Breaking: Policing and Crime Bill will criminalise possession of common tools

Home Secretary Theresa May introduced the government’s new Policing and Crime Bill to Parliament this afternoon. In its draft state the bill will make it a criminal offence to possess tools that could convert imitation firearms into real guns, without defining exactly what those tools might be.

The bill, which is available on the Parliament website, gives effect to a handful of the Law Commission’s recent recommendations through its Part 6.

It amends the Firearms Act 1968 in a number of key areas, including a tweak to the legal definition of ‘firearm’, defining ‘component part’, introducing an exemption from firearms law for airsoft guns, defining ‘antique firearm’ in law for the first time, and putting the Home Office Guidance onto a statutory footing.

Shooters will be horrified to learn that warnings about criminalising the possession of tools were ignored by the government. The key part of the draft bill says a criminal offence will be committed if:

(a) the person has in his or her possession or under his or her control an article that is capable of being used (whether by itself or with other articles) to convert an imitation firearm into a firearm, and
(b) the person intends to use the article (whether by itself or with other articles) to convert an imitation firearm into a firearm.

Including “with other articles” is particularly dangerous. You don’t even need to own (say) a complete chamber reamer, just the tool for making one. Better get rid of your Dremel tout suite.

Many sporting shooters own imitation firearms (i.e. deactivated firearms) as well as owning collections of common tools. It is feared that overzealous police forces will use this provision as a ‘gotcha’ charter to legitimise their harassment of otherwise law-abiding sportsmen and hunters.

The proposed offence will carry a one year jail sentence and/or a fine if heard before magistrates, or up to 5 years in prison and/or a fine if heard before a Crown court.

(an earlier version of this story incorrectly said this could not be heard before a jury, i.e. was a summary-only offence. UKSN is happy to make clear it is an either-way offence)

Component parts defined

Component parts will be defined in law for the first time. These will be: the barrel, chamber or cylinder; frame, body or receiver; and the breech block, bolt or other mechanism for containing the pressure of discharge at the rear of the chamber.

The definition will only apply where these items are capable of being used as part of a firearm, so will not capture partially-machined items. It does not go into detail, thus leaving open the question of the precise point that a metal tube becomes a barrel.

The Home Secretary will be given the power to amend this list of component parts by arbitrary decree, though as an afterthought to democracy her decree must be approved on the nod (through a simple resolution) by the Lords and Commons before becoming law.

Airsoft exception is a dog’s dinner

The proposed exemption for airsoft toys, as almost unanimously recommended by respondents to the Law Commission’s consultation, will fail if introduced into law in its current state. As drafted, it states that an airsoft gun will be “a barrelled weapon from which only a small plastic missile… can be discharged”.

Airsoft gun barrels are plain metal tubes threaded on the exterior for screwing into the receiver, and/or held in place with a grub screw. Like any other 6mm diameter pipe, any object can be propelled down one provided it is of the right size – meaning the exception is worthless.

The definition also restricts airsoft guns by law to being of 6mm calibre.

Antique firearms – certificates will be issued to cover future outlawed guns

Antiques will be defined in law through the antique chambering list, which will be placed on a legal footing, or if their “ignition system” is of a specified type. The Home Secretary can, once again, change these vital details by arbitrary decree.

Collectors will be pleased to know, however, that if a particular type of antique is outlawed by a politician’s arbitrary decree then a firearm certificate must be issued, with no good reason needing to be shown (as it must be shown for live firearms used for target shooting, for example). Moreover, section 5 will not apply to any antiques outlawed in this way provided the owner applies for a firearm or shotgun certificate to cover it.

In plain English this means if you own an antique pistol which is outlawed because Theresa May feels like it, you are entitled to have an FAC issued to you. However, you will still have to pay for it.

Club approval fees will be hiked in future – and good luck if you’re in Scotland

Various “national authorities” will be allowed to set fees for rifle clubs seeking approval under section 15(1) of the Firearms (Amendment) Act 1988 – or Home Office Approval, as non-lawyers call it. While the level of fees will be approved by the Home Secretary, this will apply to renewals of approval as well as grants.

While the current £84 fee can already be increased by governmental order, it is not entirely clear why Theresa May wants to repeal that and replace it with a regional postcode lottery – unless her intention was to allow Scotland’s notoriously anti-shooting National Socialist government to drive rifle clubs out of existence by hiking fees to an unsustainable level.

Home Office Guidance placed on statutory footing – and police get to say ‘I am the law’

The Home Office Guidance on Firearms Law will be placed under a trifling amount of legal control. While it will continue to be issued in the Home Office’s name, police employees must now “have regard” to what it says.

Keen-eyed readers will realise this means the police are not obliged to obey what the guidance says about the issue and revocation of FACs and SGCs, merely “have regard”. Whatever that means.

Continuity ACPO – the National Police Chiefs’ Council, which is the old top cops’ trade union under a new name – must be consulted by law before the guidance is changed in future. There is no provision for shooting bodies to be consulted, nor is there any mechanism for notifying the licensed firearms community of changes to the guidance, or publicising them in any way. Sweeping changes can be brought in overnight without any input from the people governed by them.

 

Conclusion: a dog’s dinner of amendments that will not tackle the criminal misuse of licensed firearms

Given that the Law Commission’s brief was to only tackle the law regarding criminal misuse of firearms, a lot of Part 6 seems targeted squarely at the law-abiding users of firearms. Antique firearm owners will have to apply for certificates as more and more antiques are slowly outlawed by ministerial decree. The Home Office Guidance can be rewritten at will by police and civil servants, just as before, but now it has the power of law behind it. The Scottish administration can harm the sport of shooting by forcing clubs to pay ever-increasing fees for approval to operate.

The possession of common tools will become a criminal act. You, the vetted and law-abiding sportsman, will have to formulate a legal defence for owning a set of tools and going about your everyday life. You can no longer assume that you are presumed innocent in the eyes of the law.

Even airsofters will see their harmless hobby continue being damaged by gun laws, as the working definition of an airsoft gun in the ‘exemption’ is effectively meaningless.

Meanwhile, criminals continue to illegally import weapons that were long ago banned in Britain and commit violent crimes with them. But why risk tackling the real problem when you can be seen to do something about ‘guns’ as a whole?

Postscript

UKSN’s author suggested the automatic issue of FACs to cover outlawed antiques in his submission to the Law Commission’s review. While doubtless many others did so, and probably did so in a far more eloquent and informed way, I like to think I’ve done my bit to help stop the needless destruction of our industrial and engineering heritage.

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30 thoughts on “Breaking: Policing and Crime Bill will criminalise possession of common tools

  1. commonly called cosmin

    You missed the fact that due to the lethal limit being set at 1joule, this will mean all air rifles and pistols will now need a certificate, just like in Scotland. Since there are probably 5-6 times the amount of airguns in England and Wales that there are in Scotland, this will basically grind the system to a halt. Good luck getting a grant/renewal or variation in those instances.

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    1. Mr. P Bromley

      The “legal limit” is 1.3 joules with a 0.2g projectile. And this is a recommendation by the Association of Chief Police Officers and is not yet Law. However as always this new set of laws and restrictions will do nothing to solve the problem.

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  2. Mr.Smith

    Salami slicing, another slice of freedom has gone, it is heading to the complete banning of private ownership of firearms in the UK, revolution is on the way.

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    1. Mr Smith.

      Metaphorically speaking I was, but since you said they have better guns than us, I would hate to see your arms if you are going on your own arms experience, the police picture of the MP-5 with rust on the outside & inside of the barrel.
      Another point they cannot shoot, Glock pistols 50-100 yards? MP-5 100-300 yards? H&K-36 400 yards?
      Fine but our guns 7MM / REM .308Win, 30/06 1,000 + yards, .338Win, 1,200 you get my point.
      But if they ever come up against some people who know half of what to do in a firefight, the plod are toast.

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    2. Mr. P Bromley

      Incorrect. Most of the Met still run 40 year old MP5’s and while the police have an armory of weapons running into the tens of thousands. There are more than 2 million legally owned firearms in the UK. Many of which are of a higher caliber (no pun intended) than the police own. Also there are sports shooters that can engage multiple targets from rest quicker than many armed police officers could engage their first target. So in this strange world of yours, when its them against us! I will put my money on us 😉

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      1. commonly called cosmin

        I hope so, that you are right. I know in general that civilian shooters are much better than police and most army but I always thought they always get the best equipment. I never knew their guns were that old. Whenever I see an armed policeman in the media or in real life, they seem to have the latest kit.

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      2. Robert Sandison

        2 million legal guns and how many illegal guns ?As we have seen recently in Ireland criminals seem to be able to access the most lethal ones despite Ireland having even more draconian gun laws than the UK .I suppose the Irish governments response will be to impose even stricter laws on the legal gun owners over there .
        .

        Liked by 1 person

  3. James Jeffings

    Why do they keep getting their panties in a twist over ‘imitation firearms’ being ‘converted’ with ‘certain tools’?

    I guess they don’t know that you can make a perfectly safe and reliable 12 gauge shotgun from two pieces of pipe, an end cap and a nail.

    Oh look, a guy building a semi-automatic pistol from scrap sheet metal using easy to follow plans widely available online. He even makes an improvised barrel using a drillpress and rifles it by hand using a little jig.

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  4. Colin jenkins

    With antiques having to go on FAC…

    Does that mean they have to now also be treated as section 1 firearms? – E.g. Locked in a Bolted steel cabinet for all time rather than on display above the fireplace?

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  5. commonly called cosmin

    Yes they will have to and also air guns and air rifles, I wonder how many of them will be lost in “boating accidents”.
    For the likes of me I don’t know why BASC think this is good legislation. The most worrying aspect are not the new gun restrictions but the Police effectively being able to make law in the future without nay oversight, so now we go from living in a de-facto police state to living in one fully, since it’s now the law that the police can make the law.

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  6. Bondmen

    Thought crimes, being near crimes, owning tools criminals use, watching crimes on TV and reading crime novels makes one a potential criminal and requires immediate remediation if not incarceration. Admit your guilt by signing this confession and all will be well.

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  7. Robert Sandison

    They say they must change the law because the firearms acts do not define certain times like obsolete guns etc .Then introduce a new law making it illegal to possess certain tools without defining what tools they mean .

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  8. Mr. P Bromley

    So Ms May? Am I now a terrorist? Do you want me to hand in My lathe and Dremel? Can I keep my files? What about my emery paper? Should I have my fingers removed as well? What about the part of my brain that tells my hands what to do? I await your answer…

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  9. Jay

    Whoever wrote this does not have a clue about how to read legislation correctly. Take the utter codswallop of “In its draft state the bill will make it a criminal offence to possess tools that could convert imitation firearms into real guns”

    Read the Bill again. Notice the use of the word “and”. Yes, ladies and gents, that means that both sections (a) AND (b) need to apply in order to prosecute.

    In other words….you need to have the kit to do the job AND THE INTENT TO CONVERT AN IMITATION FIREARM INTO A FUNCTIONING FIREARM.

    Have I explained that in simple enough terms?

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  10. Solidslug

    Here’s what’s wrong with that simple explanation though…

    I have S1 firearms (locked away), I also have blow-back air-pistols , BB-Guns and a plethora of DIY Tools – I recently purchased a dremmel to modify my PSG Guns for faster loading.

    Now, I know I have no “intention” of modifying any of my imitation guns… But how do I prove that in court?

    THe Police can tell the beak

    “He intends to make his air-pistol into a fully-auto killing machine using his dremmel and the 3lb lump hammer m’laud”

    I say “No I don’t…”

    And the judge says… “Hmm, well the police wouldn’t just make something up would they… Guilty – Send him down”

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    1. Jay

      It’s up to the CPS to *prove* that you had intent, and that – as it would be a criminal law case – means it has be proven beyond reasonable doubt. It’s up to the CPS to prove you’re guilty.

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      1. Gaz Corfield Post author

        Lots of people are saying I can’t read the law and so on. Yes, I’m deliberately over-egging this one, and this is why:

        a) Your possession of tools and a deactivated firearm will become a guilty act (actus reus). The only thing then standing between you and a criminal record is: the opinion of the police, who may that week be under pressure from internal arrest targets and/or the latest PR initiative to crack down on guns; and the court system, in which the starting price for a legal team good enough to have you declared “not guilty” at Crown court is four figures. You, Jay, might be rich enough not to need to worry about that sort of money – I prefer not being deemed to be committing an actus reus in the first place.

        b) The barrier that stops police being able to arrest you is dangerously lowered if this makes it into law. You only get to show your innocence once you’re in court; as an old and wise police sergeant once told me, “the threshold needed to arrest is less than the threshold needed to charge, which in turn is less than the threshold needed to convict”. Police have the power to arrest you, confiscate your firearms, revoke/”suspend” your certificates and thereby prevent you from taking part in your sport purely on suspicion – and with so many shooters owning deactivated firearms as well as household tools, the threshold for that suspicion is, rightly or wrongly, very easily met. Time and again that power gets abused; look up Mick Shepherd and Field Marshal Bramall’s cases.
        It might take a year for the CPS to make a decision on whether or not to proceed against you (there is no time limit), and if they do, it usually takes another year for your case to reach Crown court – and all the rest of the time you can’t shoot, you’re spending money on your lawyers and everyone around you knows you’re under criminal investigation. “There’s no smoke without fire,” after all.

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      2. Jay

        @ Gaz Corfield

        You’re getting the wrong end of the stick – again. Mens rea – the “guilty mind” , is the important part here, and the CPS would have to prove intent beyond reasonable doubt (this being criminal law, not civil law). The major problem with your interpretation is that it just having the equipment alone would mean that thousands of engineering companies in the UK would be open to prosecution. Hence, why to be prosecuted there must be both the tools *and* the intent.

        Just be glad that prosecution was taken away from the Police in 1986…..it would be a thousand times worse if they were still able to prosecute. Just ask the Birmingham Six, the Maguire Seven and the Guildford Four about that….

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  11. David Bickenson

    Mark my words – the NEW world Order will have your guns and there is nothing you can do about it. The police will then say that since no legitimate, legal guns exist then there will be no armed crime and no terrorism. Case solved, didn’t we do well? Then wait for your other freedoms to disappear – refer to “Brave New World”………………………….

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  12. commonly called cosmin

    “The Home Office Guidance on Firearms Law will be placed under a trifling amount of legal control. While it will continue to be issued in the Home Office’s name, police employees must now “have regard” to what it says.

    Keen-eyed readers will realise this means the police are not obliged to obey what the guidance says about the issue and revocation of FACs and SGCs, merely “have regard”. Whatever that means.”

    IN the draft bill it says that Secretary of State MAY issue guidance, not necessarily that they will and once the guidance is issued police MUST respect it, meaning an order, so from that language it seems that it doesn’t give carte blanche to the Secretary of State to change it at will.

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    1. Gaz Corfield Post author

      Where does the wording say the SofS must wait X amount of time between issuing versions of the guidance? It doesn’t. The only constraint on that discretionary power is that the SofS must consult Continuity ACPO before issuing new guidance – and if you think the police weren’t consulted by the Home Office about the half-dozen amendments to the guidance that quietly happened over the last 18 months, you’re a fool.

      The SofS’s powers will be delegated to the Home Office firearms team and they already write and issue the current guidance at the request of the police… see what this new law is going to do yet?

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      1. Fed Up

        What you should be saying is no more gun laws until the Dunblane files are unsealed. How can we expect to accept anything else when we’re still being lied to about Dunblane.

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      2. Fed Up

        scratch that, looks like they have been unsealed, and after reading parts of it all, I’ve got to wonder why they were sealed in the first place.

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  13. Fed Up

    To be honest I can’t see anybody making a homemade firearm for sporting or pest control/hunting the things specific to the firearms act. The shooting community needs to explore the right to bear arms aspect if the laws are getting untenable and see what is actually left as constitutional statutes and normal statutes, a normal statute can’t rewrite a constitutional one merely by implication ‘Metric Martyrs case (CO/3308/2001, Thorburn v Sunderland City Council)’

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  14. Time to leave the UK..

    So owning a “tool” that can make a firearm is under review for illegal ownership…. How bloody short sighted is the government?
    That will shut down most industries in the UK including car garages and machine fab shops. They use drill presses, grinders welders etc etc on a regular basis… For making everyday stuff like TV flatscreen wall mounts to motor parts….
    Even a well equipped home garage will make the owner a criminal, even if they don’t have a FAC or SGC, or any interest at all in firearms…
    Hell why not jail my grandfather just because he has a 45yr old drill press n a lathe for wood working… Which he still uses everyday for non lethal purposes….
    It’s time to leave the UK for a country with more common sense….

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  15. Bob

    I am an old man. Old men know how to do things.
    With a stick and a string of leather, roots, or modern cordage, I can make fire.
    From there on, making steel and firearms becomes easy. It just requires time and patience. These fools would criminalize your village blacksmith, your home shop, your local machinist’s shop, and knowledge beyond the Stone Age.
    I am SO grateful that a handful of educated thinkers said “Enough!” to old King George, chose Freedom at the cost of High Treason, threw off their chains and declared freedom of the individual to own, possess, and use the tools of self preservation and listed a few other Freedoms inherent in being Human.
    We in “the colonies” call it our Declaration of Independence, our Bill of Rights, and the old parchment that Constitutes our country, the Constitution of The United States of America.
    But even here, our politicians and power brokers have, this last century, been stripping away Freedom from the individual and arrogating all power to themselves in government as fast as they are allowed by a sleeping population.
    For England, and the Islands, I truly wish you better than you have it now. Freedom is the most delicious breeze that ever blew. Many there are who would not only go inside, but who would deny that air to others. I am so grateful for Freedom to speak this, Freedom to publish it here, and Freedom to assemble (even over the internet) with others who long for Freedom.
    or those wsho disagree, I would not be offended should you print it off and use it to start a fire, so long as the site is well chosen and the fire well laid.
    Breathe deeply while you can, My Friends. Do violence to no man without a cause, be grateful, and guard that flower of living Peace, with great care.
    Jeremiah Daniel.

    For such a statement, two and a half short centuries ago, one could have been drawn and quartered in England, if not for being mad, then for High Treason.

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  16. Robert Sandison

    We keep hearing that deactivated guns are being reactivated and used to murder people but where is the evidence for these claims .

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