McKay Report 1972: Conclusions and recommendations

This post records the 1972 McKay Report’s 76 recommendations on tightening firearms laws. It is hand typed from the only public copy of the Report known to be in existence.


The report was started just two years after the 1968 Firearms Act consolidated existing firearms controls into one new law. Colin Greenwood recorded in his authoritative memorandum to Parliament on the history of British gun law that police officers were clandestinely carrying out background work on the report in 1969 even before its production was formally authorised in 1970.

The McKay Report, finalised in September 1972, is widely seen as having been written with a pre-conceived agenda of disarmament and the deliberate destruction of private firearms ownership in Great Britain in mind. It was commissioned by Home Secretary Reginald Maudling shortly after the Conservative Party regained control of the government in 1970 from Harold Wilson’s first Labour administration.

Given its timing and the political background, the McKay Report appears to have been written by disaffected senior police officers unhappy that they did not get their way when Wilson’s government legislated to pass new firearms controls in 1967; those controls became the Firearms Act 1968, which remains the main piece of firearms legislation in Britain today. Many of the recommendations below, drawn directly from the report, demanded tighter controls than Parliament saw fit to include.

Despite the range of sweeping changes, the report was generally kept quiet – though its conclusions will seem strikingly familiar to the modern reader, and it seems to have driven the police position on ever-greater firearms controls since its completion. It was never made publicly available until April 2015, following a Freedom of Information campaign by this blog’s author against the Home Office that lasted seven months. The Home Office acted improperly; they should have disclosed it within 30 working days of the original request in late 2014 as the law requires.

The list below is set out in exactly the same way as the report itself. The paragraph number in brackets refers to the main body of the report, each paragraph of which goes into greater detail about the reasoning for the recommendation.

UK Shooting News will be publishing separate commentary on the McKay Report and further extracts.

The McKay Report on the Control of Firearms’ recommendations

1. We are satisfied that the holding of firearms by private individuals does contribute to crime committed with firearms; and we concluded that a reduction in the number of firearms in private hands is therefore a desirable end in itself. (Paragraph 38)

2. Although we do not support the extreme view that section 1 firearms should be totally prohibited, the number of such firearms held in private hands should be kept to an absolute minimum. (Paragraph 44)

3. A certificate for a revolver or pistol should not be granted, save in exceptional circumstances of special need, unless the applicant has regular and legitimate oportunity of using the weapon for target practice, for example as a member of a pistol shooting club. The same considerations apply to certificates for rifles, where the applicant should be required to show that he intends to use it regularly for target practice as an active member of a rifle club; or for other sporting purposes, or for the destruction of vermin. (Paragraph 46)

4. No one should be permitted to possess a firearm for the protection of his house or person. (Paragraph 48)

5. We do not share the views of those who contend that the rise in crime involving firearms means that the present system of strict control has failed; that criminals have no difficulty in acquiring firearms; that legitimately held firearms are hardly ever used in crime; and that the enforcement of the control over law-abiding citizens is a waste of police time and an unnecessary encroachment on the freedom of the individual. (Paragraph 49)

6. The present definition of firearm contained in section 57(1) of the Firearms Act 1968 adequately encompasses the instruments which ought to come within the scope of firearm controls and does not extend to things which should be outside. (Paragraph 53)

7. Legislation should continue to provide that an antique kept as a curiosity or ornament should be exempt from the Act, subject to the proviso that on breech-loading firearm capable of firing, or designed to be capable of firing a self-contained metallic cartridge should be regarded as an antique firearm for the purposes of the Act. Replicas of firearms, including replicas of muzzle-loading weapons, should not benefit from the exemption; nor should antiques which are fired from time to time. (Paragraph 62)

8. On present information we do not think it is necessary to bring cartridge operated tools under the firearm certificate control. (Paragraph 62)

9. If some way could be found of banning the general sale or import of the new types of zinc alloy replica firearms, without interfering with the sale or import of children’s toys or starting pistols, we think that this would be desirable. (Paragraph 66)

10. The arrangements for collaborations and exchange of information between the forensic science laboratories on firearms matters should be examined by the Home Departments to ensure that they are adequate, but there is no justification for a separate new service to give technical advice to the police about firearms. (Paragraphs 70-71)

11. If shot guns were made subject to the full section 1 control there would in the short term be a significant reduction in the number of certificate holders, in the number of shot guns in private hands (which we regard as desirable in itself) and in the prevalence of the offence of armed trespass with shot guns. In the long term we believe that there would be a reduction in the number of shot guns held by unauthorised people, and that it would be more difficult for criminals to obtain shot guns for use in serious crime. We therefore recommend that shot guns should be placed on the same footing as rifles, pistols and revolvers, and made subject to the full section 1 control. (Paragraphs 99-100)

12. Shot guns should be subject to a requirement that they should be kept in a secure place when not in use. (Paragraph 101)

13. A shot gun certificate is not required for the possession of shot gun components; this anomaly needs to be removed. (Paragraph 102)

14. The sale as ornaments of rifles which have had their rifling removed is to be deplored and, whether or not shot guns are brought within the section 1 control, the law should make it clear that such rifles are to be treated as section 1 firearms. (Paragraph 103)

15. Sound moderators for shot guns should be brought under firearm certificate control. (Paragraph 104)

16. The firearm certificate procedure should not be applied to all air weapons. (Paragraph 113)

17. All pump=up type air weapons should be brought within the specially dangerous category. (Paragraph 117)

18. It should be made clear that ammunition with the propellant attached to the projectile and ignited by the heat of compressing air (which can be used in air weapons) should be made subject to the controls which apply to section 1 ammunition (ie ammunition for rifles, pistols and revolvers). (Paragraph 118)

19. Security and public order considerations make it preferable for the prohibited weapon control to continue to be operated by the Government. (Paragraph 127)

20. A self-loading rifle of the type which could be converted to fire continuously is a particularly dangerous weapon and there should be a provision in the firearms legislation permitting a chief officer of police to refuse a certificate for a weapon of this type solely on the ground that it is a weapon which in the interests of public safety ought not to be in private hands. In such cases the appeal should lie to the Secretary of State. (Paragraph 129)

21. It should be an offence for any person to buy or to possess shot gun ammunition, otherwise than by way of trade, unless that person is a holder of a certificate for a shot gun or is authorised by the holder of a certificate to buy or possess the ammunition on his behalf. (Paragraph 135)

22. Traders in shot gun ammunition should be required to obtain a special permit from the police. The police should be empowered to refuse the permit, if the arrangements for storing the ammunition are inadequate or if the applicant is unsuitable, and to attach conditions relating to security arrangements to the permit. This permit procedure should not apply to registered firearms dealers, although chief officers of police should be empowered to attach conditions relating to shot gun ammunition to dealers’ certificates of registration. (Paragraph 136)

23. A person wishing to acquire small-arm nitro-compound should be required to obtain police authorisation. (Paragraph 138)

24. There should be a provision to make it competent to aver in Scotland, in a charge of unlawful possession of a shot gun, that the person also has ammunition for use in it. (Paragraph 139)

25. We do not feel able to offer any support to the proposal to increase the period of time for which certificates are valid. (Paragraph 142)

26. Applicants for certificates should be required to disclose whether they have been subject to a probation order or an order for conditional discharge. (Paragraph 144)

27. The power to revoke a certificate, whether for a shot gun or any other firearm, should be extended so that a certificate might be revoked if the chief officer of police is satisfied that the holder is of intemperate habits or of unsound mind or is otherwise unfitted to be entrusted with a firearm, or if the holder no longer has a good reason for having in his possession the firearm or ammunition in respect of whcih he holds the certificate. (Paragraph 146)

28. It is desirable that chief officers of police should have power to attach additional conditions to certificates for shot guns. (Paragraph 127)

29. Chief officers of police should bear in mind that the imposition of a “territorial” conditino might be an unduly restrictive measure in certain cases. (Paragraph 150)

30. There should be a right of appeal against a chief officer’s refusal to vary the conditions attached to a firearm certificate and, if legislation results from our other recommendations, it would be appropriate for the opportunity to be taken of clarifying the law on this point. (Paragraph 152)

31. The fee for certificates should continue to be fixed at a level which will ensure that police costs are met. Experience may show that it costs less to issue a certificate limiting the holder to the possession of a single shot gun and, if our recommendation that the section 1 control should be applied to such weapons is accepted, consideration should therefore be given to charging a smaller fee for such a certificate. (Paragraph 158)

32. We do not recommend any change in the present avenue of appeal against decisions of chief officers of police. (Paragraph 163)

33. If our recommendations results in legislation, further consideration should be given to the wording of section 27(1) of the Firearms Act 1968. (Paragraph 164).

34. A detailed examination of police procedures and forms undertaken by organisation and methods and computer experts, in consultation with operational police officers, should be undertaken before the new controls which we have suggested are introduced. (Paragraph 169)

35. If it is shown that there are likely to be advantages in centralising the task of processing certificates, the Home Departments should pursue with chief officers of police the possibility o making suitable arrangements. In the meantime it would be as well to ensure that the law makes any necessary provisions for the adoption in the future of centralised certificate processing arrangements. (Paragraph 170)

36. The maintenance of a weapon index by each police force is a useful aid to police enquiries and these recorsd should be maintained. We hope that in due course the work could be undertaken nationally by the Police National Computer with its facilities for immediate access by all forces. (Paragraph 172)

37. Further consideration should be given to the introduction of an effective system of numbering weapons.(Paragraph 175)

38. Legislation should be introduced to enable the chief officer of police to refuse registration to a person who is not a full time firearms dealer or whose dealing in firearms is not a reasonable ancillary to his main business, or who wishes to trades from premises of a nature not considered satisfactory by the police. (Paragraph 185)

39. We do not recommend the adoption of the conclusion of the 1934 Departmental Committee that the fee for the registration of a firearm dealer should be used to restrict dealing in firearms. The cost of a dealer’s registration should, however, cover the cost to the police of issuing it. (Paragraph 188)

40. The law should be changed so that the chief officer of police should be able to issue, without charge, a temporary permit enabling a dealer to exhibit at shows, subject to such conditions as to security as the police may think it right to impose. (Paragraph 191)

41. Chief officers of police should be empowered to exempt individual dealers or manufacturers from the requirement to keep registers in the prescribed form. (Paragraph 195)

42. If the foregoing recommendation is accepted, further consideration should be given to the production of a standardised and simplified register of transactions. (Paragraph 197)

43. Dealers should be required to retain registers and supporting documents for a minimum period of five years after the last transaction. (Paragraph 199)

44. In general, separate registers should be kept for each place of business, and transfers of weapons between each place of business should be recorded. The chief officer of police should, however, have power to exempt individual dealers from this requirement.

45. The requirement to notify the appropriate chief officer of police of the transfer of a firearm should apply when the firearm is transferred by a private individual to a dealer. (Paragraph 201)

46. If our recommendations on the registration of dealers are not accepted, the requirement to notify transfers of firearms should apply, in addition, to transactions between dealers. (Paragraph 201)

47. We can see no purpose in dealers being required to register if they handle firearms only on paper and if the firearms never enter the United Kingdom at all, and we recommend that when a suitable opportunity occurs the legal position should be made clear. (Paragraph 202)

48. The present requirement for a dealer to see a certificate when a firearm is brought in for repair should be abolished and replaced by a requirement to see the certificate before handing the weapon back. (Paragraph 203)

49. We think that approval for a club should take the form of a firearm certificate issued to the responsible officer of the club by the chief officer of police for the area in which the club’s premises are situated or, if the club has no permanent premises, by the chief officer of police for the area in which the responsible officer of the club resides. (Paragraph 213)

50. Whether or not the foregoing recommendation is accepted, the police should regularly inspect rifle club premises to ensure that the security arrangements are adequate. (Paragraph 214)

51. Each private range should be inspected at least once every five years to ensure that it still qualifies for the grant of a range safety certificate. (Paragraph 218)

52. The exemption in section 11(4) of the Act should be replaced by one which has the effect of exempting only those miniature rifles chambered for cartridges no larger than those cartridges commonly known as .22 Long Rifle cartridges. (Paragraph 220)

53. A person carrying on a miniature rifle range or a shooting gallery should be required to have a firearm certificate from the chief officer of police for the area in whcih he normally resides before he can purchase or possess rifles. (Paragraph 221)

54. No new certificates should be granted in order to enable people to start collections of firearms or live ammunition, or to enable people to extend existing collections. (Paragraph 228-229)

55. We should be firmly opposed to the reduction of control which would result from the introduction of a “collector’s certificate” on the lines advocated by the Long Room Committee. (Paragraph 230)

56. Firearm certificates should not in general be granted to private museums of firearms. Where firearms are held in publicly owned museums, the police should insist on a high standard of security, and the weapon should be “de-activated” to the extent that this can be done without substantially reducing their interest and value. (Paragraph 231)

57. No new firearm certificates should be granted for trophies of war; but those who now possess trophies should be allowed to retain them, and their certificates should be renewed when necessary.

58. We can see no case for granting a certificate for a firearm which it is desired to possess as a souvenir or for sentimental reasons. (Paragraph 234)

59. The concession in section 14 of the Firearms Act 1968 (short term visitors’ exemption from the shot gun certificate requirement) should be abolished. (Paragraph 244)

60. The law should be amended to allow a special visitor’s permit to be issued in respect of a named individual resident abroad who proposes to visit this country temporarily; the application for such a permit would need to satisfy a number of requirements and would be made by a resident of the United Kingdom prepared to sponsor the visitor. This procedure would also be used where a visitor wished to buy a weapon while in this country. (Paragraph 245).

61. The restrictions on the possession of firearms by young persons should be revised. Our detailed recommendations include raising the minimum age3 at which a person may buy or hire any firearm to 18, raising the minimum age for the unsupervised use of an air weapon on private premises to 16, raising the minimum age for the unsupervised use of a shot gun to 18 in a public place and 16 in a private place, and prohibiting the possession of section 1 firearms by all persons under 18 except in special circumstances. (Paragraph 255)

62. As a corollary to new restrictions on the possession and use of firearms by young persons, the restrictions on the supply of firearms to young persons should also be similarly revised. (Paragraph 256)

63. If the proposals in the Criminal Justice Bill are implemented, the courts will have an appropriate range of penalties available to them for dealing with offences under the Firearms Act, with the exception of the offence under section 2(1). (Paragraph 259)

64. The offence of possessing a shot gun without a certificate (section 2(1) of the Firearms Act 1968) should be made triable on indictment, and the maximum penalty made identical with that under section 1(1). (Paragraph 260)

65. Attention is drawn to the representations received to the effect that the courts are not making adequate use of the penalties available to them and to the actual position as shown by the statistics. (Paragraphs 261-264)

66. Considerations should be given to the transfer of the import licensing of firearms and ammunition to the Home Departments. (Paragraph 269)

67. The Ministry of Defence ban instituted in 1967 on the sale of surplus small arms should continue. (Paragraph 273)

68. The Home Departments, in consultation with chief officers of police, should devise a suitable condition to be applied to dealers’ certificates to require firearms to be transported in conditions of adequate security. (Paragraph 277)

69. The conditions on dealers’ certificates suggested in the foregoing recommendations should be extended to cover firearms and ammunition stored in warehouses. (Paragraph 278)

70. To assist crime prevention officers in making recommendations about the security of premises where quantities of firearms and ammunition are stored, the Crime Prevention Centre at Stafford should be asked to prepare a set of general principles and guide lines applicable specifically to such premises. (Paragraph 279)

71. We do not consider that an effective scheme of compulsory third party insurance for firearms would be practical. (Paragraph 284)

72. If our recommendations for the introduction of legislation to increase the control on firearms are accepted, a firearms amnesty should be held immediately before the implementation of the new legislation. Unless exceptional circumstances arise, no further amnesty should be held for a good number of years. (Paragraph 291)

73. It would not be helpful to introduce an arrangement under which a person could dispose of an illegally held firearm to a dealer without giving his name and address. (Paragraph 294)

74. Any antique weapon which is surrendered to the police should normally be offered back to its owner, with a suggestion that the owner should dispose of it through the trade or to a museum. (Paragraph 295)

75. Methods of disposal or surrendered firearms should be effective in ensuring that the weapons really are destroyed or put our [sic] of circulation. (Paragraph 297)

76. The prohibition under section 21(2) of the Firearms Act 1968 should apply in some form to a person given a suspended sentence of imprisonment. (Paragraph 307)

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