22 April 2016 – Newly-tabled amendments to the Policing and Crime Bill will clarify the law around rifle clubs’ firearms, end the expanding ammo madness and streamline the process of lending rifles and shotguns.
The amendments, which were tabled by Conservative MP Geoffrey Clifton-Brown, can be read at this link (search for “firearms” on the page and read from there).
The bill is currently being debated by Parliament, meaning these are not yet law and could be changed.
They are very technical, and refer to amending the Firearms Acts without including the context, so UK Shooting News will attempt to translate them into plain English.
Taking it in bitesize chunks, then, here’s the first two:
(1) The Firearms Act 1968 is amended as follows.
(2) Omit section 5(1A)(f).
(3) Omit sections 5A(4), (5), (6), (7) and (8).
(2) means removing section 5(1)(f) from the Firearms Act 1968. That section makes it illegal to possess “any ammunition which incorporates a missile designed or adapted to expand on impact”.
Number (3) above refers to four sub-sections of section 5A. Confused yet? Stick with it…
Section 5A of the Firearms Act 1968 is the part which allows expanding ammo for vermin control and sets out all the legal guff necessary for that to happen. Omitting those four sub-sections from the main act works together with removing section 5(1)(f), in that those four set out the controls on expanding ammo.
5(1)(f) says “expanding ammo is banned”, 5A(4) to 5A(8) read together say, “they’re not banned but you’re only allowed them if you follow these precise controls” – which is where the part about entering them separately on your FAC comes from.
In plain English, then, these amendments would mean that expanding ammunition would no longer be separately controlled from normal ammunition on FACs. Both police and the licensed firearms community are in agreement about this being a positive bureaucracy-cutting move that will cause no harm to public safety, UKSN understands.
Temporary possession permits and certificate renewals
The next parts of the amendments say:
(4) Omit section 7(1) and insert—
“(1) A person who has obtained from the chief officer of police for the area in which he resides a permit for the purpose in the prescribed form may, without holding a certificate or authority under this Act, have in his possession a firearm and ammunition in accordance with the terms of the permit.”
(5) At the end of section 28A add—
“(8) Where an individual has applied for the renewal of a certificate before its expiry but the chief constable has not, as at the date of its expiry, determined whether or not to grant the renewal, the certificate is to continue to have effect until the application is determined.”
This would help end the situation where temporary permits must be issued when a certificate has expired and the police haven’t got their act together in time. It does mean that it becomes a lot harder to track individual departments’ inefficiences, as the Countryside Alliance has done to great effect, but overall it is a benefit for law-abiding members of the licensed firearms community.
Your certificate will be presumed to be in effect until the police formally renew it – or tell you it’s expired and order you to surrender or sell your guns. This brings certainty and consistency to the renewal process.
Rifle clubs and lendable firearms
Another of Clifton-Brown’s amendments is this one relating to rifle clubs:
(1) The Firearms (Amendment) Act 1988 is amended as follows.
(2) In section 15(1) (Approved rifle clubs and muzzle-loading pistol clubs) omit the first “rifle” and for the second “rifle” substitute “firearm”.
(3) Omit section 15(2) and insert—
“(2) Any club may apply for approval, whether or not it is intended that any club members will, by virtue of subsection (1) above, have firearms subject to section 1 or ammunition in their possession without holding firearm certificates.”
(4) Omit section 15(4) and insert—
“(4) The application of subsection (1) above to members of an approved club may—
(a) be excluded in relation to the club, or
(b) be restricted to target shooting with specified types of firearm, by limitations contained in the approval.”
(5) In section 15(7) omit “rifle”.
(6) In section 15(10) omit the first “rifle”.
(7) Omit sections 15(11) and (12).
Section 15 of the Firearms (Amendment) Act 1988 is the main bit of law that regulates rifle clubs. Section 15(1) is the part that legally allows members of rifle clubs to possess rifles and ammunition which are not on their FACs – as well as club members who do not hold an FAC at all.
Weirdly, almost no target shooter, in UKSN’s experience, seems to know that it is 15(1) – and not something mythical about club FACs – which authorises club members to do any of this.
Note the word “rifle” in section 15. Long barrelled pistols, section 1 shotguns and the like are explicitly not covered by the current wording, so it is currently illegal for club members to handle or fire any long barrelled pistol or a section 1 shotgun – even if it is owned by a fellow club member. There is, however, a specific legal exemption for muzzle-loading pistol clubs.
What the amendments above would do is change the word “rifle” for “firearm”. At a stroke, any rifle club member can then possess and use any firearm – not just rifle – for target shooting. This would enable the creation of properly regulated practical shotgun clubs, long barrelled pistol clubs and all the rest of it. It would allow clubs to properly train members in the safe and responsible use of these firearms without anyone committing a technical breach of the law.
The “omit rifle” parts change a couple of references in the law from reading “rifle club” to just “club”.
This is a big boost for the target shooting sports.
Lending and borrowing shotguns and firearms
The final set of amendments are on who can legally borrow and use a firearm or shotgun. The proposed amendments say:
(1) In the Firearms Act 1968, omit section 11(5) and insert—
“(5) A person may, without holding a shot gun certificate, borrow a shot gun from the owner or occupier of private premises or a person authorised by the owner or occupier and use it on those premises in the presence of the owner, occupier or authorised person.”
(2) In the Firearms (Amendment) Act 1988, omit section 16(1) and insert—
“A person of or over the age of 17 may, without holding a firearm certificate, borrow a rifle from the owner or occupier of private premises or a person authorised by him, and use it on those premises in the presence of the owner, occupier or authorised person if—
(a) the owner, occupier or authorised person in whose presence it is used holds a firearm certificate in respect of that rifle; and
(b) the borrower’s possession and use of it complies with any conditions as to those matters specified in the certificate; and
(c) where the borrower is of the age of 17, the owner, occupier or authorised person in whose presence the rifle is used is of or over the age of 18.”
Section 11(5) of the Firearms Act 1968 lets people borrow shotguns from the ‘occupier’ of private land and use them in his presence without holding an SGC of their own. Section 16(1) is the so-called ‘estate rifle’ exemption from the need to hold a certificate. Deerstalkers in particular use this exemption to borrow and use rifles provided by ghillies.
The main change here is that the amendment inserts the words “person authorised by the owner or occupier” into section 11(5), which means someone with permission to shoot over land will no longer need to actually own or rent it – i.e. he no longer needs to be the ‘occupier’, as the law currently states – before he can lend a shotgun to a person with him. This would allow an SGC holder with permission to be on someone’s land let a friend use his shotgun under his personal supervision, without the friend needing to hold an SGC.
The amendment to section 16 achieves the same thing but for rifles, adding that the borrower must use the rifle in the presence of the owner and comply with the conditions on the owner’s FAC – so you won’t be able to let your mate borrow your target-conditioned Lee Enfield for the weekend so he can give Bambi a headache.
UK Shooting News also understands that the shooting organisations are in discussions about having a form of wording inserted into clause 107 – formerly the infamous clause 81 – which would list them as bodies to be consulted on Home Office Guidance updates.