Law Commission recommends total overhaul of firearms laws

The Law Commission’s scoping consultation paper into firearms law has been published – and it recommends that the law on firearms be completely re-codified, amid heavy lobbying from police pressure groups demanding new bans and restrictions on the lawful ownership of firearms.

Published today, the paper (available on the Law Commission website) examines the current state of firearms law in the UK and broadly concludes that it is “seriously flawed” and causes “significant difficulties in practice.”

Although the paper does not explicitly deal with firearms licensing issues or the law relating to rifle clubs, it touches on enough areas – including the law on lending section 2 shotguns – to make it of concern to the licensed firearms community, as well as opening the door to a no-holds barred review of all firearms law.

The issues examined included lethality, “readily convertible” imitations, antiques and component parts.

Got a lathe and a book on gunsmithing? You’re basically a criminal

Of greatest concern to the licensed firearms community will be the commission’s proposal to create a new criminal offence of “being in possession of articles with the intention of using them unlawfully to convert imitation firearms into live firearms.” This proposal to criminalise the mere possession of tools has the fingerprints of NABIS, the police’s National Ballistics Intelligence Service, all over it. NABIS is an organisation that is corporately hostile to the concept of private firearms ownership and has previously lobbied to create new criminal offences targeting the lawful possession of firearms, which efforts have been mostly ignored or watered down by the Home Office.

The NABIS proposals centre around the “ready availability” of tools needed to convert an imitation firearm into a live firearm. Citing the availability of tools such as lathes through the internet, the paper states that under its proposals, “there would only be liability if the imitation could be converted without the use of special skill.”

“The requisite intention would be capable of being proved if, for example, an individual was in possession of articles and instructions on how to convert imitation firearms into live firearms,” the report continued. UK Shooting News’ author, owner of an old American book on gunsmithing and a Black & Decker hand drill, is already packing his bag and preparing for police gunmen to smash up his home.

Bits, bobs and barrels

On the topic of component parts and licensing, the review was sensible and pragmatic, recommending that a statutory definition be drawn up to cover:

  1. The barrel, chamber, cylinder
  2. Frame, body or receivers upper and lower where present in the complete
    firearm
  3. Breech, block, bolt or other mechanism for containing the charge at the
    rear of the chamber

However, the paper did recommend that a “gotcha” clause be introduced into any new law criminalising possession of “component parts that are still capable of fulfilling their intended function” as well as allowing the Home Secretary to expand the definition by decree. Items such as springs and pins would not be criminalised under such a new law, insisted the paper’s authors – though component parts of shotguns would be explicitly drawn into a new system.

Ban all antiques? Almost

NABIS has long been lobbying for the possession of antique firearms to become a criminal offence. In keeping with that political campaign, it has made what appears to be a mostly unopposed submission recommending that a firm definition of an antique firearm be made and fresh criminal offences introduced as a result, while deploring how jury trials occasionally reach verdicts which do not serve NABIS’ aims of securing a ban on antique firearms. Of particular interest was the statement that:

…the use of an obsolete calibre gun was indicated in thirty-one shooting incidents that occurred between 1st January 2011 and 31st December 2014. This included three fatal shooting incidents. An additional eight incidents were likely to have involved the discharge of an ‘old’ firearm such as a Webley Service revolver or a M1895 Russian Nagant revolver,
including one fatal shooting incident.

This is a rare insight into what we are constantly told by NABIS’ PR efforts is the big problem of abuse of antique firearms by criminals. While no system can eliminate misuse of lawful objects completely, a rate of misuse of 10 per year is hardly “rivers of blood” territory.

Of concern will be the police recommendation that antiques dealers be compelled to establish a register of transactions for antique firearms, effectively introducing licensing through the back door, as spotted by UKSN earlier this week from the Home Office. This appears to be the latest idea from NABIS’ lobbyists, and is gaining traction through a lack of effective opposition.

The paper asks whether antiques should be defined in law by functionality, a statutory obsolete calibre list, or some other method.

Airguns and lethality

Lethality was said to be of concern mainly because nobody can agree what the threshold is. While a child’s toy BB gun is clearly not a lethal weapon to humans, a misused 12ft/lb air rifle obviously is; the question is precisely where to draw the line. The commission recommended a muzzle energy of 1 joule, or roughly ¾ ft/lb. It did, however, note that various bodies including the police thought the limit should be set somewhere between 1.3J and 2.5J.

Shotguns and possession

The paper also looks at shotgun laws, chiefly how utterly confusing the rules are around who is allowed to possess and borrow a shotgun from a landowner and how the archaic legal language confuses everyone. Noting the “lack of an urgent public safety hazard”, the paper recommends harmonising the law on lending shotguns with section 16 of the Firearms (Amendment) Act 1988, the “estate rifle” provision. UKSN’s author is uncertain but believes this might actually amount to an increased restriction.

Burn it all and start over

The paper also opened the door to a full review of all firearms laws, which UKSN interprets as meaning it is open to ideas on reform of the licensing system. As previously reported on here, the HMIC review into the licensing system is now due to be published in September, meaning the time is ripe for individuals and organisations to start brainstorming.

The paper was insistent that “codification” would be the aim of a new Firearms Act. The OED defines that as meaning “arrange according to a plan or system”, while the paper spoke repeatedly of how the law is “structured” (their italics). Perhaps worryingly, the commission praised the Australian approach to firearms legislation, while grudgingly allowing that the Canadian system also has positive points from the lawyer’s point of view.

Who’s to blame for all this?

Home Secretary Theresa May commissioned the report, which drew heavily on the old Firearms Consultative Committee’s recommendations. The latter body last met under the 2000s-era Labour government.

The paper’s authors looked at a number of issues raised by “stakeholders” in its initial consultation. Those stakeholders included: Chief Constable Andy Marsh of Hampshire Police, the Continuity ACPO head of firearms licensing; NABIS; the National Crime Agency; BASC; the Historic Breech-loading Small Arms Association (HBSA); and the British Shooting Sports Council, amongst many others. Two individuals from the self-styled Gun Control Network, Gill Marshall-Andrews and Peter Squires, were also revealed to have contributed to the report.

“The British Shooting Sports Council supports any endeavour which seeks to simplify and modernise firearms legislation, to make it more proportionate and easier for shooters, the police and the courts to understand, whilst maintaining its effectiveness,” said a canned statement from the BSSC.

What can I do?

The Law Commission paper sets out a number of further consultation questions, which are set out together in chapter 9 of the paper. UKSN urges interested individuals to write sensible answers to those questions and to send them in; your scribe will be putting together a considered response over summer. The deadline for submissions is 21 September 2015.

Perhaps a useful discussion on the future could be started in the comments below? After all, many well-informed members of the licensed firearms community read UKSN.

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15 thoughts on “Law Commission recommends total overhaul of firearms laws

  1. Colin jenkins

    we can use this as an opportunity to add common sense into the licensing and club restrictions on Long Barrelled Pistols and Revolvers as well as Multi-shot shotguns removing their “extra” classification and leaving them as just section 1 firearms, no special “mustn’t touch” conditions – if only on the basis of teaching safe handling as encompassed in the Home Office guidance on club certification – how can you possibly teach a new shooter with his .44 mag revolver safe handling and shooting if you can’t touch their gun or teach them Properly with a club .22 revolver or pistol first?

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  2. Philip upton

    Im all for an overhaul of the whole thing with a common sense approach. But by all, I mean all. Not just current lawful firearms. Wipe the slate. Liase with owners and recognised bodies from both sides and develope a new rule book. This will potentially release currently banned firearms back into enthusiasts hands and allow cohesion between the legislators and owners with a common aim. I take offence to being labelled by the antis who dont bother to research because they are (clearly) pandering to a higher authority who wants more restrictions. Its time to sort this out and turn the page. Stop targetting lawful owners and making the link to criminal use. There simply isnt one.

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  3. Rob

    Or go for the Swedish model. Thd shooter is licensed, not the gun(s). You must have a serial numbered, approved gun cabinet, inspected by police before licence grant; a good reason (hunting/target shooting), and you are placed on a higher responsibility plane. Get caught drink driving or losinv your temper in public and say bye bye. The upside is you czn buy what you want and as much as you need for your good teason activities. No bureaucracy and cheap to run locally.

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  4. Nick julian

    I think our current firearms legislation is fit for purpose.
    more time should be spent working out how to curb the illegally held firearms problem.

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  5. Ben

    I’m all for a revamp. My bugbear is unsafe handling of firearms. If you want to drive a car you have to be taught to do it safely so that you don’t hurt yourself or others. Firearms safety isn’t difficult, there are only 4 rules after all……

    I also like the Swedish model that Rob highlights, although I can’t see current legislation getting less restrictive.

    What does need to be publicly recognised is that restrictions on the lawful ownership of firearms has absolutely no correlation to the use of firearms by criminals. Current provision for the security of firearms is more than ample to prevent legally held firearms getting into the wrong hands.

    I would like to see a return of the .22 pistol. The recent response from the Government to a petition was to state that they make allowances for National level competitors to train in the UK is all well and good, but who will replace them when they retire from competition if nobody can access .22 pistols at a base level to join the sport and do enough practice to shoot competitively?

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  6. Steve Page

    Why are they obsessing over legally-held firearms and not the plethora of illegal guns held by criminals? I do so wish busybodies would stop conflating law-abiding decent folk with criminals.

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  7. Steven Wolf

    I think that a much simpler system would be is to certify the shooter and not the firearm. Most of the proposals are aimed at tightening firearms legislation in Uk not arriving at some legislation which is mutually benefiting law abiding gun owners while making sure that people who are criminals shouldn’t have firearms.

    The first proposal is a blatant attempt at trying to establish a lethality of air guns over 1 joule with the aim of certifying them as a firearm like in Scotland.

    The second proposal to do with component parts is very good on the face of it but also wants to include a system where any part of a firearm for which the firearm cannot operate without will be considered crucial component. The GSG 5 22LR rifle has a safety system whereas the magazine must be inserted for the rifle to fire, so by this new criteria a plastic magazine will be considered a “crucial firearms component”.

    The third proposals dealing with antique firearms is as some people said a back door way to certify the possession of these firearms since card transactions will have to be made and face to face transactions and no cash just like the Scrap Metal Dealers Act.

    Get writing people to the Law Commission and tell them where their proposals are wrong.

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  8. Liam

    I’d like to see a similar document produced by the NRA/BASC etc in response to the law commission. Detailing a logical, sensible, fair and affordable way forward for legal firearm ownership. With clear facts and figures, honestly presented. This can then be presented to every MP, police force other relevant parties for scrutiny.

    I feel if the shooting community can present something that offers the police with a system that is affordable without compromising on safety then at least we could be driving the discussion instead of being dragged along and just having to settle for what ever the outcomes maybe.

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  9. Russell

    Yes I fully agree there should be a overhaul of the firearms licensing system in the UK.

    1) the police should not be the ones deciding if a person can have a firearms licence. It should be the job of a court of law. The F.L.O should be a member of the court not a police officer.
    2) The focus should be changed. You should not have to ask permission to own a firearm. Like a child asking his teacher if he can go to the toilet. Instead you should go to the court and announce your intent to exercise you right to own a firearm. And record you understand the rights and responsibilities of owning a firearm. The court should then look at your criminal record and medical history. To see if your a danger to your self or others.
    3) The F.L.O now an officer of the court should inspect your property and that you have safe means of storing firearms and ammunition. Once the legal requirement have been satisfied you get your firearms licence.
    4) Any firearm you own will remain you property. And that your only legal obligation is to renew for the courts records every 5 years. And keep the storage up to requirements.
    5) If you become unsuitable in the eyes of the court to own a firearm whether by criminal act or mental illness or defect. The firearms remain your legal property. And the ultimate dissition to there fate belong to you. To be sold at a price you are happy with, passed to next of kin or other permitted individual of your choosing. If no agreement is reached they are stored and maintained indefanatly. At no cost to you the owner. And any damage to the property you are compensated For.
    6) Upon death any firearm owned is part of you estate. And the proses of section 5 above is followed.
    7) That a person my allow there shooting activity’s to go dormant for any length of time. Even giving up shooting sports. The owner of such firearms. Is not required to get rid of there guns. As long as they remain safely stored. And certificates keeped up to date In such cases the ability to buy and store ammo is suspended.
    8) In situations were a person has become a danger to them selves or others then the police may impound any firearm owned by the individual. (taking care to not damage the property). And impound the persons firearms certificate. Pending a legal hearing. If found against. Section 5 above is followed.

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  10. twobells

    You know hat this is about? Plod has made clear their fears that Islamic fundamentalists are getting their hands of legally held firearms so once again the law abiding British shooter has been saddled with THEIR unacceptable behaviour irrespective of the fact that we couldn’t BE more law abiding. Dreadful, dreadful, dreadful. When will we make it clear that we are not going to be constantly discriminated against in this way any longer?

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  11. Robert Sandison

    The police and the politicians obviously want to ban private ownership of ANY type of gun .So why don’t they do it instead of this death by a thousand cuts..?

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  12. Robert Sandison

    On antique guns they say 31 were misused over the course of 3 years .Who decided they were antique guns the police ?.Surely that would be for a court to decide ..They also state 3 shootings incidents which proved fatal ..Accidents ? suicides ? or murder ?

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  13. david john stathers

    do not automatically assume every person who shows an interest in fire arms/ air guns does so with criminal intent too many of our antiquated laws seem to try to criminalise at every turn I would like to see the system made a whole lot simpler to obtain licenses /certificates but also the punishment’s for misuse of a potential weapon much more severe ,the police should be involved throughout as they will have the knowledge of potential misusers / criminals the guns are not the problem the reason for misuse is !! why should lawful owners keep being persecuted and having our sport/hobby bogged down with red tape or constricted to extinction and another piece of our freedom removed.

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  14. John Pate

    It’s tautological – we don’t know to define antique guns but there’s a problem with antique guns being misused by criminals so we must define antique guns. Balls.

    Here’s what I sent …

    This consultation is all about carrying on with the existing status quo, merely regularising the law to simplify enforcement. As such it is totally unfit for purpose. It fails to address key issues that should be addressed as a matter of urgency:

    * The natural right to self defence. The Home Office made an arbitrary decision just after World War 2 that keeping and using a firearm for self defence was no longer “a good reason.” This is entirely unacceptable, particularly in the modern world with the increased threat of terrorism;

    * An individuals natural and property rights are held at the whim not of due legal process but by bureaucrats and functionaries. This is achieved by a combination of the vagueness and mutability of the “good reason” requirement and the arbitrary nature of conditions that may be imposed, often by people with no credible qualifications, on firearms ownership and use;

    * Restrictions on firearms types, components, and accessories are completely arbitrary and increasingly ridiculous in the face of developments in technology;

    * No credible cost benefit analysis of restrictions on firearms ownership and the exercise of rights to defence of property and self have been undertaken that could justify current or proposed laws;

    * Costs should not be borne by the individual for the unwarranted and arbitrary restrictions imposed and such fines and forfeitures before any conviction or judgment against the person should be recognised as illegal (this is a much wider problem with Statute Law).

    The most important thing to take away from my objections are that there must be no “good reason” requirement that is not properly defined in law and/or decided by due legal process before a jury of peers, taking into account individual circumstance, for otherwise is fundamentally unjust and abhorrent to common law. Such “good reason” requirements must recognise an individuals inalienable natural rights and recognise the universal principle that there must be equality for individuals before the law – for instance policemen have no more right to carry and use weapons of self defence than a private citizen does.

    I look forward to your reply and attempts from the Law Society to address these very real issues.

    Regards,

    John Pate
    Edinburgh, August 2015.

    To:

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