e.; shotguns, rifles and air guns

    • Practical or combat shooting or any other shooting practice that involves the simulation of real life situations and or the use of human shaped targets to be banned

    • 14 to 17 year olds should not be entitled to use airguns unsupervised on private property/land.


     

    Submission from Stephen Walker of the Gun Control Network

     

    I am 59 years of age and employed as a Legal Assistant by Bedfordshire County Council. Prior to taking up this employment, I was a serving police officer with Bedfordshire Police, retiring as a Detective Sergeant in 1992, with over 30 years service. I am married and have had five children, whose ages range between 16 - 30 years.

     

    During my police career I was always in operational positions and spent 20 of those years in the C.I.D. I have, at various times, been attached to the Force Drug Squad, No 5 Regional Crime Squad, the Metropolitan Police Robbery Squad and, for a short time, the Anti Terrorism Unit at New Scotland Yard. I have served at all the main police stations in Bedfordshire, including Bedford and Luton.

     

    I never sought, nor was I ever asked, to receive firearms training but I have been on a number of operations where firearms were issued to designated officers. During one particular, large-scale operation, I commanded an armed rapid response vehicle, with a driver and two armed officers.

     

    When I first joined the police force the use of firearms was very restricted and the number of incidents where firearms were used were few and far between. In general, criminals outside London did not usually feel the need to use firearms, or indeed other weapons. This began to change in the 1970's and 1980's and, with criminals becoming increasingly mobile and travelling farther afield, the number of offences where criminals were known or believed to be carrying guns, steadily increased, By the time I retired from the police, in 1992, it was a fact of life that there was a certain section of the criminal fraternity, who readily resorted to the use of guns to further their aims. However, the majority of these lived in and operated from large urban areas and the local criminals did not become involved. One of the major factors behind the increased use of guns was the burgeoning drug trade and the need for drug dealers to protect their 'turf. Whereas, in previous decades the gun had been the tool of trade for armed robbers, it was now being carried as a symbol of street credibility and as a means of self-protection.

     

    When I retired I was grateful that I had never been personally present in a situation where shots were fired, either by the police or by the criminals involved. This was the case with most of my colleagues, serving at the same time as myself. I was aware of a few incidents within Bedfordshire where firearms were used but there were not many. There were more deaths from suicide, using a gun, than crimes committed against another person.

     

    In the early hours of 4 August 2001 my 26 years old son, Andrew Walker, and his half brother, Alexander Woodcraft, 17 years old, were shot through the head and killed by a man using a reactivated Uzi sub machine pistol. They were in my son's flat in Lincoln and their killer, Jeremy Earls, was a former tenant of the flat. Unbeknown to my son, he had retained a key, which he used to let himself in. Andrew was shot once, through the temple, as he lay in his bath listening to music and Alexander was shot twice in the head as he lay asleep In the lounge. Jeremy Earls subsequently drove to a remote spot and killed himself with the same gun. No motive has ever been established for the killings, other than my son was aware that the former tenant, who had sought psychiatric treatment in the past, regretted moving out and was trying to persuade my son to move out so that he could return. It is known that he left his new home the evening before, telling his neighbour that he was going to meet his destiny and would not be coming back. Before leaving, he showed his neighbour the Uzi, along with a crossbow and arrows and a Samurai sword.

     

    At the inquest into the deaths of all three men, I was appalled to hear the forensic scientist, Malcolm Fletcher, who specialises in firearms, and their criminal use, describe to the Coroner, how easily this particular gun had been reactivated, using genuine spare parts. The parts {breech block and barrel) that had been replaced on this gun were found at Earls' home in Cambridge. They had been welded, drilled and cut and it was clear from their examination that this gun had at one time been deactivated. Mr Fletcher described this type of gun as being a particular favourite of those involved in drugs gang related crime in South London. It is not known when the gun was deactivated but it may well have been prior to 1995, when the regulations were tightened. However, it was clear that the deactivation process was insufficient to prevent the gun being reactivated and made into a 'prohibited weapon' again.

     

    It is my submission that guns designated to be deactivated should be either smelted or crushed so that there is no possibility of them ever being reactivated. I accept that there is a strong lobby against any ban being imposed on the ownership of deactivated weapons. There are a number of people with vested interests who are able to exert a lot of pressure on the legislators but, if looked at dispassionately, there is no legitimate use for these weapons, other than in museums, specialising in weaponry. If collectors wish to possess them, and a complete ban is not felt to be a viable proposition, then deactivated weapons should be licensed in the same way as firearms, with the same stringent methods of security. Penalties for illegal possession or use should be stiff enough to provide a strong deterrent. I am aware that there is a certain element among the criminal fraternity, who will still try and obtain them but if it is made hard enough the demand will drop. This in turn will act as a deterrent for the suppliers and deactivators, who will not find it worthwhile financially to support a decreasing market.

     

    I am realistic enough to know that this is but one small cog in a big wheel and there are a number of other initiatives which need to be imposed at the same time to deal with the whole scenario of preventing gun crime in the United Kingdom. Importing, manufacture, supply and conversion of imitation guns need to be dealt with in a similar way.

     

    Despite the scare-mongering, this country does have some very good laws on firearms control and, as a result, we have not encountered the problems of gun crime to the same extent as other nations, in particular, the United States of America, where gun control is more lax. This, however, is not a reason to become complacent. Gun crime is increasing and to save lives, every effort should be made to control it, while we can. If we follow the lead of the United States, there will come a time when the battle will be lost and the guns will rule. Our policemen will all be armed, as a matter of course, and shootings will be so commonplace that they will become footnotes in the media. I love this country and would hate to think that unnecessary lives, such as my son and his half-brother, will continue to be lost because our government allowed it to happen. If just one life is saved, it will be worth it. If many lives are saved, it will be an investment in the future of this country.

     

    Thank you for giving me the opportunity to share my experience and views with you.

     

     

    > View a Summary of the Recommendations

     


    Submission to the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, May 2002

     

    1.  GENERAL POSITION OF THE GUN CONTROL NETWORK

      1.1  The Gun Control Network (GCN) proposals outlined in this document are predicated on the belief that the interests of public safety demand a reduction in the availability and attractiveness of firearms of all kinds. There is a well established correlation between gun violence and the availability of guns, both legal and illegal. The more guns there are in a society the more they will be used and abused. Moreover, the distinction between legal and illegal weapons is not clear cut. It should not be forgotten that virtually all guns start out as legal weapons, and that victims are unable to discriminate between a bullet fired from a legal or an illegal gun. Policy must be based on the strict control of availability of all weapons. What is needed is legislation and law enforcement.

      1.2  GCN recognises the existence of a significant, through minority, interest in shooting for sport, and our proposals are aimed at striking an appropriate balance between the sport-shooting interest and the overriding interest of public safety. The social and economic consequences of gun violence in any society are hard to estimate in full, but they are real costs.

      1.3  Where differences in gun law exist between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK, we believe that harmonisation should always result in tighter controls and never in a relaxation of the law.

    2.  AIRGUNS AND LETHALITY

    GCN proposes the adoption of licensing requirements for al airguns not deemed to be toys.

      2.1  In GCN's submission to the Home Affairs Committee in 1999, we set out our concerns about the injuries caused to those who have been targeted by young people using air weapons. We were also aware of the public unease about the frequent targeting of animals with air weapons and the significant damage to property caused by their use. In Annex I we list a number of recent incidents that illustrate the dangers posed by these weapons. Further examples may be found in Annex II of our evidence to the Home Affairs Committee in 1999.

      2.2  Too often air guns are regarded as toys, not only by the young people who use them but also by some of their parents. As a result their potential to cause harm is disregarded. In 1999 we proposed an extension of the existing licensing system in Great Britain to include air weapons and a minimum age limit of 18 being placed on their use. This would reduce the prevalence of these weapons, make sure they are only handled by those mature enough to use them and signal that they can be a danger to the public.

      2.3  Air weaponry is becoming more sophisticated. Many guns bear a close resemblance to handguns, others can be converted to fire live ammunition. Brocock air cartridge pistols have become a particular concern, one that the Prime Minister raised immediately after the recent shootings in Erfurt, Germany.[1] These can be bought over the counter in Great Britain. A number have been converted and used in "gangster-style" killings. These are definitely not play things.

      2.4  The Home Affairs Committee proposed that air weapons should be licensed in England and Wales. GCN agreed with this proposal but the government did not support it.

      2.5  It is the view of GCN that licensing should apply, at least, to all weapons that are capable of lethal injury, and preferably to all weapons not defined as toys. In its eleventh Annual Report, the Firearms Consultative Committee recommended that any weapon with a muzzle energy of more than one joule should be regarded as a firearm and licensed as such. If this was introduced elsewhere in the UK it would still be the case that Northern Ireland would have tighter controls on airguns than England, Wales and Scotland. In our view, Northern Ireland would be well advised to capitalise on existing tight regulation of air guns and licence all weapons that are not defined as toys. Toy guns are defined by European Standard as "projectile toys with stored energy" of 0.08 Joules.

      2.6  In our view deregulation in Northern Ireland would be a retrograde step. It would lead to an increase in the availability of air weapons, which would in turn undermine public safety. In view of the widespread misuse of airguns by young people we also urge that there is no relaxation of the age limit for airguns or any other type of firearm.

    3.  HANDGUNS

      GCN proposed the adoption in Northern Ireland of the handgun ban existing in the rest of the UK

      3.1  The case for the banning of handguns was widely discussed during the period following the Dunblane massacre in March 1996. The case was accepted by the government, and the two Firearms (Amendment) 1997 Acts resulted in a complete ban on the civilian ownership of handguns in Great Britain. Civilian ownership of handguns is particularly dangerous because these weapons are easy concealable, high-powered and can be used to fire multiple shots rapidly. Their availability to civilians significantly increases the possibility of their misuse. In this context it is worth noting that in almost all the multiple killings in recent years and certainly those in Erfurt, Zug, Nanterre, Dunblane, Atlanta, Montreal and Hungerford, the killers were all previously law abiding men using legal weapons.

      3.2  GCN sees no justification for the continued ownership of these dangerous weapons for the purposes of sports shooting. In this case harmonisation of the law should involve the adoption by Northern Ireland of the prohibition of handguns.

      3.3  GCN understands the need for special measures for the protection of vulnerable individuals, but draws the Committee's attention to the evidence from the United States indicating that the widespread use of handguns for personal protection does not result in a safer society. Most published research shows that increased gun availability (predominantly of handguns) increases the incidence of gun death, especially to the gun owner and those closest to him. The few studies that have reached an opposite conclusion are based on flawed research which has been given disproportionate publicity by shooting organisations. A detailed analysis of the relevant data is provided by Sugarmann[2].

      3.4  GCN believes that there is no evidence from the published statistics from Great Britain that the handgun ban has not worked. At the time of Dunblane it was claimed by shooters that pistol shooting was the fastest growing sport in the UK. Without the ban we would have expected to see handgun ownership rising quickly, possibly even to the levels experienced in the US. Along with such increases in legal weapons we would have expected to see a high rise in gun violence and a progressively higher proportion of violent crime being committed with guns. At present, the rate of gun crime as a proportion of violent crime remains static and low—around 4.7 per cent in the UK compared with around 80 per cent in the US.

      3.5  Short term fluctuations in gun crime figures have been seized upon by shooters wishing to show that the handgun ban hasn't worked. It seems clear that there has been a recent rash of drug and gang related gun crime in English inner city areas but there is no evidence of a significant underlying trend. The figures from Scotland are unaffected by such short term fluctuations and may therefore be of most relevance to the situation in Northern Ireland. The most recent data (for the year 2000) show that offences involving handguns were at their lowest since 1995, that injuries caused by handguns were lower than at any time since 1992 and that only one homicide was committed with a handgun in Scotland in 2000[3].

    4.  IMITATIONS

    GCN proposes a ban on the sale, manufacture and import of imitation guns and their possession in a public place.

      4.1  Imitation weapons have the appearance of lethal guns but are not sold as such. They may fire caps or ball bearings or pellets or nothing at all. Some are manufactured under licence from the makers of real handguns e.g. Colt, Smith and Wesson etc. They bear identical logos and are intended to look and feel exactly like the real thing. They are available without licence and sold in market stalls, camping and toy shops, over the internet and by mail order.

      4.2  The police in England and Wales give varying estimates of the proportion of gun crime that is committed with imitation weapons. Although these figures range from 50 per cent-80 per cent there is agreement that the quantity of imitations in circulation is rising. This is borne out by recent research showing that the market in imitations grew by over 50 per cent between 1997-99.[4]

      4.3  Police and victims alike react to imitation weapons as if they are the real thing. They can be used to bully, intimidate and rob victims in streets and playgrounds across the country. They contribute to a sense of insecurity and there is a danger that they may be fuelling a growing gun culture.

      4.4  Police Armed Response Units are sent to hundreds of incidents involving imitation weapons every year. The cost of this is significant and the danger to the perpetrator cannot be overestimated.

      4.5  Many other countries including Australia, Japan, Malaysia, Netherlands, Sweden, France and parts of the USA have laws to control these weapons.

      4.6  The number of such weapons in circulation is now so great that it is impractical to impose a ban on their private possession; what is necessary is a damage limitation exercise.

      4.7  A perfectly workable definition of an imitation firearm is contained in the 1968 Firearms Act. This would include the easily convertible Brocock air pistol and any other gun that looks like a lethal weapon but is not registerable. The courts are well able to judge whether something is an imitation as defined in the 1968 Act and no further definition is necessary. GCN's lawyers have drawn up simple legislation to ban the sale, import and manufacture of imitation guns and their possession in a public place. (see Appendix 2)

    5.  GUNS AND CHILDREN

    GCN proposes a minimum age limit of 18 for ownership, possession and use of guns of all kinds.

      5.1  Children who are introduced to firearms at an early age are more likely than others to become committed firearms owners and users in later life. From a public safety perspective, however, it is clearly desirable to reduce the overall numbers of firearms owners and the number of firearms in private hands. This objective in itself argues for the creation of an age limit, keeping children away from guns until they reach the age of majority.

      5.2  The argument that introducing children to the use of firearms is a contribution to public safety—either on grounds on self-defence or on grounds of training children in the responsible use of firearms—is specious, articulated only in the interests of legitimising the spread of firearms ownership in civil society.

      5.3  Independent research i.e. that which is not funded by shooting organisations consistently supports the direct link between gun availability and gun death. The most recent confirmation of this connection was an American study by the Harvard School of Public Health published in The Journal of Trauma in March 2002.

      5.4  The study showed that children living in the five states with the highest levels of gun ownership were 16 times more likely to die from accidental gun injury, seven times more likely to die from gun suicide and three times more likely to die from gun murder than children in the five states with the lowest levels of gun ownership.

      5.5  There is clear evidence internationally that the increased prevalence of firearms in private hands is in itself the most important factor in their increased use in violent crime, suicide and accident.

      5.6  As an organised society, we remain committed to the age of 18 as the age of majority, determining whether people can lawfully buy alcohol, vote or enter into a mortgage. It seems only consistent that a similar restriction should be applied to the purchase and use of highly dangerous weapons.

    12 May 2002

    1   Scotland on Sunday 28 April, 2002.

    2   Sugarmann, J. 1999. Every Handgun is Aimed at You. The New Press, New York. Back

    3   Scottish Executive. 2001. Statistical Bulletin-Criminal Justice Series-Recorded Crimes and Offences Involving Firearms, Scotland, 2000. Back

    4   Taylor and Hornsby 1999 Durham University, Replica firearms-a new frontier in the gun market.

     


    Annex 1

    DAILY RECORD

    1 May 2002

      The newspaper reported an incident in which a 17 year old pupil at Fettes College pulled an airgun from his bag and blasted a fellow pupil in the chest in front of other pupils after a playground feud. The shooting was not reported to the police. A school spokesman confirmed that an incident had taken place and that one pupil was suspended for two weeks.

    DAILY TELEGRAPH

    30 April

      When a group of 14 year old boys were firing a .22 air rifle at targets at the home of one of the boys on Teesside, the boy aimed at his friend Matthew Sheffield. A pellet lodged in Matthew's brain and he died the following day. The boy is on trial for manslaughter at Teesside Crown Court.

    SCOTSMAN

    15 April 2002

      Three football players were hit by pellets fired from an airgun during a match between Shotts Bon Accord and Blantyre Victoria at the Castle Park ground in Blantyre, South Lanarkshire. The police believe that the shots may have been fired from a wooded area close to the ground.

    TIMES

    5 January 2002

    A 14 year old girl was at risk of being shot by police as she waved a gun in the air outside an Edinburgh shopping mall in a late night incident. The weapon was a silver handled air pistol.

    JOURNAL (NEWCASTLE)

    30 November 2001

      Daniel Lumsden, 18, appeared before Gateshead Magistrates Court charged with the airgun shooting of 15-year-old Nicola Diston. The attack blinded Nicola in one eye.

    SCOTSMAN

    10 November 2001

      Nicholas Griffith, 19, was jailed for nine months after aiming a gun in the face of a government minister's secretary in Fulham, London. The weapon was a silver pellet gun.

    LENNOX HERALD

    25 October 2001

      A 15 year old appeared at Dumbarton Sheriff Court after he discharged an imitation gun at a householder whilst attempting to steal a motorbike in Alexandria, Dumbartonshire.

    RIPLEY & HEANOR NEWS

    20 September 2001

      15 year old Darren Harrison underwent emergency surgery on his stomach after being shot while walking on a public footpath. Surgeons were unable to remove the airgun pellet which wounded him. The police found evidence of target practice taking place on the path which runs between a wood and open fields.

    DERBY EVENING TELEGRAPH

    28 August 2001

      Two young swans have been left with serious head injuries after being shot.... An RSPCA Inspector said "Two people appear to have gone and deliberately used these swans as target practice with no regard to the suffering they must have gone through".

    GUARDIAN

    5 June 2001

      Ben Ellams, aged nine, from Widnes was shot in the head with an air pistol.


    Annex 2

    Proposed Legislation to Control the Possession, Sale, Manufacture and Import of Imitation Firearms

    1.  AIM

      The aim of this proposed legislation is:

    (i)  to prohibit the sale, manufacture and import, without lawful object or reasonable excuse, of things which look like real lethal firearms and which are currently subject to minimal restrictions; and

    (ii)  to prohibit the possession in a public place, without lawful object or reasonable excuse, of things which look like real lethal firearms, with the onus being on the defendant to prove lawful object or reasonable excuse.

      It is not the purpose of the proposed legislation to prohibit the sale, manufacture, import and possession in a public place of all toy guns, paintball guns, starting pistols, air weapons and soft air weapons unless they look like real lethal firearms.

    2.  DEFINITIONS

    (i)  Imitation Firearm

      "Imitation Firearm" is widely defined in section 57 of the 1968 Firearms Act as "any thing which has the appearance of being a firearm. . . whether or not it is capable of discharging any shot, bullet or other missile."

      This means that any object which looks like a lethal barrelled weapon is defined as an imitation firearm. The courts have the responsibility for deciding whether a particular object should be regarded as an "imitation firearm".

    (ii)  Lawful object or reasonable excuse

      This phrase or similar phrases are employed in similar legislation e.g. Prevention of Crime Act 1953, and section 17 and 19 of the 1968 Act itself. It is deliberately not defined although it has been the subject of case law (see Bryan v Mott 62 CAR 71 and R v Jones 1995 1 CAR 262.)

      There is no reason why it should be defined in respect of imitation firearms.

    (iii)  Specific exemptions

      The Firearms Act 1968 provides for the issue of police permits and also provides specific exemptions for certain categories of person and use (see sections 7-13). There is no objection in principle to those sections being extended by amendment to imitation firearms (although this may well be unnecessary as possession in these circumstances would manifestly fall within the statutory exception provided by "lawful object or reasonable excuse").

    (iv)  The "chair leg in a sack"

      The purpose of the amendment is to prohibit the sale, possession etc in itself and without any other criminal intent. In other words an object which is not an imitation firearm cannot become an imitation firearm simply by reason of it use. The "chair leg in a sack" remains precisely that and the appropriate criminal sanction is the Prevention of Crime Act 1953. This is the effect of all existing case law.

    3.  THE PROPOSED LEGISLATION

    Firearms (Amendment) Act 2001

      An Act to amend the Firearms Act 1968 to make further provision for regulating the possession of and transactions relating to firearms and ammunition.

      1.  Section 5 of the Firearms Act 1968 shall have effect with the following amendment:

      2.  After subsection (1A) there shall be inserted the following subsection:

    "(1B) A person commits an offence if, without lawful object or reasonable excuse or the permission of the Secretary of State, he has in his possession in any public place or purchases or acquires or imports into the United Kingdom or manufactures, sells or transfers any imitation firearm."

    10 April 2001


    Submission to the Home Affairs Committee, November 1999

    The Gun Control Network (GCN) proposals outlined in this document are predicated on the belief that the interests of public safety demand a reduction in the availability and attractiveness of firearms of all kinds.  There is no doubt that gun violence is directly related to the number of weapons in a society, both legal and illegal.  The distinction between legal and illegal weapons is not clear cut.  It should not be forgotten that virtually all guns start out as legal weapons, and that victims are unable to discriminate between a bullet fired from a legal or an illegal gun.  Policy must be based on the strict control of availability of all weapons.  What is needed is legislation and law enforcement.

    GCN recognises the existence of a significant, though minority, interest in shooting for sport, and our proposals are aimed at striking an appropriate balance between the sport-shooting interest and the overriding interest in public safety.  The social and economic consequences of gun violence in any society are hard to estimate in full, but they are real costs.

    1.  Minimum age limits

    • GCN proposes a minimum age limit of 18 for ownership, possession and use of guns of all kinds

    Children who are introduced to firearms at an early age are more likely than others to become committed firearms owners and users in later life. From a public safety perspective, however, it is clearly desirable to reduce the overall numbers of firearms owners and the number of firearms in private hands. This objective in itself argues for the use of an age limit, limiting firearms ownership by under 18 year olds. The argument that introducing children to the use of firearms is a contribution to public safety – either on grounds of self-defence or on grounds of training children in the responsible use of firearms – is specious, articulated only in the interests of legitimising the spread of firearms ownership in civil society. All the evidence suggests that the increased prevalence of firearms in private hands is in itself  the most important factor in their increased use in violent criminal incidents, in suicides or in other human tragedies.

    As an organised society, we remain committed to the age of 18 as the age of majority, determining whether people can lawfully buy alcohol, vote or enter into a mortgage. It seems only consistent that a similar restriction should be applied to the purchase and use of highly dangerous weapons.

    2.  Shotguns

    • GCN proposes that there should be a ban on pump action shotguns, that all other shotguns should be brought into the Section 1 licensing system and that more stringent storage requirements should be applied

    Pump action shotguns are extensively used in Combat Shooting (otherwise known as Practical Shooting).  These weapons are unacceptably dangerous, and these weapons and this activity should both be prohibited (see Appendix I).

    Recent Home Office reports suggest, in the aftermath of the recent Firearms Amendment Act, a nationwide increase in the numbers of shotguns in private ownership. The existing legislation in Britain allows citizens (including children) to use shotguns in clubs or on private property, without any requirement of licensing. Currently, shotguns are subject to a less rigorous system of control than rifles, even though, on some evidence, they are more frequently used in crime.

    Our argument is that shotguns in use for sporting or vocational purposes (for example, in clay pigeon shooting, the shooting of game or the control of vermin) should be securely stored close to the location of use, and that the Section 1 licensing system should be extended to cover their use, purchase and ownership. GCN would also argue that the extension of the licensing system should be underwritten by a prejudice against the licensing of ownership of shotguns outside of recognised rural locations. GCN does not consider it acceptable that any number of shotguns can be held on a single licence, and we would argue for the separate registration of every individual shotgun purchased for sporting and vocational purposes.

    3.  Other firearms

    In the months since the passage of the 1997 Firearms (Amendment) Acts, there have been repeated reports in the national and local press suggesting that gun enthusiasts have been responding to that legislation through the purchase of alternative weaponry that is every bit as lethal as the handguns they used to possess. Two of the critical examples are:

    (a)  Muzzle-loading weapons

    • GCN urges the retrospective prohibition of muzzle-loaders within the provisions of UK firearms legislation

    Muzzle-loading pistols were not included in the 1997 legislation, on the specific grounds that they require the individual loading of bullets. Subsequent reportage [1] has made clear that many varieties of muzzle-loader can be loaded with great speed, and also that they are capable of firing many shots in rapid succession. Muzzle-loading pistols produced in the United States are now being openly marketed in the United Kingdom, notably in the pages of the firearms magazines and gun shops. It is not at all clear that legislators in 1997 understood that the muzzle-loader pistol has this capacity or that, if they had known this, they would not have classified the muzzle-loader, for all practical and public safety purposes, as a handgun, and thereby subject to the nationwide ban.

    (b)  Short-barrelled rifles

    • GCN urges (a) systematic research into the provenance of carbine use in criminal and other incidents in this country and (b) retrospective inclusion of short-barrelled rifles within the provision of UK firearms legislation

    Press reports throughout the country have also suggested the increased use by gun enthusiasts, in the aftermath of their surrender of handguns, of short-barrelled rifles such as carbines.  Carbines are lever-action weapons which can fire bullets of identical power to handguns and can do so in rapid succession. In many cases, they are only marginally longer than the handguns which have been prohibited (16 inches as opposed to 12 inches), and they are therefore almost as easily concealed as handguns themselves. GCN is not aware of any vocational use for such weapons, but like pump-action shotguns they are extensively used in Combat Shooting.  Carbines were excluded from the recent handguns ban on the grounds of being categorised as rifles.

    4.  Airguns

    •  GCN would support (a) research into the actual prevalence of airgun incidents and (b) an extension of the existing licensing system to air weapons and a minimum age limit of 18 being placed on their use

    As reported in Appendix II there is significant public concern over the injuries caused to people who have been targeted by young people using air weapons.  Air weapons are frequently targeted against animals and cause significant damage to property.  It is unclear whether the reportage of these incidents is a result of any real increase in such incidents or whether it is a function of increased public sensitivity. What is clear, however, is that some of the injuries that have been caused in recent months have been serious (and have resulted in fatalities).

    The proliferation and use of these weapons is largely unchecked because no firearms certificate is required for the majority of airguns.  GCN notes that a firearms certificate is required for airguns of any power in Northern Ireland and that even in the Isle of Man, where the firearms laws are generally less stringent than those of Britain, a Regulated Weapon Certificate is required for low energy air pistols and air rifles.  The Republic of Ireland also requires a firearms certificate for all airguns.

    5.   Replica Weapons

    • GCN proposes that replica and imitation weapons which have no legitimate social purpose are prohibited as they are in the Netherlands

    Firearms are used not only to injure and kill, but on occasion also simply to intimidate and scare. For this purpose, of course, a replica or ‘look alike’ weapon is often as effective as an original. Scrutiny of the advertisements in firearms magazine press suggests that there is a significant market in the purchase of ‘look-alike weapons’, especially those of more intimidating and powerful appearance.

    In the Netherlands weapons such as these which have no legitimate social purpose are banned, and GCN would argue for similar legislation in the UK.  We understand that under the provision in the 1982 Act a certificate is needed for an imitation firearm where the article has the appearance of a firearm that requires a certificate.  This provision is clearly not being applied and we urge the committee to investigate this further.

    We are pleased that the last Government saw fit, in September 1994, to legislate for the creation of a new offence (‘carrying an imitation weapon with intent to cause fear’) carrying a sentence of up to ten years, but in our view this does not adequately address the problem.

     6.   De-activated and re-activated weapons

    •  GCN proposes that de-activated weapons should be brought within the licensing system

    It is currently perfectly legal for private citizens to have ownership of powerful weapons which have ostensibly been ‘de-activated’ before being sold into private collections (for example, of military enthusiasts). But different police forces in England and Wales have encountered a number of cases in the 1990s in which previously de-activated weapons – including Uzi machine guns – have been re-activated for use.[2] The Report of the Metropolitan Commissioner of Police for 1994 pointed to the significant increase in previously de-activated weapons being found in Britain, many of which appeared to emanate from Eastern Europe, but with re-activation occurring in Britain itself. In the same year, investigators working for the local press in Manchester found that they were able to purchase ostensibly de-activated (but actually fully-functional) Danish army machine guns in licensed gun shops in East Manchester for £60, and ascertained that similar weapons were available for a similar price in city centre stores.[3] Other reports suggest that there is a significant underground market nationally in re-activated weapons, particularly linked with fairs at which military regalia are offered for sale to enthusiasts.

    We are aware that the Home Office issued a set of guidelines with respect to effective de-activation of weapons, and then tightened these guidelines in 1995 (especially with respect to the technical question of what parts of a firearm must be removed or welded to ensure a final de-activation). It is not clear, however, that police licensing officers throughout the country have developed any strategy for policing the market in de-activated/re-activated weapons (for example, through surveillance of military fairs). Current information made available to GCN suggests that police practice is this area is essentially re-active, responding to cases only as they emerge.

    7.   Other Issues of Community and Personal Safety

     

    (a)     Safety Audits and Police Inspection

    • GCN calls for the public release of all existing Health and Safety Executive audits of safety in UK gun clubs and of relevant police inspection reports

    In the aftermath of the Firearms Amendment Act of 1997, there has been a reduction in the number of firearms clubs (and, indeed, of registered firearms owners). But there are still more than 2,000 such clubs in the country and a range of dangers and risks, in respect of safety of the club members themselves and of local communities, associated with their use. Many clubs (like army ranges) are located on land that may regularly be used by other sections of the public for other purposes (for example, for hiking, camping, mountaineering). Gun clubs are required under existing legislation to ensure that shooting takes place only at specified distances from the boundaries of their property and at specified distances from any public right of way. The practices of gun clubs are theoretically under the supervision of the Health and Safety Executive, but reports suggest that the capacity of the HSE to intervene in practices of the gun clubs is quite severely limited under current legislation. Police licensing officers were given the power, in the 1997 legislation, to inspect the premises of gun clubs to ensure that the firearms and ammunition stored in such clubs were retained ‘in secure conditions’. To our knowledge, there has been no public report of the inspections that were conducted during 1997-8.

    (b) Risk assessment in gun clubs

    • GCN would argue that the examination of a sample of firearms-clubs in the United Kingdom by qualified risk-assessment experts, in collaboration with the Health and Safety Executive, is an urgent challenge in respect of personal and community safety in the vicinity of firearms-clubs, and would urge consideration of a national risk-assessment programme at the earliest opportunity

    The identification and management of risk is one of the greatest challenges facing managers of public and private sector authorities of all kinds at the end of the twentieth century. There are quite obviously a range of risks associated with the continued presence of 2,000 gun clubs in urban and rural locations throughout Britain, but we are not aware of any systematic national analysis of these risks, or of any one set of guidelines for ‘best practice’ minimisation of such risks.

    (c) Risk assessment in the home

    ·       GCN proposes that there should be an exploratory study conducted by the Health and Safety Executive of the risks associated with the storage of shotguns and other legal weapons in private homes, resulting in a report released for public consumption.  

    Even more difficult a challenge for Health and Safety regulators and for police licensing officers is the supervision of the means used for storage of shotguns or other legally-owned weaponry in private homes. We are aware of the difficult issues involved here, notably in terms of the legal definition of ‘private space’ in the domestic home, but at the same time there can be no doubting the relevance of this issue in terms of the protection of families and kin of firearms-owners.

    8.   Firearms Consultative Committee

    • GCN proposes the abolition or radical reconstitution of the Firearms Consultative Committee

    The membership of the Firearms Consultative Committee does not adequately reflect the proper balance between the minority interests of the shooting fraternity and the majority interests in public safety.  If such a body is to continue, its composition must be radically altered so as to include input from public health and medical experts, victims groups, local community leaders and other interested parties.

    9.   International Perspective

    • GCN proposes the setting up of an inter-departmental Firearms Task Force to ensure that the UK’s commitment to non-proliferation of guns at home is reflected in its actions and policies abroad

    There are currently a number of international efforts to restrict the proliferation of guns throughout the world (see Appendix III).  The UK’s domestic gun laws are regarded in most countries as “the gold standard”.  However, we remain one of the main suppliers of weapons to other countries, particularly in the developing world.

    Since gun control cannot be regarded as a purely domestic issue it is vital to have an inter-departmental group to pursue all related aspects e.g. international co-operation on illegal trafficking, pursuance of international regulation, instruments and treaties, the use of development aid to remove weapons from post conflict situations and the establishment of clear restrictions on guns for export.  Such matters suggest the involvement of the Home Office, Foreign Office, Ministry for International Development and the Department of Trade and Industry.


     

    APPENDIX I

    COMBAT OR PRACTICAL SHOOTING WITH PUMP- ACTION SHOTGUNS

    Background

    The history of this ‘sport’ appears to begin in the 1930s with the advent of combat pistol courses for the FBI.  These courses departed from conventional bull's-eye shooting and sought to impart tactical skills and the realistic use of the handgun. They were intended to improve the combat capability of the military and security services and it was only in the 1950s that groups like the Bear Valley Gunslingers of California were established with the avowed purpose of introducing realism and variety into sporting pistol shooting.

    The International Practical Shooting Confederation (IPSC) was founded at the International Combat Pistol Conference held in Columbia in May 1976.  The word ‘Combat’ was dropped in recognition of the fact that even in the USA it was seen as politically incorrect and offensive.  However, nothing else changed and the IPSC is today arguably the world’s most popular method of training military, paramilitary, police and civilians to shoot fellow human beings in close quarters combat. It is working hard to attain Olympic recognition and is the fastest growing of all the shooting disciplines. The more respectable it is, the more difficult it becomes to ban the weapons involved.  In the USA it is seen as one of the strongest bulwarks against the banning of semi-automatic firearms and in the UK it offers the main legitimate opportunity to use pump action shotguns.

    On the sensitive question of targets, the IPSC is moving away from the traditional humanoid target towards a new ‘Classic’ target.  In response to criticisms from devotees of the old system, Nick Alexakos, President of the IPSC recently wrote

    “ A common misconception is that the proposed target is ‘ headless’.  Not so.  The Classic has all the same features as the current target.  It can ‘peek’ over or around walls.  It can be used in exactly the same manner as the current target ……”

    The case for a ban on combat or practical shooting

    1. There is understandable public revulsion to an activity which so clearly encourages participants to develop their killing skills in realistic situations and which may feed the fantasies of socially inadequate or unstable people.  Courses of fire or stages are designed to resemble the fantasy of the day  such as ‘ Save the Bank’ , ‘the Bodyguard’, House Clearance’, ‘Carjacked by Gang Members’ , 'Cartel House Raid’.

    2. As a weapon, the pump action shotgun is unacceptably dangerous.  It is associated in the public mind with violent crime and gang warfare. It serves no legitimate purpose in civil society.

    3. The fact that ‘practical’ shooting is the fastest growing shooting ‘sport’ internationally is in itself a cause for concern.  In post- conflict areas of the world where extensive proliferation of combat weapons threatens the stability of civil society, the presence of a regional branch of the IPSC can serve only to fuel violence and lawlessness. Other countries now look to the UK as a source of inspiration for its tight gun controls and we have a responsibility to lead the way by banning this sort of shooting.  In addition, we should do all we can to ensure that it never becomes an Olympic sport as it clearly contravenes the sporting ideals associated with the Olympic movement.


    APPENDIX II

    AIRGUNS

    Bald statistics can hide the real effects of the misuse of airguns.  To highlight the extent of the damage that airguns can cause to people, animals and property we have prepared a list of incidents derived from two sources, reports from one national newspaper during the last four years and information given by MPs during recent debates and committee sessions.  These represent only a fraction of the total number of incidents.  According to the most recent Home Office statistics (for 1997) there were a total of 7506 offences committed with air weapons in England and Wales (out of a total of 12,410 firearm offences).  In 96% of cases the weapon was fired.  However, there is a strong likelihood of under-reporting as incidents are notifiable offences only if the police become involved.

     

    Examples from The Daily Telegraph

    11 August 1995.  Girl shot dead playing cowboys and Indians.  Margaret McEwan, aged eight, killed by her 10-year-old cousin with a .22 BA Sportsman air rifle.

    11 April 1996.  Man fired at flat of noisy neighbour. Air rifle fired at neighbour’s flat, cracking windows

    17 September 1996.  Gardener who shot thrushes forfeits gun.  Pensioner shot wild birds, mistle thrushes, with air rifle

    8 November 1996.  Jail for pensioner who shot bathers.  A man shot at three swimmers, one of whom nearly died when he was hit in the chest.  An air rifle was used.

    18 December 1996.  Sex attacker snatched girl at gunpoint.  A teenage girl was snatched from the street when an airgun, which she thought to be an automatic pistol, was pointed at her by an 18-year-old student.

    17 January 1997.  Man jailed for shooting boy aged two.  Malcolm Edwards shot a two-year-old boy in the head, shoulder and left leg after using him as target practice for his air rifle.

    11 March 1997.  Gang targets girl, 13, who aided police.  Kimberley Blackband was threatened after reporting an air rifle attack on her school.  Two boys were cautioned after admitting the incident.

    12 April 1997.  Jail for airgun sniper who shot pedestrian.  Simon Tuohey used a replica of a military-issue self-loading rifle, equipped with a telescopic site, to fire at passers-by.  One was hit on the arm another in the buttocks.

    12 August 1997.  Boy, 2, loses eye in airgun shooting.  Jamie North was blinded in one eye after being shot at close range with an air rifle.  A 13-year-old boy and 18-year-old man were involved.

    7 August 1998.  Airgun boy cleared of intent over shot girl.  A 16-year-old teenager shot a 12-year-old girl, Jasmine Proverbs, in the head while showing off a new £195 rifle fitted with telescopic sights and silencer.  A bit of the pellet is still lodged in her brain.  He had also shot Jasmine’s brother in the leg the previous day.

    11 November 1998.  Air rifle attack on pupils.  Four children and a dinner lady were hit by pellets fired from an air rifle at a playground of a Primary School.  A 16-year-old was arrested.

    6 January 1999.  Teenager shot in ‘war game’.  Richard Bryant, 13, was critically injured when a pellet fired from an airgun lodged in his skull.  Four boys aged 11 to 14 were involved.  A 14-year-old was arrested.

    7 May 1999.  Mother gives evidence against son. Craig Smith, who was convicted of murdering 13-year-old Claire Hart, shot his victim in the side of the head with an air rifle before strangling her.

    31 July 1999.  Father’s anguish over donation of shot son’s organs.  George Atkinson, 13, was fatally wounded after being hit by an airgun pellet in the garden of his aunt’s house.

    Examples given by MPs

    Mr John Whittingdale (Colchester, South and Maldon).  Home Affairs.  28 October 1996.  A pupil at the Philip Morant School in Colchester was shot in the eye with an airgun while riding his bike.  The victim lost the sight of one eye.

    Mr Doug Henderson (Newcastle upon Tyne North).  Standing Committee E.  21 November 1996. A group of young school friends was attacked by a gang armed with air rifles near Stockton in April 1996.  Adam Martin, 16, was shot in the face and foot.

    A 65-year-old Aberdeenshire man died instantly after a pellet fired by a 17-year-old taking pot-shots with his new airgun hit him after he stepped into the line of fire.

    Mr Gordon Prentice (Pendle).  Standing Committee E.  21 November 1996.  A schoolboy needed hospital surgery after being shot by an airgun sniper as he was riding his bike.

    Residents on Leigh’s biggest housing estate have had enough of teenage troublemakers who use waste bins for airgun practice even though young children are playing there.

    A long-haired black cat reported in the St Helens Star to have been shot by airgun pellets twice in four months.

    A hand-tame goose was slaughtered by airgun-carrying hooligans and a mute swan used for target practice.

    Dr Nick Palmer (Broxtowe).  21 Jan 1998.  Reported that the Cat Protection League has estimated that every year 10,000 cats are killed or maimed.

    Mr Jeff Ennis (Barnsley, East and Mexborough). Air Guns (Safety).  23 June 1999.  Adam Yoxall, aged 10, was hit in the eye by an airgun pellet while playing in a local wood.  He lost the sight in his left eye.

    A twelve-year-old boy was left in agony after being shot in the back by a sniper.

    GCN supports Mr Ennis’s view expressed in the Air Guns (Safety) debate that ‘even one recorded airgun incident a year is one too many, and we should not be complacent’.

     


    APPENDIX III

    INTERNATIONAL EFFORTS TO RESTRICT THE PROLIFERATION OF SMALL ARMS

    The British Government prides itself in having implemented some of the most stringent domestic firearms laws in the world, yet the UK continues to make a significant contribution to the excessive pool of small arms throughout the rest of the world.  We can take little pride in these double standards.  On the one hand we rightly limit gun availability in our own country while on the other hand the UK continues to provide a supply of guns to other nations.

    The majority of those killed and injured by small arms are civilians.  GCN urges the Home Affairs Committee to use its influence to urge the Government to give its strongest possible support to the current moves to restrict the proliferation of small arms throughout the world.

    UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan recently addressed the Security Council saying:

    Small arms and light weapons are primary tools of violence in many conflicts taking place in the world.  The proliferation of small arms, ammunition and explosives has also aggravated the violence associated with terrorism and organized crime.  Even in societies not beset by civil war, the easy availability of small arms has in many cases contributed to violence and political instability.

    The arms trade features at the top of the agenda of the United Nations Security Council, yet the five permanent members, including the UK, are alone responsible for more than 80% of the world’s arms trade.  British companies, including for example British Aerospace, avoid export controls by making guns under licence in other countries.

    According to Oxfam Britain exported small arms to more than 100 countries between 1995 and 1997.  Small arms export licences have been granted for Columbia, Cambodia, the Congo and Turkey amongst others.  British-based companies broker small arms transfers to conflict zones such as Rwanda and Sierra Leone.

    GCN has been involved in discussions on the proliferation on small arms at the United Nations Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice.  We were pleased that the UK government gave its support to the resolution on ‘Measures to regulate firearms for the purpose of combating illicit trafficking in firearms’.  However, we wish the government to go further than this and actively encourage a reduction in small arms sales involving this country.

    In May 1999 the international NGO community, identifying the proliferation of small arms as a serious humanitarian challenge, launched a campaign under the banner of the International Action Network on Small Arms (IANSA).  It was created to facilitate international NGO action that is fundamentally aimed at enhancing the security of populations by preventing the proliferation and misuse of small arms.  However, IANSA and its constituent NGOs, cannot achieve this without the support of governments.  GCN hopes that Britain will be able to show the same kind of lead to the world as it has on domestic gun control by taking prompt action to reduce the danger of guns to those who live outside our shores.

     


    1]  For example, on the Channel Four programme in its Undercover Britain series, 1998.

    [2]  Cf. for example, the Uzi machine gun used in a variety of robberies in Greater Manchester in 1994, which had been reportedly purchased in a night-club in Stretford, Manchester for £1,000 (Sale and Altrincham Express and Advertiser 26 May 1994).

    [3]  Manchester Evening News 25 March 1994.