Autopsy of a gun ban

19 July, 2016 – Over the last few months there has been various crowing in the media about the gun bans imposed after the shootings in Dunblane and Port Arthur, as twenty years have now passed since those horrific events.  Almost universally in the mainstream press, these measures have been lauded as a success achieved through near universal consensus.  Really?

What happened back then

For those of you who can’t remember the details, back in March of 1996, an unstable individual by the name of Thomas Hamilton went into a primary school in Dunblane and shot dead 17 children and their teacher, as well as injuring 15 more.  He was armed with four handguns that he legally possessed at the time.  He was known to the police as a dubious individual due to his interactions with children, and in fact a Detective Sergeant with Central Scotland Police had recommended in writing that his firearm certificate be revoked.

There followed the Dunblane Public Inquiry, chaired by Lord Cullen.  He made various recommendations, some of which were implemented, some were ignored and most relevantly, his recommendations in relation to handgun ownership were glossed over and the whole subject became a political football.

Cullen recommended that handguns be subject to further restrictions, namely that an essential component such as the slide or cylinder be kept locked up at an approved gun club.  If that wasn’t practical, he recommended they be banned, but that gun clubs be allowed to still have a small number of guns for the use of their members.  He did not consider single-shot pistols to be as big of a threat and that they should remain legal.

Unfortunately, this didn’t square with the political reality.  In a country which has had a strong anti-gun sentiment for decades, only a complete ban would do.  The fact that a carefully considered public inquiry had come to the conclusion it was unnecessary was ignored.  Over the summer of 1996 (prior to the conclusion of the public inquiry) it became clear through leaks to the press that the Home Secretary (in the shape of Michael Howard) was considering a law that would require all handguns be kept locked up at gun clubs.  This idea directly contradicted testimony to the Cullen inquiry that this would create a huge security risk.  However after Cullen’s recommendations came out, the Home Office dismissed the idea of storing components at clubs on the flimsy basis of a short memo from the Forensic Science Service that components might be replaced with components sourced from deactivated handguns.  This was plainly nonsense as the deactivation procedure requires the main components of the firearm to be severely damaged.

Michael Forsyth, the then Secretary of State for Scotland then intervened, warning that the Tories would be wiped out in Scotland at the upcoming General Election unless a complete ban was imposed.  Even more pressure came to bear as Tony Blair promised at the 1996 Labour Party conference to impose a complete ban if Labour came to power.  The only major contradictory political voice was the Home Affairs Committee which released a report saying in essence that banning handguns would not stop further mass shootings as other types of firearm would still be available.

Thus under pressure, the Tories then botched their own compromise measure and announced the Firearms (Amendment) Bill, which would ban all handguns, save for .22s kept at secure gun clubs (which didn’t exist).  This then gave Labour the ability to one up them by promising a total ban.  Lord Cullen’s recommendations were consigned to the dustbin.  The Government claimed they had accepted his recommendation for further restrictions, but in reality the bill had been thought up before his recommendations were even known and deviated significantly from them.

Labour won the election.  The Tories were wiped out in Scotland anyway (and still haven’t held a meaningful number of seats in Scotland since then).  The new government amended the new Firearms (Amendment) Act 1997 with a new Act that removed the exemption for .22s kept at gun clubs, this second law came into force in November 1997.

The implementation of the ban

The prohibition in the original Firearms (Amendment) Act 1997 came into force on July 1st, 1997, this was followed by a three-month surrender period ending on September 30th. (Home Office memo.)  As there was a bill in Parliament to ban .22s as well which was certain to pass, the Govt. tacked on a voluntary ex-gratia scheme for owners of .22 handguns as well.  Those owners of .22s who didn’t turn them in at that time, subsequently had to turn them in during a one-month surrender period during February 1998.

Chaos reigned at the Home Office and among the various police forces tasked with receiving the prohibited items.  In order to encourage compliance with the prohibition and also to comply with Protocol 1, Article 1 of the European Convention on Human Rights, the Government decided that all ancillary equipment such as holsters, reloading equipment, ammunition etc. would be compensated for as well as the guns themselves.  This created a huge problem for the police as destruction of such vast quantities of ammunition and components, such as primers, was well beyond anything they had done before.  The Firearms (Amendment) Act 1997 also included a prohibition of all ammunition with expanding bullets for no apparent reason, which exacerbated this problem.  (Pistol ammunition with expanding bullets had been banned in 1992, but there was a broad exemption for target shooters).

The Home Office issued standard claim forms which were distributed by the police, each claimant having three options – option A was a stupidly low flat rate of £150 per gun, option B required the claimant to list everything they were surrendering and use a claim code from a thick booklet of codes relating to every accessory imaginable (they thought), option C was for customised or individual items that had to be submitted with a valuation.

Cover of instructions for compensation scheme.

Cover of valuation booklet for option B.

Sample page of valuation booklet.

Different police forces operated the surrender period in different ways.  Most simply provided a list of police stations that would accept items and times that people could show up.  Others required an appointment.  A few directed certificate holders to show up at a specific time and date, which appeared to be outside what the law permitted. (Sample letter.)

As might be expected, some people were keen to surrender their items immediately so they could get their compensation as rapidly as possible and go out and buy a new rifle.  Other people decided to leave it to the last minute.  The police got nervous and started sending out reminder letters (sample letter).  Threats of prosecution were made.

Once the hand-in period was over, it became clear the Home Office compensation section was having serious issues.  They prioritised applications from dealers, then they dealt with the easier claims under options A and B – but option C proved a real challenge for them, arguments about unpaid compensation drifted on for years.  It took so long in fact that people began taking the Home Office to court to claim interest on the claimed amounts.  Eventually, after a small claim court ruling, the Home Office had to concede and interest was paid.

Statistics

The police reckoned from the outset that there were 200,490 handguns (or authorisations to acquire one) held on firearm certificate in Great Britain by approximately 57,000 people (note the prohibition did not extend to Northern Ireland).  It was never entirely clear how many were held by dealers.  Of those, 162,353 were surrendered to the police.  55,000 people submitted 72,300 claims for compensation.  60,500 claims were made under the initial ban and a further 11,800 claims related to the later ban.  The total cost of the ban was £87 million in compensation and a further £8 million in administrative costs.  In 2016 amounts, that would be around £156 million total.

Unfortunately the National Audit Office report predates everything going on the web, but the Public Affairs Committee report is available.

Around 10,000 owners were able to keep some or all of their handguns under one of the exemptions to the ban (the main ones being slaughtering instruments, humane killers such as vets and handguns of “historic importance”).  In addition, 12,000 handguns were found not to fit the definition in the bans, mainly muzzle-loading pistols and revolvers (approx. 8,000) and flare guns (approx. 2,500).  A few hundred were simply removed from certificate control as they qualified as antiques and could be kept as a curio or ornament (in the UK, antiques have to be held on certificate if you intend to shoot them).

The rest were either exported, de-activated or destroyed by their owners.  My own personal favourite was an individual in Essex who handed into the police a bag of filings, which had to be sent to the Forensic Science Service for analysis.  In the end the police had to search his house to determine he had the tools to grind up his handgun.

Did it work?

Well, by any reasonable measure, plainly not.  It didn’t stop mass shootings, as the Home Affairs Committee warned.  It didn’t stop people bent on mass shootings getting hold of handguns.  It wasn’t really intended as a general anti-crime measure (despite a silly comment from Alun Michael, then Minister of State, in Parliament) – GB has for many years had a relatively low armed crime rate when compared internationally.  However, handgun-related homicides rose after the ban, for several years.  They did eventually fall but it’s questionable whether the ban had anything to do with that, as violent crime levels generally fell in most developed countries around that time.

Lessons learnt

Well many lessons were learnt but probably not the ones you generally see bandied around in the press.  The main lesson is that knee-jerk legislation is not a good idea.  Public safety was not enhanced and the cost was significant: £156 million would have paid for a lot of police officers and built a few hospitals.  Dealers may have been compensated for their stock but not for the loss of business, so livelihoods were ruined.  Gun clubs received relatively little in the way of compensation other than for the guns and ammunition they possessed.  Many could not adapt and went under.  Shooters largely took up rifle shooting instead, centrefire rifles being significantly more powerful than handguns obviously.  Some went to handgun-like contraptions such as long-barrelled revolvers.  I call them: “handrifles”.

You may wonder how I came up with that term.  Well firstly, it’s used in Japan where people use cut-down air rifles to get around the limit on air pistol ownership (a quota of 500 exists).  Second, I had a conversation in early 1997 with a person at the Home Office Firearms Section about the legal status of the long-barrelled T/C Contenders which didn’t meet the definition of a: “small firearm” in the ban.  “Oh,” he said, “we would consider those to be rifles.”  To date the Home Office never have and gun club approval for rifles doesn’t cover handrifles, meaning gun clubs cannot possess them (though individual members can).

The point being that people going out and replacing their handguns with various other types of firearm which are equally if not more deadly is hardly likely to enhance public safety by any standard.

Another lesson I learnt was the incredible duplicity and hypocrisy of the anti-gun lobbyists.  No better example exists frankly than the handgun ban in GB, as they rarely mention it – the reason being that it obviously failed.  They usually go banging on about the: “Australian gun law” in 1996 (gun laws are made at the State and Territorial level in Australia, so there is no single unified law).

Well those laws didn’t clearly work either as I’ve pointed out before.  But this didn’t stop the publication in the Journal of the American Medical Association of an article attempting to show how wonderful it was.  Authored in part by a well-known anti-gun campaigner, Philip Alpers, hardly an objective researcher.  Strange, why no research into how effective the handgun ban in GB was?  Hmm.  (For the record, despite the glowing media reviews of this “research”, it is very flawed, for example, defining a “mass shooting” as a shooting incident in which there are four or more victims who are fatally shot, which conveniently rules out the mass shooting at Monash University.  And limiting the time frame to 2013 also rules out this mass shooting.)

Another lesson the press put forward is generally how America should follow this wonderful example.  I learn the opposite actually, which is that the laws passed in GB and Australia are of literally zero relevance to the USA.  Let me explain why – British-style gun laws were originally enacted after the First World War not as a public safety measure but as a government preservation measure as there was a great deal of concern about the labour movement becoming a Communist movement as had happened in Russia.  As a result of these harsh laws originally enacted in the 1920s, both the UK and Australia today each have about 3 million firearms in circulation, about 2 million of which are held legally.  Note that according to Proof House figures from the 1900s, it’s possible to estimate that handgun sales per capita in Britain at that point were roughly half to two-thirds of what they are today in the US.  (Yes, I was amazed too.)

Contrast this to the US, where according to Nielsen there are about 350 million television sets in the US.  Estimates of the number of firearms in circulation (for example, by ATF) are usually pegged at between 200 and 300 million, so in the same ballpark.  How many individuals possess firearms is hard to estimate, but household surveys have put the figure at 35% of households.  So, tens of millions of people for sure, far more than the populations of the UK or Australia.  Roughly speaking, you can figure out from ATF production statistics over the years that are at least 3 million AR-15s in circulation – yes, there are more firearms of one model, than there are firearms in Australia or the UK.  There are somewhere on the order of a thousand times as many people who own handguns in the US than there were in the UK before the ban.

Remember it’s unlikely that the gun laws enacted in the 1920s would be politically palatable if enacted today in places like Britain.  The modern generation inherited them; they didn’t come up with them (as an example, look at how much less restrictive shotgun licencing was when it was enacted in GB in 1967).  But imagine trying to register hundreds of millions of firearms, prohibiting large numbers of certain types of firearm and licencing tens of millions of people in this modern consumer age.

It’s not going to happen, not nationwide anyway.  People who think it is are either deluded or misinformed.  Even Canada had to give up on their registration scheme for long guns and there are only estimated to be 7 million firearms in circulation there.

Here endeth the lessons – well, except unfortunately, this may be an autopsy but the ban is still in place.  At least now everyone knows that Tony Blair was given to ill-considered decisions thanks to the Chilcot report.


“In response to the recent tragic shootings at Monash University, Australian government leaders agreed to develop a plan to significantly restrict access to handguns sought for target shooting. The heads of government requested that the APMC develop detailed proposals for a national approach to hand gun control measures. The APMC will meet on 5 November 2002, and it is likely that further national reform measures will be developed after that meeting.” – Andre Haermeyer MP, Minister for Police and Emergency Services, 31st October, 2002, in the Parliament of Victoria.  Making more proposals for gun laws, because you know, those laws in 1996 were so successful.

The Law Commission reports

25 February, 2016 – As previously noted, the Law Commission has been looking into fixing or improving firearm law in Great Britain, by addressing some of the anomalies that have developed over the years since the law was originally written in 1920.  You can read their full report here.

The Government responds

With remarkable speed, HM Govt. has moved a Bill to implement some of the proposals, the Policing and Crime Bill.  Some of the proposals made by the Law Commission were changes in policy or guidance and some were also a bit esoteric, but Part 6 of the Bill does include legislation to give force to the main proposed changes.  In summary:

  • Provides a clearer definition of a firearm (lethality means the gun has to have a muzzle energy of more than 1J);
  • Provides a clearer definition of a component part, by listing the parts that are subject to control;
  • Provides a definition of an: “airsoft gun” and exempts them from the definition of a firearm (as they typically have a muzzle energy greater than 1J);
  • Gives statutory authority to the Home Office list of approved calibres and ignition systems for antique firearms;
  • Grandfathers any antique that becomes prohibited or subject to licensing as a result of the change in the law, so that an owner can obtain a firearm certificate to keep it (even if it is a prohibited firearm);
  • Creates a new offence of having an article with the intent to use it to convert an imitation firearm into a working firearm;
  • Allows a fee to be charged in relation to a grant of section 5 (prohibited weapon) authority;
  • Allows fees to be staggered in relation to approvals for a gun club or museum;
  • Requires guidance on firearm law to be issued;
  • Requires the police to: “have regard” of Home Office guidance on firearms;
  • Requires courts to consider whether the police followed the guidance in appeals relating to the grant, renewal and variation of firearm and shotgun certificates.

My view is that this legislation is fairly neutral but it does have a few problems with it.  The definition of an: “airsoft gun” is quite narrow as it specifies a maximum calibre of 6mm.  Although antiques that no longer fit the definition of an antique are grandfathered and the legislation makes it straightforward to obtain a firearm or shotgun certificate to keep them, it’s not clear what will happen when a person who has one wants to transfer it.  In most cases, the firearm wouldn’t be prohibited so not that big of an issue.  Even with handguns, they may well benefit from the exemptions for collectors in section 7 of the Firearms (Amendment) Act 1997.  However, if you’ve got an antique Maxim gun, you may have a problem if you ever want to sell it.

Currently the Home Office will grant section 5 authority to transfer a war trophy handgun to an heir (using the exemption in section 6 of the 1997 Act) so one hopes they will be equally generous with antiques.

Another problem are people who are prohibited from possessing a firearm under section 21; this includes people who have received as little as a three-month suspended sentence.  Although it is already illegal for these people to possess an antique firearm, they may not realise it until they apply for a certificate.  Nastiness could then ensue.

There is also the problem of the Home Office very badly advertising new gun laws, so most likely, people who need to get a certificate won’t be aware of the requirement.

The one part of the legislation that appears to be winding people up is the new offence of having an article with the intent of using it to convert an imitation firearm into a firearm.  Personally I don’t see that much of a problem because proving mens rea (criminal intent) beyond a reasonable doubt is quite hard – as the Law Commission themselves point out, if it wasn’t hard to prove, the prisons would be full of people convicted of fraud for having a pen and paper.

The problem I have with that section is that there is no consequential repeal of other laws that previously dealt with this subject, such as the Firearms Act 1982.  This new legislation combined with the provisions dealing with imitations in the Violent Crime Reduction Act 2006 make the 1982 Act redundant.

The good news

Negativity aside, this is the first time in a long time that I can remember legislation that contains many positive points for British gun owners.

The clearer definition of: “firearm” and: “component part” are chief among them, because now people engaged in repairing or restoring firearms, including antiques and deactivated firearms, have a much clearer understanding of where they stand in regards to their guns.  Want to replace the furniture or the springs?  Not a problem, definitely legal without getting authority.  Want to replace the trigger or parts of the trigger mechanism?  Not a problem, definitely legal, provided the Secretary of State doesn’t use her power to make them controlled parts by statutory instrument (which she might).  Want to replace the grip on a deactivated H&K G3 rifle or similar gun that uses a trigger pack?  Hmm… still a bit vague, is that a: “frame, body or receiver”?  It might be.

Well, it’s still not going to be totally crystal clear but it will be enormously clearer than it was.  Largely gone will be the days when you had an old trigger, hammer or other small part and wondered whether it is legal or not.

As much as we might moan about requiring a certificate for an antique, at least it will be clear what is and is not an antique.

Gone (largely) will be arcane discussions as to whether this air pistol or that airsoft gun is a: “firearm”.  Air pistols will definitely be firearms (not subject to licencing or prohibition unless the muzzle energy is more than 6 ft/lb); airsoft guns will for the most part definitely not be firearms.

Deactivated firearms

I had hoped that a clear delineation between an imitation and a deactivated firearm would be recommended by the Law Commission, alas it was not to be.  For example, is a firearm disguised as another object an imitation firearm when it is deactivated?  Probably not, but no-one knows for sure.

One of the main points the Law Commission considered was whether section 8 of the Firearms (Amendment) Act 1988 (the section dealing with deactivated firearms) should be a legally required standard rather than simply an evidential provision.  The Law Commission basically said yes, it should be, but if a person can show that a deactivated firearm in their possession deactivated in another way is not a firearm, then it’s legal for them to own it.

As far as I can see, the net effect of that would be that dealers would be compelled to follow the section 8 standard, but people who have deactivated firearms that were deactivated to a pre-89 or foreign standard would still be legally in possession of them, most of the time anyway.

The Home Office seems to have taken the view that that great of an exemption drives a coach and horses through making section 8 a legal requirement and so it does not appear in the Bill – or perhaps they are simply waiting for the whole mess foisted on them by the European Union to be sorted out before doing anything further.

That is another topic, but the Home Office is currently working on a new deactivation standard based on the new required EU standard, which was developed in part by CIP.  It’s somewhat similar to the existing UK standard, the main difference being that detachable magazines must be pinned or welded in.  And with much sillier welding standards.

The main issue with the new EU regulation is that it requires all deactivated firearms “placed on the market” to be deactivated to the new EU standard.  Does that mean that you can no longer sell your pre-2016 deactivated firearm to someone else without updating it?  Well, sort of, the statement on the deactivation certificate would probably be rendered meaningless (“it will be presumed unless the contrary is shown”), but the reality is that a pre-2016 deactivated firearm is still clearly not a firearm and that can be easily proven.  So it’s more of a problem for dealers than individuals, because dealers will have to ensure all of their stock is compliant with the new standard.  Will people still be interested in buying a deactivated pistol for example if the magazine has to be welded or pinned in?

I guess we’ll find out.  At least it resolves the grey area in Northern Ireland, as magazines are considered to be component parts there, so it was unclear if removing the magazine from a deactivated firearm was legal.

But…

…still no sign of a consolidation Firearms Act.


“It is our experience that firearms law is an area of law that consistently, possibly more than any other area of law, causes difficulties for charging lawyers. We concur entirely with the observation… that the state of the current legislative provisions ‘makes it exceptionally difficult even for a skilled lawyer to state with certainty what the law is’.” – Submission by the Crown Prosecution Service to the Law Commission, arguing for consolidation of the Firearms Acts.

Brussels panics

21 November, 2015 – The appalling terrorist attacks in Paris on Friday 13th appear to have led to a degree of panic at the European Commission.  It was widely expected that the Commission would announce this month changes to the European Firearms Directive, but they are far more sweeping than anticipated and appear to have been influenced by recent events.  Unfortunately, European legal jargon makes the press release difficult for the layman to decipher, in addition certain things were so last-minute that they don’t even appear in the press release, but here is what is actually being proposed:

  1. Prohibition of semi-automatic firearms that “resemble” automatic firearms, by moving them from Category B to Category A of the Directive.  No-one has ever been clear on what they were referring to and until now it didn’t matter as nearly all semi-automatic firearms were in Category B.  However, moving them to Category A would cause mass confusion across the EU and no doubt different countries would interpret such a ban in different ways.  In the UK, it would mean that legal guns like the S&W M&P 15-22 would probably be prohibited.
  2. Prohibition of deactivated Category A (prohibited) firearms – your deactivated Sten gun would be banned!  There are probably somewhere around 200,000 such deactivated firearms in the UK.  Only museums would be allowed to own them and even they would be banned from acquiring more.
  3. Prohibition of private collections of Category A firearms and ammunition, including by museums!  The press release talks of “tighter” controls, so it was obviously drafted before they changed their minds.  As written, this would basically mean the Royal Armouries and so on would have to deactivate their vast collections.  The draft does talk of firearms held by: “public authorities” being exempt, however this was clearly intended to mean police organisations, not museums, which are often partially or wholly owned by private entities.  In some EU countries, it is still legal to collect prohibited firearms and even in the UK it is technically legal to collect limited types of prohibited firearms – but in reality the main impact in the UK would be on collectors of prohibited ammunition, who would see their collections banned.
  4. Registration of deactivated Category B and C firearms as well as blank-firing imitations and replicas – yes, it says these must be: “declared” to the authorities, in other words, registered with the police.  So basically with the exception of deactivated single and double-barrel shotguns, any deactivated firearms you own which aren’t banned would have to be registered with the police.  How the registration requirement for blank firers and replicas would work is hard to know as many of them lack serial numbers.  Also not clear what: “replica” covers.  The draft says: “objects that have the physical appearance of a firearm” – doesn’t that include airsoft guns and even some toys?
  5. Prohibition of private sales of firearms over the internet, with the exception of Category D firearms.  So say you decide to put your rifle up for sale on the forum on this website, you would be breaking the law!  Only licenced dealers would be exempt.  Bear in mind they want blank-firing imitations in Category C as well, so trying to privately sell one of those over the internet would also be illegal.
  6. A requirement for: “standard medical tests” before any authorisation to acquire a firearm is given.  The BMA and Royal College of Psychiatrists have in the past said no such suitability test is possible and in any event, even if it were, the resources don’t exist.  HMIC recently pointed out the problems with this approach and they were merely talking about the current check with your GP.
  7. A common EU-wide deactivation standard for firearms and a common specification for blank-firing imitations.  Unlike the stuff detailed above, this has been in the works for years.  The proposed specifications are largely based on the current UK specifications, the principle difference is that deactivated firearms would have to have the magazines welded in (and pistols would have the slide stop welded in place).  This is to make sure the standard works in EU countries where the magazines are subject to control, such as France, where magazines with a capacity of more than 10 rounds are licenced.  These new specifications will be introduced by regulation under the EFD as it currently stands and will come into force in three months (although it will take longer than that for member states to transpose them into national legislation).
  8. Better information sharing between member states and common marking requirements for firearms.  These have also been in the works for many years.
  9. A requirement that licenced dealers and brokers keep their records indefinitely – this was extended to 20 years in 2008.  It’s a bit pointless in countries like the UK where the police are supposed to have all firearms subject to the Directive registered and it does raise the practical question of how to keep records indefinitely in long-term, often family-run businesses.  Theoretically dealers could destroy their records when the firearm is destroyed, in practice though it’s hard to see how that would be workable.  How would a dealer be notified when a blank firer is destroyed?
  10. A requirement that authorisations to possess firearms cannot be for longer than 5 years.  This would make no practical difference in the UK at present, although extending the validity of certificates for longer than that wouldn’t be possible.

Obviously this is a Draconian set of proposals and it is paramount that you contact your MEPs as soon as you can, to protest.  Preferably make an appointment and go and see them.

The reaction of the Commission is reminiscent of the Firearms Act 1920 being enacted after the Glasgow riots in 1919 or the US Congress enacting the National Firearms Act after the Bonus Army showed up in 1932.  For the first time ever, I’m glad the European Parliament spends a lot of its time in Strasbourg.

The UK referendum on EU membership

It’s easy to get distracted by this referendum, the proposed changes to the Directive have obviously led some shooters to think the UK would be better off outside the EU.  At this point it’s not clear what would happen if the UK left the EU, it could remain in the EEA and thus the Directive could still apply to the UK.  It’s a threat either way and needs to be stopped.  Also, one wonders whether it would be drafted in such a Draconian manner if Switzerland were in the EU!


“Times of crisis are the true test of a democracy.” – Sen. Edward Kennedy, 2002.

Et tu, HMIC?

2 October, 2015 – At the behest of ACPO, Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary conducted a review of firearm licencing in England & Wales and their report does not paint a pretty picture.

The summary makes for grim reading with comments such as: “Inconsistency was found to be a theme.”  More alarmingly: “What is highly likely is that, if change is not effected, there will be another tragedy.”

Such comments of course led to various nonsense in the press about how another mass shooting was just around the corner and various news outlets seized on the comparison between bus drivers and firearm licencees, which it has to be said was a bit of an odd comparison made by HMIC.

Reading through the report, HMIC have managed to extract statistics from the police that organisations such as BASC have been trying to compile for many years, they have then compiled them into tables and graphs which make for fairly dreadful reading.  The graph for the time taken to renew a certificate for example on page 29 of the report shows that the difference can be between 5 and 165 days, depending on the police force.  Yikes.  Warwickshire and West Mercia Police (who have a combined licencing dept.) come off particularly badly in the report with comments being made by HMIC in relation to a lack of proper risk assessment of applicants.

The report goes on, page after page, chapter after chapter pointing out basic inconsistencies across England & Wales: risk assessments done differently, contact with referees (or not), home visits to applicants (or not), using or ignoring Home Office Guidance, contacting the applicant’s GP (or not), making proper use of the NFLMS (or not) and so on.

Some of the graphics are a bit wonky, for example on page 4 it mentions a 72% rise in the number of licenced section 1 firearms from the end of 1998 to March 2014.  This is very misleading because the handgun ban occurred the year before so a lot of firearms were taken out of circulation and then progressively replaced, largely with rifles.  If you use the start point as 1995, the increase in the number of firearms is 18%.

One thing I was particularly bemused by was the fact that Essex Police automatically issues section 7 firearm permits to people whose certificates have expired; several other forces issue them on an ad hoc basis for various reasons, such as late submission of a renewal application.  This is interesting to me because the police have no statutory authority to issue permits for prohibited items, such as expanding ammunition, the exemptions from prohibition only apply to certificates.  I pointed this out to the Home Office when the Firearms (Amendment) Act 1997 was in draft form.  No need to worry, I was told, the police will renew these certificates in time because they’re quite rare and items can be lodged with an RFD if necessary.  However, the Home Office clearly underestimated how many firearm certificates would be on issue with authority for expanding ammunition (most of them) and the fact that most RFDs don’t have authority for prohibited items other than expanding ammunition.  I asked this question because my own firearm certificate expired during the handgun ban and the police told me they couldn’t issue a permit for my expanding pistol ammunition (which was prohibited in 1992).

Recommendations

Most of the recommendations given are along the lines of: “do your job properly” and are blindly obvious as well as: “here is how to do your job properly”, however the three I’ve picked out that aren’t are:

  1. Simplifying Home Office guidance and giving it the weight of law (Recommendation 18);
  2. More effective sharing of the medical history of the applicant (Recommendation 11); and
  3. Digitising the licencing system.

Reading through Recommendation 11, it seems impossible to achieve because various groups and associations (such as the BMA) have opposed all or part of it in the past.  Their problem is that there are hundreds of thousands of people who hold certificates and having a GP vet them all is very hard as the GP frankly has other things to do.  In addition, a GP isn’t necessarily qualified to comment on some of the things they might find in a patient’s file.  HMIC also wants a: “process” agreed upon to do it and that is no minor task given that surgeries have different record-keeping methods; many are small and don’t have much staff, and so on.  Also mentioned is a requirement for a fee to be paid by the applicant.

Frankly none of that can happen without a change in the legislation.

Legislative changes would also be needed to give the guidance the weight of law and I don’t agree with HMIC that it could be: “distilled into clear rules”.  The firearm legislation is extremely complex and if anything the guidance isn’t detailed enough, so to “distill” it seems like a very hard thing to do.  As pointed out above, HMIC themselves missed the point that permits cannot be issued for prohibited items, for example.  How do you distill that into a clear rule?  Depends very much on why the owner has prohibited items and what they use them for.

As for digitising the licensing system, it sounds obvious – until you realise there are 43 police forces involved which means 43 websites to set up and 43 IT systems to then integrate with NFLMS, bearing in mind there are also other IT systems already subsidiary to NFLMS that the police also use.  And where does the money come from to do this?

Et tu, HMIC?

As far as consolidating and codifying the Firearms Acts and the several dozen other amending Acts, HMIC quotes the Law Commission summary of the problem and simply says: “We entirely agree.”

The problem is that people have been entirely agreeing on that topic for decades and it never happens.  In fact the situation gets worse as more and more legislation is constantly heaped on.

Let’s review shall we – three times the Home Affairs Committee has recommended it.  The Firearms Consultative Committee recommended it several times.  During consideration of every amending Act the subject of a consolidating Act was raised.  ACPO (now NPCC), the Police Superintendent’s Association and the Police Federation have all suggested it.  All the shooting organisations such as BASC and the BSSC have recommended it.  The Crown Prosecution Service want it to happen.  Now the Law Commission and HMIC are recommending it.

If the Government doesn’t move now, when will they?

A more practical solution

HMIC can’t put this forward because it would put them out a job, but to me the only logical solution is to remove the police from firearm licencing altogether and put it into the hands of a national licencing agency.  If people had to go to the local police for a pilot’s licence or a driving licence they would laugh.  The idea of 43 different websites just illustrates the stupidity of the whole thing.  You want consistency?  Then have one agency do it, can’t get anymore consistent than that.  Want well-trained enquiry officers?  Have one agency train them.

By its very nature, having dozens of licencing departments means inconsistency is inevitable.

At the same time as that was being put into legislation, the legislation could be codified as well.  Problem solved.  If it happens though I’ll drop dead of amazement.

Statistics

Firearm and shotgun certificate statistics for April 2014-March 2015 for England & Wales were recently published.

As these statistics usually are, they are a mixed bag.  The number of RFDs and shotgun certificates on issue has fallen slightly, however the number of firearm certificates has gone up a fair bit and so has the number of firearms owned per certificate holder.

This sounds vaguely positive for gun ownership in England & Wales but really it shows stagnation with shotguns and something of a recovery in firearm certificates after the negative impacts of the 1988 and 1997 Acts.  If you look at the data though, you can see the number of firearm certificates on issue in the mid-1980s was around 160,000 and now it is 153,600, despite a population increase of around 6 million.  It’s also a bit alarming that the number of RFDs has started to fall again, the numbers went up sharply after 2006 due to the requirement in the Violent Crime Reduction Act that dealers in airguns be licenced.

So not bad news, but not exactly good news either.  Frankly that there are 153,600 people in England & Wales willing to put up with all the aggravation just so they can own one of the very limited array of legal types of section 1 firearm is rather astonishing.


If you set out to be liked, you would be prepared to compromise on anything at any time, and you would achieve nothing.” – Margaret Thatcher

 

Yet another consultation

5 August, 2015 – As previously noted, you could start a business responding to consultations about firearm law in the British Isles, there have been so many.

The problem is that they very rarely lead to anything.  The police and CPS have now become so concerned that they have finally convinced the Law Commission to engage in a consultation, which was the only option available since the scrapping of the Firearms Consultative Committee.

If you read the consultation paper, it recounts various conclusions of the FCC at length, which basically goes to show that the concerns raised by the FCC were never addressed by the Govt.  The Law Commission concentrates on the ones that the police and CPS have found most vexing, e.g. imitations, de-activated firearms, antiques and various antiquated definitions.

However, the Law Commission goes further and talks about codification of the law (i.e. bringing the guidance, case law and legislation into one Act) which is something very long overdue and they even go as far as covering things such as categorisation of firearms, in order to simplify controls over them.  They specifically aren’t looking at the licensing system itself, though.

If you actually do consider yourself expert enough on the law to make a submission, I recommend that you do, but as you can see from the consultation paper, this is not for the amateur.

One hopes this consultation might actually result in some sensible legislation, hope springs eternal.

Scotland

One consultation that didn’t result in sensible legislation though was in Scotland, which has resulted in the completely absurd Air Weapons and Licensing (Scotland) Act 2015, which creates a new requirement for an: “Air Weapon Certificate” for possession and acquisition of low power air guns (i.e. those not subject to firearm certificate control).

There are many ways to point out the absurdity of this law, but one of the most graphic is that Police Scotland has recently reduced the number of firearm enquiry officers from 34 to 14!  Part of the justification for this is the consolidation of police forces in Scotland, but one would think with a new licencing law requiring hundreds of thousands of people to obtain a licence that they could have waited a bit?

My own personal favourite is that the purpose of the law is to stop people from using air guns in residential areas, the Scottish Govt. considers this to be: “no longer acceptable” (para. 28).

The slight snag with this comment is that there is no particular reason why people can’t use ordinary rifles and shotguns in residential areas and the Firearms Act 1968 (onto which this licensing law is tacked) makes no real effort to draw a distinction.  The 1968 Act has sections banning firearms in public places or near public highways, but there’s no particular reason why you can’t show a “good reason” to have a .22 rimfire rifle for pest control in a residential area and its even easier to come up with a reason for a shotgun, as individual shotguns do not require a “good reason” to possess.  Indeed, the most important bit of case law on the subject, Major Joy v. Chief Constable of Dumfries and Galloway involved an individual who had applied for authority for an M1 carbine to shoot vermin in his vegetable patch.  He won!

So in other words, there’s no particular reason why someone can’t apply for an Air Weapon Certificate to use their airgun in a residential area for plinking or pest control and if the police come up with silly conditions or reasons why you can’t have one – well, then just apply for a shotgun certificate.  It seems to me that the licensing of shotguns is less restrictive than the licensing for airguns, so why even bother?

Canada

In an attempt to keep shooters on-board with (and give donations to) the Tory Govt., the: Common Sense Firearm Licensing Act 2015 has recently made it through Parliament.  This was followed by a flurry of press releases… followed two days later by the Tories dropping the writ on a Federal Election.

In America I suspect this law would be called a: “nothing burger”, because most of the changes to the law it makes are fairly minor or are simply enacting best practice anyway.

It does however make two fairly significant changes, first of all it makes: “Authorizations To Transport” a restricted or prohibited firearm a condition of a firearm licence, rather than a separate piece of paper.  The reason for the existence of ATTs is no longer clear, but it appears to have been based upon a similar provision in American law for NFA weapons, the idea being that the authorities would have advance notice of people congregating in certain places with certain weapons.  Because of course, if you’re going to start a riot or revolution, you will apply for advance permission first…

In recent times, the Chief Firearm Officers in eastern Canada have been using ATTs increasingly as a form of control, by imposing various silly conditions on them or requiring them to be renewed annually, allowing transport to only one gun club, etc.  In western Canada though the changes in the law will simply mean gun owners get a different piece of paper from the CFO.

The most serious change it makes to the law however is that the classification of firearms, when in doubt, will be reviewed by an expert committee that will make recommendations to the Govt.

This was enacted in response to outrage over the RCMP deciding that certain semi-automatic models of the CZ 858 (Vz. 58) were converted automatic firearms (thus prohibited) and that the Swiss Arms series of rifles were variants of the SIG SG550 and SG551 (thus also prohibited).  If the RCMP had decided this from the outset they probably would have gotten away with it, but ex post facto more than ten years later it placed thousands of people in violation of the law.

So the Act includes a provision allowing the Govt. to classify firearms as: “non-restricted” and the Govt. has used it to put the CZ 858 and Swiss Arms rifles back to their former classification.

The snag I see developing with this is that it’s okay when there is a gun-friendly Govt. in power, but what happens when there is an anti-gun Govt. in power?  Who will be appointed to this committee and what will they decide?

Of course, there is a simple solution – vote Tory.  Which the current Govt. would clearly like you to do…


“Common sense is that which tells us the world is flat.” – Stuart Chase, 1952.

Election 2015

2 May, 2015 – Bit late in the day with this editorial but there isn’t really much to say when it comes to the election on May 7th.  The SNP with the help of Labour are currently trying to licence airguns in Scotland, so that rules them out.  One would like to think the Liberals would remember their rural roots, maybe some of their candidates do (so ask).  UKIP is well, UKIP.  A lot of their candidates favour shooting, but it’s hard to see how they can win in more than a few constituencies.  That leaves the Tories, David Cameron is a shooter, and so he’s been subject to this sort of rubbish.  He also stood in the way of the new Fees Order for some time.  And he did follow through on the promise to allow some Olympic hopefuls to get section 5 authority for their pistols.

However, let us not forget the Tories were responsible for most of the handgun ban back in 1997 as well as the Firearms (Amendment) Act 1988 as well as various other bits of foolishness.  So if you’re going to vote Tory, please check with your candidate first as to where they stand.

Much more importantly, check with your Labour candidate because there appears to be a schism between the party in Scotland and the party in England & Wales on the subject of licensing airguns.  If your local candidate supports doing that, then obviously vote for someone else, if they say they’re against it, try and get it in writing and send it to BASC Scotland.

Scotland

The licensing Bill, which includes airgun licensing (and various other types of licensing) unfortunately sailed through Stage One debate as it is known in the Scottish Parliament, unfortunately Labour have decided to support it as well, so any chance of any real changes to the Bill have completely evaporated.  The SNP did at least decide not to follow the recommendation of the standing committee that airguns should be given unique identifying marks.  Because that is obviously barking mad, especially given that some airguns are largely made of plastic.

In an absolutely bizarre move, Police Scotland have decided to slash the number of firearm enquiry officers.  Yes, you read that correctly – on the eve of the introduction of a new licensing system that will require many thousands of licenses to be issued, the police have laid off the staff who will be responsible for doing the licensing.  Words fail me.

No more ACPO

Well, sort of.  It’s still around but they’ve changed the name to the: “NPCC”.  Which stands for: “National Pissing Contest for Constabularies”.  Er no, it stands for: “Narcissistic Police Chiefs’ Cabal”.  “Nearly Pointless Coppers’ Committee”.

But anyway the National Police Chiefs’ Council will apparently spend the grants they get more wisely.  Personally I think that could have been assured if they reported to Parliament, but they won’t be.

HMIC

Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary will be having a nose around a few licensing depts.  I sincerely hope that one of them is Durham Constabulary, which was slated by the IPCC.  Ooh, and how about Surrey Police.  And how about Gwent Police?

Suffice to say this HMIC report should make for interesting reading.  What I’d really like is for them to say that firearm licensing should be removed from the police and put into the hands of an independent agency, but given that would put HMIC out of part of their job, I doubt that’s going to happen.


“During the course of the investigation, staff spoken to across each of the respective roles within the Firearms Licensing Unit commented that they had received little or no formal training by Durham Constabulary.” – para. 187, Mr Michael Atherton – IPCC investigation into the granting, management and review of his shotgun certificate and firearm licence by Durham Constabulary.

 

Combining paranoia and the police state, the ACPO way

 28 November, 2014 – For those of you who have forgotten, ACPO is the: “Association of Chief Police Officers”, which makes it sound like a trade union, but in fact it is a police policy quango that receives nearly all of its funding from the Home Office and the Police and Crime Commissioners (PCCs).  The PCCs are the elected replacements of the former local police authorities, who among other things, appoint Chief Constables.  In recent years ACPO has come under pressure because the PCCs have been reluctant to fund it, however at the moment it still forms a lot of police policies, including those related to firearms and explosives licensing.

Various things have happened since I last wrote an editorial, so I’ll go through them one-by-one:

The first major thing to be aware of is that the law has been changed, yet again, by part 8 of the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014.  This introduced new offences relating to the supply of prohibited firearms, but the main bit that certificate holders need to be worried about is section 110, which amends section 21 (persons prohibited from possession) of the Firearms Act 1968, so that a person who receives a suspended sentence of three months or more is prohibited from owning firearms for five years.  Moreover section 21 has been expanded to include people who own antique firearms, lawfully possessed without a certificate under section 58(2).  The section doesn’t apply to someone who already holds a certificate – but does upon renewal.

And therein lies a flaw in the legislation, say you were convicted during the currency of your certificate and got a three-month suspended sentence, your certificate would then still be valid until expiry but you would be unable to renew it until five years from the date of conviction had elapsed.  This gap makes no sense.

But of course the whole thing makes no sense because a three-month suspended sentence is a very light sentence indeed and to deprive someone of an antique flintlock because of it seems a bit much.

The main reason for this change is because of the murder of Lee Rigby, a soldier who was murdered with a car.  One of the killers had an antique revolver (but other than wafting it around, it was not really used in the crime – it appears to have been used as a prop so these murderers could get themselves shot by the responding AFOs).  There have also been other cases of drug dealers etc. being caught in possession of antiques.

Now, expanding section 21 to cover people in possession of antiques seems sensible.  In fact expanding section 21 to cover people who’ve received lengthy suspended sentences seems sensible too, but three months?  The day is not far off when an MP receives a three-month suspended sentence for some minor infraction of the law and then the police will show up to take his guns off him.

ACPO have been arguing for section 21 to be expanded to people who receive suspended sentences for as long as I can remember, well into the decades, I can only wonder if they are surprised at their own success at getting such a Draconian change in the law onto the books.

Anyway, as a result of this change, police forces around GB have been conducting: “amnesties”, so that people can get right with the law, forgetting of course that Home Office Guidance advises police to effectively have permanent firearm amnesties in place at all times.

So what else have ACPO been up to?  Well getting the medical records of all certificate holders marked to that effect is next, as mentioned under item 6 on page 6 of these ACPO FELWG meeting minutes.  There is no statutory basis for it (yet) but Durham Constabulary have been keen on suggesting it to certificate applicants with a non-statutory form that they have been including with renewal packages.

Even if you think this is a good idea (I don’t) there’s one rather large snag, which is the IPCC report into how utterly hopeless Durham Constabulary were in dealing with Michael Atherton, a shotgun certificate holder who shot dead three members of his family before turning his gun on himself.  The full report is too long to go into detail here, but suffice to say it is a horror story of serious mistakes and ends with this punchline: 

“During the course of the investigation, staff spoken to across each of the respective roles within the Firearms Licensing Unit commented that they had received little or no formal training by Durham Constabulary.”

 So pray tell, if the people in the licensing unit have little or no formal training and make a large number of serious mistakes, how exactly does having certificate holder’s medical files marked or making changes in primary legislation help matters?  Because if you don’t know what you’re doing, you’re unlikely to take note of any of those changes.  It does smack somewhat of the police trying to deflect criticism away from themselves by suggesting that changes in the licensing system would prevent incidents like the one involving Michael Atherton.  (Note that Labour have pledged to change the legislation yet again if elected, as a result of the Atherton murders.)

Another example is the recent conviction of John Lowe, who also had his guns removed temporarily due to threats he made, only later to have them returned and then use them to murder two women.  It will be interesting to see what the IPCC has to say in this case.

If all of this isn’t enough for you – it gets worse.  ACPO have recently started to get paranoid about the idea that there might be Islamic militants out there who have managed to get a firearm or shotgun certificate, or figured out where a certificate holder may live and target them for a burglary and as a result, Home Office Guidance was changed to include the following: 

“Where it is judged necessary, based on specific intelligence in light of a particular threat, or risk of harm, the police may undertake an unannounced home visit to check the security of a certificate holder’s firearms and shotguns. It is not expected that the police will undertake an unannounced home visit at an unsocial hour unless there is a justified and specific requirement to do so on the grounds of crime prevention or public safety concerns and the police judge that this action is both justified and proportionate.

“It is recognised that there is no new power of entry for police or police staff when conducting home visits. To mitigate any misunderstanding on the part of the certificate holder the police must provide a clear and reasoned explanation to the certificate holder at the time of the visit.”

In addition, a dedicated Crimestoppers number was set up to report certificate holders, in order for the police to glean the: “specific intelligence” to be able to carry out these spot checks.

However this bit of paranoia on the part of ACPO became quite a popular talking point on the web, to such an extent that the Countryside Alliance was able to get ACPO to back down somewhat as detailed in this article in The Register.  (It’s also worth reading their article about “Operation Solitaire”, another ACPO idea, the concept being to “raise awareness” among legal gun owners of terrorist infiltration, through a PowerPoint presentation.)

So let’s review shall we, people given a three-month suspended sentence are now prohibited from owning firearms, the police want certificate holder’s medical files marked and they also are seeking random intelligence about certificate holders and their security.  It’s not hard to see how that state of affairs could end up being abused or badly handled by the police, especially in the hands of people with: “little or no formal training”.

Personally I tend to think the PCCs were right to cut back on funding ACPO and it should be scrapped, moreover firearm licensing should be turned over to a national licensing agency and the police should be kept as far away from it as possible. 


Scotland

Committee proceedings on the Bill to introduce licensing for airguns have been taking place.  Here is a link to the submissions to the committee.  The BASC submission lays out most of the serious problems with it, but the Police Scotland submission contains this zinger: 

“…with the introduction of a licensing regime, it will be expected that offences in relation to non certification will outweigh considerably the current crimes, such as reckless discharge of a firearm, as those who have not complied with the legislation are discovered and reported.” 

There really is no logical basis at this point for the Bill, it was really something the SNP wanted, to show how Scottish they are after a child was shot dead with an air rifle back in 2005.  However since then, airgun-related offences in Scotland have plummeted by more than half what they were in 2005 and moreover, the SNP is in disarray after losing the independence referendum.  There’s now no point in trying to stick it to Westminster because they already failed to do so in the biggest way possible.

Anyway, the Bill is riddled with all kinds of silliness, for example it requires a “good reason” to get an: “Air Weapon Certificate”, which is a tougher requirement than for a shotgun certificate, which instead requires that the police do not issue a certificate if the applicant has no good reason for wanting one.  So why would you bother getting an Air Weapon Certificate when the requirements for a shotgun certificate are less stringent?

However by far the biggest flaw in the Bill is that the stated objective is to stop people from “plinking” with air guns in their back garden and instead force them to use them at gun clubs.  But nothing in the Bill expressly says that, nor is there currently any language in the British legal lexicon let alone the Firearms Act 1968 that could be used, because there are plenty of people who discharge shotguns and rifles in their back gardens and have certificates for them.  A tiny back garden on a Glasgow housing estate may well not be the same as a back garden in a rural part of Scotland.  How do you define the difference in legislation?  I don’t know, but this Bill doesn’t even attempt to do it, it just has a nebulous “good reason” requirement and leaves it up to the police, who may also have to define it in a condition attached to the certificate.  And the police will no doubt in due course be challenged on their opinion in the courts, once the Bill becomes law.  Perhaps the SNP should take the time to read: Major Joy v. Chief Constable of Dumfries and Galloway (1966), where the police were directed to look at: “good reason” from the standpoint of the applicant, rather than a possible objector.  Not only that but Major Joy was in fact applying for a firearm certificate to use an M1 carbine in his back garden and he won the case!


Fees

Firearm licensing fees in Great Britain haven’t altered since 2001, when in fact in some categories they were lowered from the previous fees.  (For example a firearm certificate application used to cost £56, now its £50.)

So there is a legitimate case for the fees to be raised.  Our good friends at ACPO have worked out it costs nearly £200 to issue a certificate (not clear which type) but apparently despite that seemed okay with the idea of the fee being only £92.  This was then dropped to £88 and the Prime Minister himself apparently shot the idea down.

Labour then committed to raising the fees, which consequently seems to have forced the Home Office into launching a consultation on the issue.

My problem is with the concept of: “full cost recovery”.  Shooters get nothing out of the licensing system except a load of hassle, the system is there apparently for public safety reasons, and so it seems logical that the public pay for at least part of it.  Moreover, the police run the licensing system whereas pilot licensing, driver licensing, etc. are run by independent agencies.  Clearly costs could be reduced by having one agency running the system rather than dozens, so if the Home Office and the police want to carry on running licensing for whatever reason, then it’s reasonable for them to have to bear the cost from other sources. 


“Insanity is repeating the same mistakes and expecting different results.” – Narcotics Anonymous twelve steps manual.

Why stopping mass shootings with gun laws is probably impossible

 

5 January, 2013 – I don’t usually comment on criminal events involving the use of firearms in the United States, as there are so many other websites out there that do.  However there has been so much coverage of the shootings in Newtown, Connecticut that I’m forced to inject some facts and reality into the debate.

First of all, the use of semi-automatic firearms in crime is as old as semi-automatic firearms, as evidenced for example by the Sidney Street Siege in 1911.  Also mass shootings are nothing new.  There are so many in fact that Wikipedia has a hard time keeping up.

Second of all, there is no one single profile of a mass killer, they vary in age, sex and motive.  Some are sane, some have serious mental health issues.

Third of all, and perhaps most relevant when talking about whether new gun laws could prevent further massacres, they have been committed with every type of firearm there is: single-shot shotguns, double-barrel shotguns, .22 rifles, pump-action shotguns, handguns, bolt-action rifles, lever-action rifles, semi-automatic rifles, machineguns and so on.

And fourth, if not already obvious, these incidents happen the world over, including in countries with very harsh gun laws, such as China, Japan and South Korea.

The impact of gun laws

Against this backdrop, it is very hard to think of any gun law that could stop mass shootings.  Of course the media is quick to point out that countries other than the US with tougher gun laws have much lower firearm-related murder rates, usually pointing first to the UK as an example.  But as anyone familiar with statistical analysis will tell you, you can prove anything with a sample size of two.

It is particularly difficult to compare two different countries and their crime rates, because there are so many possible differences, but at least in the case of homicide, you can assume the police found a body before they recorded the statistic.

Most people use the Small Arms Survey for their statistical comparisons, however having spoken to them in the past even they admit their figures are based on data that could be flawed, estimates of gun ownership in countries like the US for example are largely guesses, based on public opinion polling and other limited sources of information.  But it’s all we’ve got.

So let’s take some low gun ownership, low firearm-related murder countries:

Firearm-related homicide rate per 100,000 Firearms per 100 people
England & Wales 0.07 6.2
Japan 0.01 0.6
South Korea 0.03 1.1

 

And now some low gun ownership, high firearm-related murder countries:

Firearm-related homicide rate per 100,000 Firearms per 100 people
The Bahamas 15.37 5.3
Trinidad & Tobago 27.31 1.6
El Salvador 39.9 5.8

 

Or… how about some high gun ownership, low firearm-related murder countries:

Firearm-related homicide rate per 100,000 Firearms per 100 people
Switzerland 0.77 45
Finland 0.45 45.3
Serbia 0.46 37.8

 

My point being that you can prove anything with international comparisons, first of all you have to take a leap of faith that the data is even accurate.  What it doesn’t prove though is that high gun ownership rates ipso facto mean higher firearm-related murder rates and even though there have been a lot of mass shooting incidents, they’re still too rare to use in any sort of statistical comparison.

You wouldn’t think this though if you read through the press, for example Jack Straw (Home Secretary when handguns were banned in GB) blathering on about how the ban “reduced the risk” of another massacre.  There is no evidence to support this assertion, according to the data collected by the Home Office.  In the years following the handgun ban (1997), handgun-related offences in England & Wales rose sharply, going from 2,600 to a high point of 5,800 a few years later.  Firearm-related homicides rose, in fact they nearly doubled from 54 in 1997/98 to 97 in 2001/02.  They have since fallen, but opinions differ as to why this is, partly because the Home Office changed their methods of collecting data after 2001/02.  One explanation being used across the developed world is that as the population ages, crime levels fall.  Another explanation is that a lot of handgun-related crimes were in fact committed with imitations and were misreported, and the Violent Crime Reduction Act 2006 (which introduced controls on realistic imitations) may have caused a decline in more recent years.  If that is the case, then the statistics have been wrong for a long time and there is little to be inferred from them, other than the homicide rates (you can’t commit murder with a gun that is purely an imitation, unless you beat the person to death).

But… you can go further back.  Firearm-related offences also rose sharply after the Firearms (Amendment) Act 1988, which was introduced after the mass shooting in Hungerford.  The main provisions were the prohibition of centrefire semi-automatic and pump-action rifles as well as the introduction of shotgun registration.  The Act was fully implemented in mid-1989 and looking through those statistics you can see a sharp rise in serious firearm-related offences in 1990 of 663 to 1,074 in 1994.  The subsequent decrease is usually put down to the concerted effort of the Met Flying Squad in London focussing on firearm-related crime.  However you want to characterise it, “reduced the risk” is totally inaccurate.  And such statements are surely cold comfort to the victims of Derrick Bird.

So… international comparisons

People going on about how wonderful the gun laws are in the UK miss one rather important fact – because of the British Empire, many Commonwealth countries have gun laws based on those in the UK.  A good example are The Bahamas.  The gun laws in The Bahamas are virtually identical to those in Great Britain, having been written the year after – back when The Bahamas were still a British territory.  The main differences in the laws are in fact that they are stricter: low-power airguns require the same type of licence as a shotgun and licences are renewable annually.  Handguns have been virtually prohibited for decades and require a special licence for which the applicant must show a “genuine need”.  But The Bahamas have a firearm-related homicide rate of 15.37 per 100,000, far higher than the rate in the US (about 3 per 100,000), let alone the rate in England & Wales.

Trinidad & Tobago also has a firearm control regime closely modelled on GB – the main difference being that the controls that apply to rifles in GB basically apply to everything that can be legally possessed there.  And the firearm-related homicide rate there is even higher than The Bahamas: 27.31 per 100,000.  Think I’m picking on the Caribbean?  Lesotho also has very similar gun laws, unfortunately I don’t know what the exact firearm-related murder rate is for Lesotho but I doubt anyone would argue it is anywhere near as low as GB.  As detailed on this site, the Republic of Ireland has gun laws that were modelled after British laws, yet their firearm-related murder rate is 0.48 per 100,000, many times higher than England & Wales.

I’m afraid saying tough gun laws make the world a safer place is simply not proven in fact.  Both The Bahamas and Trinidad & Tobago have lower levels of gun ownership than GB, remember, if the Small Arms Survey is to be believed.  So does Lesotho (2.7 per 100 people).  And they have the same type of gun laws.

Beware of politicians bearing egos

There has also been a lot of press coverage of comments made by John Howard, former Prime Minister of Australia who takes the credit for foisting various anti-gun laws on Australia after the Port Arthur shootings.  First of all, although he advocated for them, gun laws are primarily the responsibility of State governments in Australian law.  Second, the Australian Institute of Criminology statistics do not seem to indicate that the gun laws did in fact lead to a lower murder rate – the murder rate was already declining before the laws were enacted (both with and without firearms) and the trend has continued since.  Third, the Australian Crime Commission points out that firearms that were not surrendered in accordance with the 1996 laws are the primary source of illegal long guns used in crime in Australia, so the laws apparently created a black market.  (Estimates vary as to what the compliance rate was, as several States such as New South Wales had no long gun registration at the time, but suffice to say the number not handed in is a significant number by any reasonable estimate.  Look at the first table in this SSAA article – New South Wales has a larger population than Victoria but the number of guns handed in was substantially lower).

And most importantly of all, there has been a mass shooting in Australia since 1996, so the laws were changed again.  Perhaps the 1996 laws did reduce the chance of a mass shooting, who knows, but the picture is a lot more murky than John Howard would have you believe.  Tasmania did in fact have a firearm licensing law in place in 1996, the Guns Act 1991, but Martin Bryant had not obtained a licence and was illegally in possession of the guns he used.

And finally

Rarely do I ever hear calls for the military and the police to be disarmed.  Even people who want guns banned still seem to think it is okay for the military and police to operate a monopoly of force.  There have been many cases of rogue members of the military or the police committing mass shootings.  There’s one currently facing trial as I write this.  Here’s an example of a police officer who did it.  Or they might just be career criminals (which is after all why the police carry guns, here’s another example).

I’m afraid there is no easy solution to stopping the phenomena of mass shootings, if there was, it would have been done already.  I could explore some of the other options and reasons why they happen.  Maybe I will at a later date, but suffice to say that gun laws do not possess the magical properties some politicians and certain commentators in the media bestow on them.


Scotland

On the subject of gun laws that won’t work, the Scottish Government has launched a consultation on airgun licensing.  They’re clearly going to try doing it and I don’t see much way of stopping them since the SNP won the election.

People are trying though, petition and facebook page.

My view is that when you respond to the consultation, focus on demands for compensation and also that the licensing fee should be waived to begin with.  When the cost of this madness dawns on them, perhaps reality will finally take a grip.  Doubtful though, seeing as they ignored the Home Office, who pointed out that any licensing requirement could easily be evaded by going to England. 


“We prohibit under anathema that murderous art of crossbowmen and archers, which is hateful to God, to be employed against Christians and Catholics from now on.” – 29th Canon of the Second Lateran Council, under Pope Innocent II, 1139.

Scottish Gun Lunacy

October 8th, 2012 – Kneejerk changes to the law are never a good idea and unfortunately the Scottish National Party, who run the Scottish Govt., seem to be set on arguably the looniest kneejerk change to gun laws yet seen in the United Kingdom – the extension of firearm licensing to lower power airguns.  (I.e. air rifles with a muzzle energy of 12 ft/lb or less and air pistols with a muzzle energy of 6 ft/lb or less, which are currently considered to be firearms for the purpose of British law, but exempt from licensing.)

The origin of the concern about the availability of air guns in Scotland was the tragic slaying of two-year old toddler Andrew Morton by a yobbo in Glasgow.  It’s fair to say however the SNP have since used the issue of an airgun ban to win votes by claiming it makes them a champion of law and order.

Let me stress one thing here – air guns, even the lower power unlicenced variety, are not toys.  They are capable of causing serious wounds and obviously when wielded against a small child can cause potentially fatal injuries.  Air rifles in particular are usually designed for the killing of small pest animals.  However things must be kept in perspective, lots of things can be used to cause serious injury that could easily kill a small child but yet we do not require the owner to be licenced under an onerous licensing scheme.

It is of course always easy to say, “let’s ban it” or “let’s introduce licensing”.  So let us look at the facts.

Currently there are just under 26,000 firearm certificates on issue in ScotlandSection 10 of the Scotland Act 2012  gives the Scottish Justice Minister the power to regulate airguns other than those declared especially dangerous (i.e. above the exempt power limits and subject to firearm certificate controls.)

We don’t exactly know yet what the power limit will be for an airgun subject to the new licensing regime, but let’s say it’s 1 Joule, which is the minimum threshold the now defunct Forensic Science Service set for the definition of “lethal” as in “lethal barrelled weapon“, the legal definition of a firearm.  Such a definition would exclude toys and the majority of “airsoft” guns.

So how many of these lower power guns are in circulation in Scotland?  No-one really knows of course, I’ve seen figures of half a million bandied about, but let’s say for the sake of argument it’s only 250,000 (the number of legally-held shotguns is currently 140,000).  Let’s say each air gun owner owns an average of two, meaning 125,000 affected people.

What that means of course is that the police would have to issue somewhere on the order of 125,000 airgun licences in Scotland, which is five times the number of firearm certificates currently on issue.

Not surprisingly, the police, in the shape of ACPO(S), have essentially wet themselves when faced with this reality.

This is all in an environment where recorded offences committed with air weapons in Scotland have fallen dramatically, from 618 in the 2005-06 year to 233 in the year 2010-11.  Whether or not this is a result of action by the police is hard to say definitively, but clearly moving police resources behind desks shuffling paperwork doesn’t sound like the best idea.

Not satisfied with this lunacy, the Scottish Justice Minister, Kenny MacAskill MSP, wants to do even more and limit the number of guns certificate holders can own, even though the aforementioned statistics indicate that the number of firearms held per certificate is less than three (bearing in mind a person can hold both a firearm and a shotgun certificate).  He has written to the Home Secretary to express his outrage.

Now tell me, if you were someone who owned a few airguns, would you be more or less likely to apply for an airgun licence and comply with the law knowing that the Minister in charge wants to reduce the number you can own before you’ve even applied?

And there is the rub – what will compliance with this onerous new requirement be?  Will the police actually issue 100,000+ new licences?  Unlikely, because changes to the law such as this are almost always poorly advertised.  Possibly a compensation scheme will be devised for people who do not want to obtain a licence, money that could clearly be better used if spent on normal policing activities – however to date Mr MacAskill is apparently adamantly opposed to the idea of compensation.

Of course, anyone who wanted to evade a new licensing requirement could readily do so by acquiring an air gun in England or Wales where the law will remain unchanged – a point made to the Scottish Govt. by the Home Office, who of course ignored it.  Because you see in the delusionary world of the SNP, one day in the near future Scotland will be an independent country and able to impose whatever border controls they please.  Except, hang on a second, they don’t want border controls.  Yet more muddled thinking.

Scottish airgun owners need to point this out to their local MSP – quickly.  The general idea was apparently for the Scottish Govt. to have a clear idea of how they were going this by the end of the year, but the amalgamation of Scottish police forces into a single force may have slowed things down somewhat.


The Olympics

As much as we may have wanted it, unfortunately there was only one pistol shooter in the British team, the reality of choosing a team with people who have proven results in shooting competition saw to that.  Of course, Britain no doubt could have put in a better pistol team – but regardless of how talented you are you have to go to competitions and establish a track record, and that’s hard to do when pistols are prohibited.  Two members of the Army pistol team apparently had the skill but not the track record.  Thank you Mr Blair.

However, despite this, Peter Wilson still managed to win a gold medal in Double Trap for Great Britain.


Don’t burgle gun owners

The rather surprising message from Judge Michael Pert, after Andy Ferrie shot two masked burglars in his home with a shotgun.  In most countries, even European countries, this would hardly be headline news, but in Britain of course it is met with an almost shock reaction.  So much so that Mr Ferrie and his wife felt obliged to immediately emigrate, due to the hurt feelings of the local criminal community.


Two more “unarmed” police officers shot dead

PCs Nicola Huges and Fiona Bone were shot dead by a fugitive wanted for murder last month, this of course (as per usual) led to the predictable drivel from the Home Secretary, about how there is a “British model of policing” and that she supports “unarmed policing”.

This is of course total nonsense as the police are armed with a wide variety of weapons, e.g. PR-24 batons, Tasers, and chemical sprays – all prohibited weapons that cannot be legally possessed by the public.  But apparently carrying a firearm as well means they would be “armed”.

I’ve already covered this topic at length in a previous editorial and I have nothing really to add, other than to note with sadness that basically nothing has changed.


“In politics, stupidity is not a handicap.” – Napoleon Bonaparte

The Committee and the Gorilla

 

31 December, 2010 – I don’t know why people were “awaiting” the Home Affairs Committee report on firearm controls, because past experience is that the Government of the day doesn’t take the blindest bit of notice of the Home Affairs Committee.  The HAC produced a report on firearms control in 1996 and at the time there was a Conservative Govt. and the committee was headed by a Tory.  The Govt. largely ignored their report.  Later on in 2000, the HAC produced another report.  This was written by a Labour MP under a Labour Govt. and once again the report was largely ignored.

This time, a former Labour Home Affairs minister, Keith Vaz MP has written a report and the Govt. is composed of Liberals and Tories.  It is hard to imagine their taking much notice of it and they have already done their best to sideline it by holding a promised Parliamentary debate on firearms at a time when hardly anyone would show up.

The recent history of abandoned consultations and so on hardly inspires confidence that anything will change soon.  Once again, one of the main recommendations of the committee is that the consolidation and clarification of the legislation be a high priority.

Frankly ACPO (the police policy organisation) had already pre-empted anything the HAC could suggest by requiring firearm licensing departments to routinely notify GPs about applicants for firearm and shotgun certificates.  Although the British Medical Association has decided to go along with this for the time being, in the long term the sheer volume of renewals will likely generate resistance to it among GPs.  The BMA is already pointing out that GPs are not trained in threat assessment and even if they were, no psychiatrist in the world can accurately predict future behaviour, so there’s no chance the average GP could.

None of this of course addresses what happened in Cumbria.  As things stand at the moment it looks as though any changes to the firearm licensing regime will be regulatory, e.g. by fiddling with the guidance to police, rather than primary legislation.

However the 800-pound gorilla in the room that was not addressed by the committee is what a complete and utter waste of time and money the Firearms (Amendment) Acts 1997 were.  The extent of anger towards the Acts is hinted at in the fact that there were 929 submissions to the HAC, most of which (unusually) were unpublished and it’s a safe bet that 900+ of those submissions said something along the lines of: “Can I have my handguns back now, please?”  Or: “We told you so.”  There was a distinct irony seeing members of the Gun Control Network sitting in front of the committee prattling on about the need for more controls when the piece of legislation they most often claim as their biggest success, the handgun ban, had been shown to be utterly ineffective.

However the likelihood of seeing any of this mentioned in a report written by Keith Vaz, former Home Office minister was nil.  In addition, the fact that Alun Michael MP, he of: “we have removed handguns from the streets of Britain” fame, is also a member of the committee made it even less likely that criticism of the £97 million disaster that was the handgun ban would ever appear in parliamentary print.  Ignoring this fact frankly makes the report something of a farce.

The main response to this report from shooters should be to write to their local MP and point out that the handgun ban was an expensive disaster and further restrictive legislation is unlikely to improve the situation. 


 

New Legislation

Section 46 of the Crime and Security Act 2010 requires a person in Great Britain to take “reasonable precautions” to prevent a person under the age of 18 having access to an airgun in their possession.  It’s not entirely clear what that means (putting it in a locked wardrobe has been given as an example), except that it apparently doesn’t mean it has to be kept locked up in the same way as a firearm subject to certificate control.  The law doesn’t extend to Northern Ireland as airguns require a firearm certificate there.

The Firearms (Amendment) Regulations 2010 adjust the age limits in the Firearms Acts to comply with the updated European Firearm Directive.  The main provisions being that people under the age of 18 can no longer purchase firearms.  Thank you EU for making the age limit legislation in the UK even more confusing.  (Although in fairness the age limit for purchasing an airgun or any other firearm is now consistent, after the Violent Crime Reduction Act strangely raised it to 18 for airguns only).

It should be borne in mind that these regulations do not completely implement the changes in the Directive; there are a substantial number of changes for record-keeping by firearm dealers that will be brought into effect by another statutory instrument in 2014.


“Whatever happens, we have got The Maxim Gun, and they have not.” – from the poem ‘The Modern Traveller’ by Hilaire Belloc, 1898.