Remember Clause 81? That part of the Policing and Crime Bill hasn’t changed

25 May 2016 – The section in the draft Policing and Crime Bill which allows, in theory, only the police to have a say over future versions of the Guidance on Firearms Law is unchanged in the draft bill’s latest edition.

Section 109 of the bill, which is at its report stage in the House of Commons, has not changed since its original publication as the controversial Clause 81.

The clause puts the Home Office Guidance on a statutory footing and places a duty on the Home Secretary to consult Continuity ACPO (the National Police Chiefs’ Council) and the chief constable of Police Scotland before issuing updates to it. Police and the courts will have to “have regard” to the guidance when carrying out firearms licensing or hearing appeals against police licensing decisions.

While the shooting organisations supported the wording of the original clause, UK Shooting News’ interpretation of the clause as allowing the police to both write and enforce firearms law, and also shutting the licensed firearms community out of consultations on future changes, was shared by a number of shooters who wrote to their MPs demanding answers.

BASC later stated that it supported amendments to the clause to explicitly include shooting organisations.

UKSN’s understanding is that while the shooting organisations are not over the moon at the clause’s wording, they are content and generally don’t see a need to change it. As a principle of law-making, non-statutory organisations (i.e. the shooting associations) cannot be included in new statutes – and the current arrangement, whereby the licensed firearms community is represented on the Practitioners’ Group, a sub-committee of the police’s Firearms and Explosives Licensing Working Group, is said to work well.

UKSN’s view is that while the shooting community has an informal invite to the party this year, and maybe for the next eight or nine years, there is no guarantee that a future Labour government wouldn’t simply read the law as written and say “you ain’t the police, we ain’t listening” when they come to power and start amending the guidance in order to harm the licensed firearms community.

While many learned and knowledgeable people have told UKSN’s author that the guidance is not binding on shooters, and will not become binding on shooters after this passes, I still haven’t heard any of them explain why police demand we install separate ammunition safes or use target shooting firearms at least 3 times a year – both requirements that are only to be found in the guidance. If the rules police must follow say they must ensure we do X, I don’t see how those rules can be said not to apply to us.

Unfortunately, the alternative approach to consultation on the guidance, which is to resurrect the Firearms Consultative Committee, which many people inside and outside the licensed firearms community support, appears to be a non-starter.

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