UK Shooting News’ author likes to keep up to date with the law. After all, it is the criminal law which regulates in such minute detail how we conduct our peaceful hobby, and where other pastimes are regulated by their sporting bodies, our conduct is regulated by disapproving police employees, ignorant juries, uninterested judges – and the threat of criminal sanction and years in prison.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise, then, that the act of learning to shoot in Great Britain and Northern Ireland is a criminal offence carrying no less than life imprisonment.
You’re off your rocker, you tell me, dear reader. Come on, you’ve completely lost it this time, haven’t you?
I haven’t. From section 54 of the Terrorism Act 2000, I give you this:
The Criminal Justice and Courts Act 2015 raised the maximum sentence in sub-section (6)(a) to life imprisonment. That amendment is not shown on the screenshot above.
So what, you say? Clearly us lawful shooters aren’t involved in terrorism else we’d all have been shut down overnight.
It matters because the language used here creates a presumption of guilt for anyone giving or receiving any training in firearms use and means we have to prove we are innocent, rather than prosecutors having to show we are guilty. Normally, in English law, the burden of proof lies with the prosecution. If you’re alleged to have committed a crime the prosecution must do all the legwork and prove to a jury that you are guilty. You do not have to justify yourself because you’re presumed to be innocent; if the prosecution case isn’t good enough, you walk free. Where there is a presumption of guilt, as with the section above, you’re in jeopardy unless you can prove otherwise.
In practice this means you – yes, you – could be arrested, imprisoned on remand and then be forced to pay four or five figures in legal fees and costs simply to justify your lawful hobby. The power exists for the police and the Crown Prosecution Service to do this if they feel like it.
Now is a good time to sound out your newly-elected MP and ask whether they support the continued lawful use of firearms for sport and recreation. You never know just when you’ll need their help.