The Law Commission is recommending that Theresa May be allowed to define component parts of firearms subject to legal controls and list antique firearms by decree, in a report published today.
UPDATE: This article was written on the basis of the Law Commission’s press release and not the full report – which UK Shooting News now has a copy of. The proposal is for the Home Secretary to amend lists by decree but for her decree to be put before Parliament for the approval of both houses – this latter part not being included in the press release. While not perfect, this is better than Theresa May simply deciding to rewrite the law one day without anyone being able to stop her.
One “problem”, tackled by the Law Commission at the behest of the police, is the “increased availability of the tools that can be used to convert imitation firearms into live firearms.”
The commission argues that the law should respond to the “ready availability”, particularly over the internet, of the tools necessary to convert weapons, a point which was strongly made by police lobbyists in the runup to the review. The commission thus recommends the “introduction of a new offence of possessing an article with the intention of using it unlawfully to convert an imitation firearm into a live one.”
UK Shooting News believes this means law-abiding shooters in possession of a well-equipped home workshop along with replica, deactivated or even blank-firing firearms – such as gundog training equipment – may face increased suspicion and ill-treatment at the hands of overzealous or malicious law enforcement agencies. The exact wording of the proposal is unknown at the time of writing but it may also affect the safe trade of custom chamber reamers and barrel blanks.
Existing firearms law as a whole is “confused, unclear and difficult to apply,” said the Commission in a press release. There are over 30 pieces of overlapping primary legislation while some of the key terminology – such as “lethal”, “component part” and “antique” – is not clearly defined, and the law has fallen out of step with developments in technology.
“Following extensive public consultation with police and prosecutors, in addition to groups representing the licensed firearms community, the Commission makes three recommendations in its report,” continued the press release. These, in the Law Commission’s own words, are:
- There should be a single, simple test to determine whether a weapon is lethal, based upon the kinetic energy at which it discharges a projectile. Weapons firing above the threshold would be deemed to be lethal and subject to the provisions in the Firearms Act 1968. To avoid placing a disproportionate burden upon a successful industry, the threshold for those imitation firearms used by airsoft players would be set slightly higher. The new threshold set for lethality would not change the existing law on whether a firearm is licensed.
- What constitutes a “component part” of a firearm should be set out in a statutory list. To ensure the law keeps pace with technology, the Secretary of State should be given the power to update the list. Such updates should be subject to the affirmative resolution procedure, to ensure adequate scrutiny of any additions takes place.
- Whether a firearm is antique should be determined by whether it uses an obsolete cartridge type or firing mechanism. These would be contained on a statutory list capable of being amended. Only those old firearms that no longer pose a realistic danger to the public should be on the list.
The Law Commission also makes a number of recommendations that seek to “ensure the law reflects technological developments”. Respondents to the commission’s scoping exercise earlier this year apparently agreed with it when it stated that the Home Office standards for deactivating firearms should be made mandatory.
To be classified as a deactivated firearm, therefore, a weapon should be deactivated to an approved standard and no other, which UK Shooting News believes means the proof house deactivation standard will become mandatory with all other deactivations, particularly ones carried out before formal technical standards were issued, being outlawed.
Whether this means that pre-1995 deactivations will continue to be legal is unknown at the time of writing.
Professor David Ormerod QC, Law Commissioner for criminal law, said:
“The failures in the existing law are causing considerable difficulties for investigators and prosecutors, as well as the licensed firearms community. The responses we received to our consultation confirmed that these problems are not merely theoretical, but cause difficulties in practice. The purpose of our recommendations for reform is to provide immediate solutions to the most pressing problems in firearms law, bringing clarity for those who own and use firearms, and those who investigate and prosecute their misuse.”
He added: “We remain of the view that the entire legislative landscape requires fundamental reform and should be codified. In fact, there was overwhelming support for such an exercise and consultees have left us in no doubt that the current law is in need of an overhaul.”
With the Prime Minister openly backing the EU’s demand to ban semi-automatic firearms, it is likely any future Firearms Act will include further bans and restrictions on law-abiding and peaceful sportsmen.
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