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.



15 June, 2010 – We may never know exactly what was going on in Derrick Bird’s head on June 2nd, and if we did there’s a good chance we would never be able to make sense of it, because there seems little in his personal life that could have led him to commit murder, let alone mass murder.  Mr Bird used a double-barrel shotgun loaded with birdshot and a .22 bolt-action rifle to shoot dead twelve people and injure another eleven on that day, before taking his own life.  There was apparently a dispute over a will and also apparently a tax investigation by HMRC, but these are problems faced every day by people and he appears to have been an entirely ordinary person engaged in an ordinary job who possessed ordinary firearms for the most mundane of reasons, i.e. pest control.

Given that most of his victims appear to have been randomly chosen and that his route around Cumbria was also apparently random, there appears to have been a lack of planning by Mr Bird of his murderous rampage beyond the first three victims or so.  The logical conclusion to draw is that something went seriously wrong inside Mr Bird’s head and it happened pretty rapidly, as witnesses indicate they noticed nothing out of the ordinary until some statements made by him the day before.  If in fact he was mentally ill and simply snapped, this is one of the few times an incident such as this has occurred and people have felt sympathy for the perpetrator, as Mr Bird was apparently well-liked in the local community.  The other theory is that he harboured resentment over losing a job in 1990 and if someone can hold in that degree of anger for twenty years and go undetected, it’s likely they never would have been.

The police response

Apparently two or three officers attempted to pursue Mr Bird during his rampage but were unable to do so because he was armed; this obviously has led to criticism of the police not carrying guns, so Cumbria’s Chief Constable has asked for help in a review of how they deal with firearm incidents.  As I have previously pointed out, the police probably do need to have more guns than they currently have, however arming every PC in the country especially in an area with little armed crime like Cumbria is unrealistic.  Faster access to firearms and having more trained officers is probably the best that can be done, but in a place as rural as Cumbria, police stations are few and far between so expecting the police to grab their guns and stop the shooter before any damage is done is a dubious hope at best.  Probably the most that could be expected is that they might be able to cut short the incident.

One positive thing that has happened though is that the police seem to have been jolted out of their complacency about these sorts of incidents; up until now they appear to have considered that Parliament could actually prevent them with oppressive legislation and instead planned on tackling armed robbers and the like.  It’s unrealistic to expect Parliament to ban the possession of shotguns in rural areas by pest controllers, so clearly the police need to have a plan to deal with such incidents.  Look at it like this – if it had been a carload of terrorists armed with military weapons rather than a bloke with a shotgun, what would the police have done?  Yes, it’s very unlikely but still, there needs to be a plan to deal with it when it does happen.

The coalition

David Cameron has taken the approach of calling for calm and no knee-jerk legislation; this is of course the correct thing to do but it’s not clear what the Government is really thinking.  What is sure is they have their hands full with the economy and the best read of what they’re thinking at the moment is: “we’ve got better things to do”.  The Prime Minister has however promised a parliamentary debate at the end of July on the subject of gun laws, after the Home Office has had a chance to examine the issue; shooters will of course have to monitor this closely.

The current thinking

There have been various ideas put forward in the press and elsewhere on how controls could be tightened; the widow of one of the victims of the Monkseaton shootings has been the first to come forward to advocate for changes.

Many people have called for central storage of firearms at gun clubs; the standard response to this one is that central storage creates an easy source of guns for criminals.  However the real reason why it won’t happen and didn’t happen in 1997 is that it is wholly impractical.  The vast majority of guns in the UK are not owned by target shooters who are members of gun clubs; they are principally owned by pest controllers and people involved in a wide variety of field sports.  Given that reality, anyone bent on mass murder could easily create a pretext for removing their gun from central storage.  Logistically there are approaching two million licensed firearms in Great Britain – if 200,000 handguns could not be kept locked up centrally then clearly two million long guns cannot be.  Lord Cullen’s idea of keeping a key component stored at a club won’t work for double-barrel shotguns because there is no bolt to remove.

The only places that do have central storage tend to be city states like Singapore and Curacao for example.  In Hong Kong where handguns must be stored at gun clubs, pest controllers can keep their shotguns at home.

Another idea that is always mooted after events such as this is psychometric testing of licensed gun owners.  Japan has such testing but has had two people run amok with licensed shotguns in the past.  However in the UK the Royal College of Psychiatrists submitted evidence to the Home Affairs Committee in 1996 stating that no meaningful testing could ever be done given the sheer volume of certificate applications and renewals every year.  Checking with GPs has also been put forward as an idea – although the police can check with an applicant’s GP they usually don’t unless they have a concern about the application.  As part of an NHS performance review some years ago, GPs were advised not to counter-sign applications for shotgun certificates anymore because it wasted their time, so it’s doubtful they could possibly respond to an enquiry about every certificate application or renewal.  Another simple point is that many certificate holders don’t have a GP or if they do might never have seen him or her.

Something else that has been suggested is to require firearm certificates for shotguns – however Mr Bird had obtained an FAC in 2007 for his rifle, so that seems unlikely to have prevented his rampage.

Most likely the Home Office will dust off many previous proposals that they have sympathised with in the past, such as a referee requirement for shotgun certificates; better questions on the referee form; modernisation of the language in section 21 of the 1968 Act (prohibited persons) and most importantly, requiring the police to visit applicants in person prior to granting or renewing a certificate.  Although this was recommended by the Dunblane Public Inquiry, some rural police forces with limited resources still perform renewals by post.  The additional cost of doing this will likely lead to higher licensing fees which are already under review.

Whether they propose banning anything else as a sop to public concern remains to be seen.

Mass shootings in Great Britain

There has been much comment in the press that this is the “third” of these incidents, which is inaccurate.  More accurately, it’s the third one that the average journalist can bring to mind.  For the sake of factual accuracy, here are some of the others:

  • James Griffiths in 1969 shot 13 people with a sawn-off shotgun in Glasgow while attempting to evade police;
  • Olatunde Adetoro in 1999 shot and wounded five people with an AK-47 while attempting to escape from pursuing police;
  • Barry Williams in 1978 shot dead three of his neighbours in Birmingham, seriously injuring another using a 9mm pistol, then went on a rampage shooting at people randomly from his car before stopping at a petrol station and shooting dead two people, before being arrested. (Committed under the Mental Health Acts, later released);
  • Robert Sartin, a mentally ill man released into the care of his parents under the “care in the community” scheme in Monkseaton in 1989 stole his father’s shotgun and shot 17 people with it, one fatally. (Committed under the Mental Health Acts);
  • Kevin Weaver in 1988, murdered his mother and sister in Bristol with a hammer then went to his workplace with a shotgun and randomly opened fire, killing two other people.  Weaver had previously been diagnosed as mentally ill, but a police psychiatrist disagreed and his shotgun certificate was reinstated;
  • The murders of Charlene Ellis and Letisha Shakespeare in 2003 in Birmingham.

There are a couple of others I can think of, one in the late sixties (man murdered his family with an SLR, after a police siege he was committed to a mental hospital, released in the early 1990s and then murdered his wife with a borrowed shotgun) and another in 1990 (man murdered a range officer at a gun club, stole the gun, shot his wife with it), but I can’t recall all the details unfortunately.

We told you so

I hate to make political points on the back of a tragedy, but I would be remiss in not mentioning that it is blatantly apparent now that the handgun ban in 1997 was a complete and utter waste of time and money.  And more importantly by turning a handgun ban into a political issue rather than considering public safety implications properly, there are a number of politicians who should not be sleeping well right now.  I recall for example Michael Yardley’s submission to the Dunblane Public Inquiry in which he demonstrated that a similar massacre could be accomplished with a double-barrel shotgun and then went on to discuss psychological factors that come into play with people that go on these rampages; although Lord Cullen took note of his and other submissions, the Government never did.  The tories were too busy trying to stay in power and the Labour Party were too busy trying to win an election.  They essentially turned the issue of public safety into a political football and by so doing overlooked or maligned many important issues that were raised by Dunblane.

It’s worth naming some of the more important offenders:

  • Tony Blair, who went out of his way to point the finger at handguns (most notably at the Labour Party conference in 1996) in order to gain political leverage in the election;
  • Michael Forsyth (former Secretary of State for Scotland) who told the cabinet they must support a handgun ban, thereby misdirecting the evaluation of what had happened and what might be done to prevent it;
  • Michael Howard (former Home Secretary) for listening to Michael Forsyth when he should have known better and also for coming to conclusions about what would be done with the gun laws before the public inquiry was complete;
  • George Robertson (former NATO Secretary General), whose attacks on shooters and general ranting in Parliament were unprofessional and also prevented proper consideration of the issues involved;
  • David Mellor (former Conservative MP), whose general idiocy on the issue of guns and rabble-rousing in the press also helped derail any proper consideration of what should happen;
  • Brian MacKenzie, now a peer, then the head of the Police Superintendents’ Association, who told his Association that the Home Affairs Committee report on handguns “should be thrown in the bin” even though in their submission to the Home Affairs Committee, the PSA described a ban as “too draconian” and “an unacceptable restriction on the liberty of the citizen”.  Lord MacKenzie is one of the worst offenders because he appears to have used his support for a handgun ban as political leverage with the Labour Party to get nominated as a peer.  The coalition supports reforming the House of Lords to provide for direct elections, so we can only hope he loses his seat as a result.

One can only hope (and lobby) that this time, because there is no election at stake, calmer minds will prevail.

“It is natural enough to ask, after a major disaster involving a particular class of gun, why possession of all such weapons should not be banned.  Unfortunately, it is not that simple.  It is obvious that panic legislation, which might be seen at its outset to bear the seeds of failure, should be avoided.  What would be the point of a total ban on the lawful holding of handguns if there remained easy access to unlawful handguns, and easy access – both lawful and unlawful – to powerful rifles, or to shotguns which, given time to reload (and we have already noted that rate of fire at both Hungerford and Port Arthur was not a particular factor in the scale of killing), would have the same result?  As we concluded when we discussed the possibility of banning the possession of all guns, the improvement in public safety would be minimal.  We see no point in a total ban on the possession of handguns alone, and we do not recommend it.” – Home Affairs Committee, Fifth Report of the 1995-96 session, “Possession of Handguns”, page xx. (Emphasis as original).

Finally, an actual election


30 March, 2010 – The British Government will shortly call a general election; it’s generally expected to be called on April 6th and to take place on May 6th, because that is the date of the local elections.

Unlike the last couple of elections, this one will actually be a real contest for reasons that are too obvious to state here.  The real question is what should shooters do this time around?

Labour have undoubtedly been the most anti-gun government for decades, as I suspected they would be when I created the banner at the bottom of the page.  The list of all the anti-gun laws they’ve put through Parliament is pretty long, starting with the Firearms (Amendment)(No 2) Act 1997 that banned .22 pistols.  This was followed by laws such as the Anti-Social Behaviour Act 2003 that banned airguns like the Brocock air cartridge guns and raised the age limit for legal possession and the even more onerous Violent Crime Reduction Act 2006, that banned “realistic imitation firearms” as well as raising the age limit for possession of an airgun again, required airgun dealers to be registered, banned mail order sale of airguns and so on.  Not content with all that there is a Bill in Parliament right now called the Crime and Security Bill which would also introduce a secure storage requirement for airguns, plus there is a consultation on new controls on de-activated firearms.

In short, they’re no friends of shooters.  The problem is that the tories aren’t either.  Under Thatcher there was the Firearms Act 1982, which banned many types of imitations and the Firearms (Amendment) Act 1988, that banned most types of pump-action and semi-automatic rifles while also introducing registration of shotguns.  Also there was the handgun ban in the Firearms (Amendment) Act 1997 under the Major Government.  David Cameron, the current leader of the Conservative Party, has already stated he does not want to see the handgun ban repealed.

The Liberal Democrats don’t appear to be particularly friendly towards shooters either, although they do tend to represent constituencies in rural Scotland and the southwest where gun ownership is the most common.  However they haven’t formed a Government since the Firearms Act 1920 so generally it’s not that important what they think.  The Scottish nationalists also appear to be vehemently anti-gun and are currently lobbying for a ban or licensing of airguns in Scotland.

So what to do?  Well we need to bear in mind that not all Labour and Conservative MPs follow the party line.  For example there are Labour MPs such as Austin Mitchell, Frank Cook, Kate Hoey etc. who have lobbied quite hard against the anti-gun line of the Labour party.

Basically, you should contact the leading candidates in your constituency and find out where they stand – make it clear your vote depends on it.

Personally I think that a minority Conservative Government would probably be the best outcome for shooters, as they will need a lot of support to be able to govern and they may reach out to shooters in that event.  Devolution of firearm law-making power to the Scottish Parliament is also something to quiz candidates about, as this is something that will be decided pretty much immediately after the election.


No doubt if you’ve been following the press you have read about the Government plans to tighten the Dangerous Dogs Act in various ways, due to the misuse of so-called “attack” or “assault” dogs by thugs.  Various figures have been given for the number of dog bites treated at hospitals and any sort of tragic story is being trolled through the tabloids, etc.  It all sounds familiar doesn’t it?  There is little doubt in my mind that without a serious change in culture the UK could well end up having a Cat De-clawing Act on the books.


Been awhile since I’ve done one of these editorials, but an important piece of legislation passed last year in Ireland, the Criminal Justice (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2009.  It sounds innocuous, but nothing could be further from the truth.  Basically this Act was intended to clean up the mess created by the Criminal Justice Act 2006, not the least of which was the wording of “restricted firearms” in the 2006 Act, which was intended to be a way to prohibit firearms, more or less, but that didn’t turn out the way the Govt. intended.

This Act provides for the Minister of Justice by statutory instrument to prohibit certain types of firearms; creates a massively complex system of prohibiting realistic imitation firearms with some exemptions that require licensing; prohibits “dynamic and practical” shooting sports; provides for a staggered introduction of the three-year licensing term; grandfathers owners of handguns and bans new applications except for air pistols and .22s in rare circumstances (potential Olympic team members and the like, basically).

Bear in mind this is all in addition to the new provisions introduced by the 2006 Act, as detailed here.

Don’t move to Ireland, to cut a long story short.  Although I suppose at least it is still technically possible to own an actual modern handgun for target shooting in Ireland, which is more than you can say about Great Britain (excluding the handful of Olympic hopefuls who have been given prohibited weapons authority so they can dry-fire their pistols).


A recent multiple shooting at a supermaket in Finland with a stolen 9mm pistol has prompted a commission set up by the Govt. there to call for a ban on semi-automatic pistols, this also follows two school shootings using .22 semi-auto pistols.

There are about 200,000 legally owned handguns in Finland, about the same as in Great Britain prior to the ban – except that Finland has a population 9% the size of Great Britain.  Not surprisingly, with that level of gun ownership the coalition Govt. is split over implementing such a ban.  Two rather obvious problems with it is that it would be barking mad in a country where collectors can legally own machineguns (not to mention revolvers), the second is that a lot of problems have been highlighted with the licensing system, which in many locales still involves a lot of paperwork with gun registration records residing in filing cabinets.  It’s rather hard to collect guns in when you’re not sure who owns them.

“A lady can carry a revolver hidden for self-defence in many more ways than a man, owing to her draperies affording more places for concealment.  Cloaks, capes, etc., make good hiding-places for a revolver; inside a muff is about one of the best places; and a small revolver in the right hand, inside a muff, that hand hanging down by the side, is ready for instant use.  As ladies often carry their muffs in this way, it does not arouse suspicion.  It is very important for ladies to protect their ears when shooting.” – Walter Winans, p. 218, “The Art of Revolver Shooting”, pub. 1901.


Another scapegoating at hand


27 November, 2008 – Yes, it was too good to be true: as reported here, the return of handguns in the Republic of Ireland seems set to be very short-lived.  For those of you not keeping track, handguns were seized in Ireland in 1972 and held in police custody until 2004 with infrequent visits from their owners, until it became clear that such a policy was not going to survive scrutiny by the Irish courts.

As a result 1,500 or so handguns were returned to their surviving lawful owners, and since 2004 a few hundred extra handguns have been licensed.

It was clear the Irish Govt. did not look upon this development favourably with the enactment of the Criminal Justice Act 2006, which among many changes to the Firearms Acts in Ireland contained a particularly fuzzy provision allowing certain firearms to be classed as: “restricted”, and requiring applicants to apply to the Commissioner of the Garda rather than just the local Superintendent for a Firearm Certificate.  Obviously one would presumably need a very good reason indeed to convince the Commissioner to grant an FAC for a restricted firearm.

Earlier this year, after a General Election caused various delays, the Minister of Justice finally got around to issuing a statutory instrument defining what a “restricted firearm” would be and essentially it is this:

1) Any handgun, except air pistols using .177″ air pellets or .22″ rimfire pistols, providing they are designed for ISSF competition;

2) Any rifle, except air rifles, most .17″ and .22″ rimfire rifles (provided the magazine doesn’t hold more than ten rounds) and centrefire rifles that are single-shot or “repeating” (this appears to exclude semi-autos) up to 7.62mm calibre, that are at least 90cm long and don’t resemble selective-fire rifles;

3) Any shotgun, except shotguns with a barrel at least 24″ long that hold three rounds or less of ammunition and which do not have a pistol grip or folding, detachable or telescoping stock; and

4) Any sound suppressor, except those designed for use with rimfire rifles.

Also defined as “restricted” would be various types of ammunition, including handgun ammunition (except .22″ rimfire), shotgun slugs and sabot ammunition.

Now this sounds bad, and it is, because it essentially wipes out all IPSC competition in Ireland.

The only bright spots in this SI are that some types of pistol would remain legal and also some rifles up to 7.62mm would be legal (in the past centrefire rifles were limited to .27″ calibre).  To date the implementation of this SI has been held up.

However, just when you thought it couldn’t get any worse, it did, as shown by this press release weighed down with hyperbole.

I have to say of all the press releases I’ve ever read from Govt. departments over the years, this is by far the most stupid.  Note this comment for example:

My concern is that unless strong and decisive action is taken the number of handguns could grow exponentially and our firearms regime would equate to that of countries such as the United States. Today we have 1800 legal handguns – in three years time that number could exceed 4,000 and rising.

Bear in mind Ireland already had an extremely restrictive licensing regime for firearms that grew more restrictive still with the Criminal Justice Act 2006 as detailed here.  More handguns are typically sold every day in the US than are currently legally owned in Ireland!  Many gun clubs had already spent considerable time and money getting their facilities into compliance with the 2006 Act, only to find now that the guns they use will be banned.

Perhaps more tellingly, Home Office statistics seem to indicate there are between 15,000 and 16,000 handguns legally owned in England & Wales under the various exemptions to the Firearms (Amendment) Act 1997.  This works out to roughly 30 handguns per 100,000 people (and this figure excludes muzzle-loading guns, blank-firing guns and air pistols).  In the Republic of Ireland the figure is 40/100,000 and that figure includes blank-firing guns, muzzle-loading guns and air pistols!  In other words the ownership figure per capita of actual modern, working handguns is probably roughly the same in Ireland as it is in England & Wales, and the ownership of handguns for target shooting is banned in England & Wales!  One can hardly refer to the likelihood of a “Dunblane type incident” given that reality, or the threat of theft.  In fact I wouldn’t be surprised if the ownership rate is actually a little bit higher in England & Wales at present.  Even if the number did increase to 4,000 it’s still a very small number, far less than the 12,000 or so legally owned in Northern Ireland.

The only bright spot in that fantastically ill-informed press release is that it does appear a few people will still be able to get pistols if they’re good enough to be on the Olympic squad, and it talks vaguely about some sort of “grandfather” clause for current owners under a “radically tightened” licensing procedure.  A procedure that has been very tight since the 1920s and which has already been “radically tightened” many previous times, most recently in 2006.  It is hard to see how it could be made much tougher.  Psychometric testing perhaps?  Higher licensing fees?  Day-long lecture on the evils of gun ownership by some badly misinformed politician?

If you’re still wondering where the scapegoating comes in, it’s due to the fact an innocent person was shot dead by a gang in Limerick and the Minister is using this as a reason to ban handguns.  What that crime has to do with the legal ownership of a tiny number of handguns under a very strict licensing regime is hard to fathom.

The US elections

As much as we may all hate to admit it, Federal elections in the US always have an impact on gun owners around the world because half the privately-owned guns in the world are in the United States.  Thus the gun industry caters to them and if anything happens to that market it affects us all.

To cut a very long story very short, it is clear that Obama is no friend of gun owners and even if he were, the US Congress has tilted towards the anti-gun viewpoint.

The difference between Congress this time and what happened when the Democrats controlled the White House and Congress back in 1993 and 1994 is that there are enough Democrats still around who remember that they lost control of Congress to the Republicans in 1994 in large part because of the passage of the “Brady Bill” (which instituted a waiting period and background check on handgun sales) in 1993 and the “assault weapons” ban in 1994.  This law banned a variety of semi-automatic firearms and “large capacity ammunition feeding devices” that held more than ten rounds of ammunition from import and manufacture.

I suspect the most we can expect legislatively from the new Congress in the near future is for the “assault weapon” ban to be reinstituted (it expired in 2004), except this time it will have no sunset provision.  It will probably be tightened up slightly as well, to include component parts of banned guns and magazines.  Re-instituting the ban is seen as being politically safe because President Bush said he would sign a bill to re-authorise it.  I doubt American gun owners will agree that it is politically safe however.

I think it is worth re-hashing the history of the “assault weapon” issue here because it is important to understand just how utterly stupid and pointless the whole thing has become over the years.

These bans first started in the late 1970s, either because governments were worried about private individuals having what they saw as military weapons in their possession, or because someone had used one in a crime.  Good examples are the Hungerford massacre in 1987, which led to a ban in the UK, or the Stockton schoolyard shootings which led to a State ban in California in 1989, as well as a US federal import ban the same year.  Other examples around the same time include the Hoddle Street shootings in Melbourne, Australia and the Montréal Polytechnic massacre.

The problem with all of these laws is that there has never been any real agreement as to what an “assault weapon” actually is, in its broadest sense it is merely a weapon you can assault someone with.  Here are some examples of laws passed that have been described as bans on these guns, and what actually happened as a result:

  1. After the Hungerford massacre, the UK banned all semi-automatic and pump-action rifles excluding those chambered for .22 rimfire.  As a result, shooters (especially after the handgun ban in 1997) took to shooting variations of guns like the AR-15, M1A, Mini-14 and so on that were either chambered for .22 rimfire cartridges, or which had straight-pull bolt-action mechanisms;
  2. After the 1996 Port Arthur shootings in Australia, the Federal government convinced the States to ban all semi-automatic rifles and shotguns and also pump-action shotguns.  As a result, lever-action shotguns are now very popular as well as pump-action rifles;
  3. After the 1989 Montréal shootings in Canada, various laws were passed, culminating in a series of Orders-in-Council which banned lists of firearms after they had been determined to be “non-sporting” using a hugely complex points system developed by the Dept. of Justice.  As a result, many semi-automatic rifles were not banned (including the Mini-14), the AR-15 was put in the same category as handguns, magazines were limited to 5 rounds for semi-automatic long guns and banned guns were either collected in or “grandfathered” depending on how many points they got on the test.  Shooters in response either gravitated towards guns that were excluded from the ban, or used new models of gun that came out after the ban;
  4. After a mass shooting incident in 1990, New Zealand banned “military-style semi-automatic” firearms.  This law basically said any semi-automatic firearms with a list of certain features (such as a folding stock, flash hider, magazine capable of holding more than 7 rounds of ammunition or more than 15 rounds of .22 rimfire ammunition) would be banned from manufacture or import and current owners would either have to modify their guns to remove the banned features or else get a new type of licence which further restricted their possession;
  5. “Assault weapon” bans became en vogue in the US after the Stockton schoolyard massacre and various States and localities embarked on bans – these either consisted of a list of banned guns, or a list of banned features, or a combination of both (as happened with the Federal ban).  Federal law and regulations were changed in 1989, 1990, 1994 and 1998 to restrict the import of certain types of firearms and parts into the US.  The plethora of differing laws and the number of shooters in the US led to what can only be described as a deluge of different firearms coming onto the market: guns with their names changed, guns with certain features removed or altered, guns manufactured domestically to avoid import bans, or guns with domestically manufactured components for the same reason, etc.

The main thing to draw from just these examples (and there are many, many others) is that there is absolutely zero consensus on what an “assault weapon” actually is.  No-one has much of a clue.  Back in the mid-1980s it was possible for a firearm expert to say in a highly qualified way what a definition might be (usually a selective-fire rifle, but that went out the window because no-one believed a semi-automatic only AK-47 was not an “assault weapon”), but there was always another expert who would say: “Ah, but that definition excludes this.

The past twenty years of legislation and innovation have simply blurred a blurred line to the point that no-one can with any confidence say what on Earth an “assault weapon” may or may not be.  There used to be a few ground rules, such as that it was selective-fire, semi-automatic or at least had a detachable magazine, but all that has gone out the window.  There are AR-15s, AK-47s, etc. that are bolt-action, pump-action, even lever-action or single-shot.  AR-15s with fixed magazines.  AK-47s that use shotgun ammunition.  And of course none of these guns say anything like: “AR-15” or “AK-47” on them and generally the major parts are not interchangeable with them.  There are even airguns that have been given the “assault weapon” moniker.

Basically what it boils down to is that an “assault weapon” ban is a gun ban, pure and simple.  It’s a gun ban designed to make some people who own guns not as worried that their guns may be banned, but the reality is that no two such bans have ever banned the same guns.  Basically what does get banned is completely arbitrary and bears no relationship at all to what degree of threat there is to public safety, or how often such guns are used in crime.

It also appears that politicians are largely out-of-touch with gun owners; they often go on about how your hunting rifle or shotgun will not be banned by them, while completely failing to understand that military and civilian firearms have always had a similar design philosophy and today’s modern sporting guns are not that different from today’s modern military and police guns.

For those of us who know a lot about guns, “assault weapon” bans have a Luddite feel to them.  An attempt to ban a type of technology some people don’t like the looks of, which cannot be accurately defined in legislation because really it’s an emotive issue rather than a clearly defined one.  Really it’s the same sort of mentality that has led to cultures banning certain kinds of books or certain kinds of clothes.

And that’s why these bans will never work and are totally pointless, because human beings are by nature inventive and will always find a way.  In the meantime, all the politicians have achieved is to convince a lot of people to go out and buy guns they never would have bought otherwise!

“Necessity, who is the mother of invention.” – Plato

Obscure things you should know about

January 7th, 2008 – In this case the rather obscure but very important (if you’re a gun owner) European Firearms Directive.  Although the Directive has been on the books since 1991, most gun owners still only seem to have a passing familiarity with it, usually when they think about going shooting abroad somewhere else in the EU and their local licensing dept. tells them that they need a European Firearms Pass.  The Directive was made part of the legislation of the UK via the Firearms Acts (Amendment) Regulations 1992.

The Directive itself was a hodgepodge of various legislation that the then European Community members thought the other members should have, one example being a ban on firearms disguised as other objects (thank you Belgium) or a ban on expanding pistol ammunition (thank you Germany).  The main parts of it that people are aware of in the UK and Ireland (due to the fact the gun laws there are so restrictive that it made little difference to domestic licensing) are the European Firearm Pass, which is required for travel to another EU State (in addition to any permits that State may require) and also the Article 7 authority, which is required for acquisition of a Category B firearm in another EU State (i.e. most handguns and semi-automatic long guns), in addition to any other paperwork that country may require.

Basically, it was a bureaucratic nightmare foisted on the EU, with lots of illogical bits in it and a passport system for guns that has never worked because it is not pre-emptive, and countries such as Ireland and the UK still require separate import permits.  One of the most glaring problems was the total lack of information sharing between States.  For example if you used an Article 7 authority to buy a gun in another State, the dealer was supposed to give it to the local authorities, who reported that to the national authorities, who then reported that to your national authorities, who then reported that to your local authorities, so they knew that you had bought a firearm.  Which, oddly enough, given the complexity of it, never actually happened…

The Directive has been under review now for some time, and all this led to was a recent amendment to make the EFP and Article 7 authorities published in the 25 official languages of the expanded EU.  However, the Directive itself came to public attention because of a recent school shooting in Finland.  Finland itself had opposed a fairly obscure amendment to the Directive that would prohibit minors (under 18) from possessing firearms for sporting purposes without adult supervision.  After the shooting, the Finnish Govt. made the momentous decision to change their mind.  Or rather some bureaucrat somewhere took some heat and shrugged his shoulders and crossed off a minor agenda item for Finnish MEPs, most likely.  Somewhere in the media furore, the fact that the shooter at the school had in fact been 18 years old, and only qualified for a Finnish gun licence under current Finnish domestic law because of his age, was lost.

Regardless, the amendments to the European Firearms Directive moved up the agenda of the European Parliament slightly and the amendments were recently passed as follows:

  • imitation firearms that can be readily converted into working firearms will be treated as firearms (already the case in the UK);
  • sound suppressors will be treated as firearm components (already the case in the UK and Ireland);
  • the definition of parts subject to control will be made clearer;
  • a rather wishy washy definition of ammunition has been adopted, which basically says ammunition is ammunition if the member State says it is;
  • tougher controls on dealers, primarily that they must keep their records forever and be subject to background checks;
  • arms brokers may be made subject to licensing and registration;
  • the European Commission will come up with a EU-wide de-activation standard for firearms that makes sure that they are “irreversibly” inoperable;
  • member States must have a registration system for firearms and the records must be kept for at least 20 years;
  • gun users must be at least 18 years of age, except for sporting uses where the person is supervised by someone aged 18 or older or the use is at a gun club;
  • the European Firearms Pass will be the “main” document for people moving around the EU with firearms (originally this was going to be pre-emptive but has been watered down);
  • internet transfers of firearms must be “strictly controlled” (they already are, this is a response to media misinformation);
  • small arms and ammunition lots must be marked, preferably in compliance with the CIP proof treaty (which most EU States already do);
  • firearms subject to authorisation (i.e. Category B firearms) can be acquired using a multi-annual licence, previously granted (hmm… sounds like a firearm certificate) – this was apparently done to clarify the permit procedures (and they’ve failed miserably);
  • the setting up of a proper information sharing system between member States so that the EFP and Article 7 authority system can actually work as originally intended.

And various other bits and pieces.  As you can see it is very vague in many areas and I don’t envy the job of the Home Office and the Irish Dept. of Justice when they try and figure out how to put it all into a statutory instrument. However this is just the preamble to the stuff you should be worried about, and this time I’ll quote from the Directive:

Within four years from the date of entry into force of this Directive, the Commission shall carry out research and submit a report to the European Parliament and to the Council on the possible advantages and disadvantages of a reduction to two categories of firearms (prohibited or authorised) with a view to better functioning of the internal market for the products in question, through possible simplification.

What they’re talking about here is getting rid of Category C (firearms subject to registration, mainly sporting long guns) and Category D (single and double barrel shotguns mainly) from the Directive and making everything subject to individual authorisation, which essentially means FAC controls on shotguns in GB.  And:

Within two years from the date of entry into force of this Directive into national law, a report shall present the conclusions of a study of the issue of the placing on the market of replica firearms in order to determine whether the inclusion of such products in the present Directive is possible and desirable.

The Directive gives two years for it to be incorporated into national law, so in fact this is a four-year thing as well.  How replica firearms could fit into this Directive is anyone’s guess at this point.  Note also that the Directive mentions nothing about antique firearms, although one of the main problems pointed out with the Directive for many years has been the lack of a proper definition of an antique. Anyway, prepare for more mind-numbing legislation shortly.  The Home Office plans on getting these changes into law in the UK by the end of 2009.  

De-activated firearms

The new Home Secretary, Jacqui Smith, has been quoted as saying she wants to ban de-activated firearms, preferably by including them within the definition of a “realistic imitation firearm”, as defined in the Violent Crime Reduction Act 2006.  The Act prohibits the sale, importation and manufacture of realistic imitations, but not the simple possession or the transfer of them.  Reading her comments more carefully gives one the impression that she is talking about the pre-October 1995 de-activated firearms that are in circulation.  Firearms de-activated between July 1989 and October 1995 were subject to a less stringent standard, or more accurately, submachineguns and automatic rifles were, as the changes made in respect of other types of firearm were minor.

The changes were made in 1995 due to several instances of reworked SMGs showing up in serious crimes.  However, due to the change in the standards, pre-95 SMGs and automatic rifles now command very high prices among collectors.

Much of the press about these comments is the typical nonsense, saying it takes “minutes” to convert them and there are 120,000 in circulation, etc.  There are about 120,000 deactivated firearms done to the 1989-95 standard in circulation, but the majority of them are not SMGs.  Despite the changes to the standard made in 1995, there is no indication that automatic rifles have been successfully re-activated, much less used in crime, although there have been a few successful prosecutions of people who have fiddled with them but not completely restored them to working order.

Whatever your views on de-activated firearms, the general idea to include the pre-95 guns in the definition of a “realistic imitation firearm” seems rather odd because clearly they cannot be manufactured or imported.  Doing this would only ban the sale of them, and it would still be entirely lawful for criminals to possess or transfer them.  The only real effect would be to render collections of them worthless, which means collectors would likely be less careful about storing them, and how would that enhance public safety?

A more logical approach, suggested in these editorial pages previously, would be to ban people convicted of serious criminal offences from possessing any type of gun (except perhaps toy guns).  Can someone explain to me why a convicted criminal should be allowed to lawfully possess a realistic imitation firearm or a de-activated firearm?  I’ve been waiting for an explanation from the Home Office for many years and I’ve yet to get one.

“I should have shot him if he had shot me through the brain.” – Andrew Jackson, May 30, 1806, after his second asked him how he had managed to shoot and kill Charles Dickinson after Dickinson had shot him in the chest during a duel.

Bye bye Blair

June 30, 2007 – When Tony Blair became Prime Minister in the UK, I suspect like most people I was glad to see the back of the previous Tory Govt.

However, at the time I wasn’t that impressed with the replacement. Tony Blair’s first real act as Prime Minister was to push for a ban on handguns. The reality was that the previous Govt. had already banned handguns in the wake of the Dunblane massacre, and the limp three section Act that Blair pushed through Parliament simply removed a very narrow exemption that allowed .22 pistols to be possessed if they were stored at secure gun clubs.

I got the impression then that what we were dealing with was a man who was obsessed with style over substance, and the ensuing ten years more than proved me right.

What will Tony Blair be remembered for exactly? It’s hard to actually pin something to his chest that speaks of a major success, either on the domestic scene or overseas. The only thing that comes to mind really is the peace process in Northern Ireland.

Unfortunately what he will be remembered for is failure more than success. Or at best, mediocrity.

The number of “spin” disasters is frankly too long to go into, such as infighting with Gordon Brown, or successive embarrassments caused by being overly attached to Peter Mandelson or Alastair Campbell.

Various major incidents involving university fee hikes, pension fights or public/private partnerships to build hospitals, etc. were more a case of economic reality that any Govt. would have been forced into.

The list of promises broken is frankly too daunting to list, and was replaced instead with endless Acts of Parliament foisting huge amounts of legislation on the British public that spoke more of Blair’s barrister background than a real connection with making Britain a better place.

Most of these Acts were not even new legislation, they were simply amending Acts designed to increase criminal penalties and to expand the range of criminal offences. Many things associated with the Blair administration, such as Anti-Social Behaviour Orders (ASBOs) were in fact a creation of the previous Govt., and Blair’s Government simply enacted legislation making them easier to issue.

So expansive did the creation of new legislation become that Blair himself apparently lost track of the major provisions of it. The only real piece of legislation I can recall that was a positive development was the Human Rights Act 1998, which incorporated the European Convention on Human Rights into domestic law. This achievement was however overshadowed by successive Home Secretaries attempting to gut it in the name of fighting terrorism and a limp defence of the Act which made it sound as though people actually having civil rights was more of an unfortunate inconvenient reality than a positive development.

And then, of course, there is the war in Iraq.

A lot of people excuse Blair’s mistake in taking the UK into a war in Iraq to find non-existent weapons of mass destruction on the basis that he had to do it because the UK is allied with the US, and in fact Bush made the mistake.

In reality, this is a perception caused by the fact that the US is the dominant power.

But in fact, as Paddy Ashdown’s (former leader of the Liberal Democratic Party) autobiography illustrates, Blair himself was concerned about Iraqi WMD before he became Prime Minister, and certainly a long time before anyone had an inkling that George W Bush would become President.

President Bush himself quoted British intelligence sources during his State of the Union address in 2003.

It may be hard to hear this, but the reality is that Bush was Blair’s poodle rather than the other way around, at least to begin with. Although in fairness, I doubt even Blair could have imagined the scale of the disaster the US has made of the Iraq war.

Personally I supported invading Iraq to get rid of Saddam Hussein, however it was obvious that the WMD issue was smoke and mirrors from the very beginning. And Blair totally discredited himself forever by wedding himself solely to the idea of getting rid of Iraqi WMD. I can’t recall him ever making the statement that Iraq should be invaded to get rid of Saddam Hussein, only that that would be a helpful by-product of the invasion.

So basically to sum up, Tony Blair appears to have been little more than an opportunistic PR guy whose most major decision while he was Prime Minister was gravely mistaken.

At least he lived up to the tagline on this website! [Since removed – ed.]

Gordon Brown cometh…

It’s too early to say whether Gordon Brown will be more successful as Prime Minister, however the omens are not good, neither for the country or for gun owners, based on the appointment of Jaqui Smith to be Home Secretary.

To date, her CV doesn’t indicate that she is up to the task, having only been a Minister of State in various much lighter weight roles, her most significant former post being Minister of State for the DTI, which is hardly in the same league as the Home Office.  Especially considering her new role as Secretary of State, rather than being merely a minister.

She appears to have been appointed to the role merely because she is a Brown loyalist, rather than because she has any particular talent for dealing with terrorism or immigration.

This would be bad enough, but the Home Office is currently in the middle of a major upheaval with the re-organisation of the department started by John Reid, who has been cast asunder no doubt because he most certainly isn’t a Brown loyalist.

She could however redeem herself by firing the bureaucrats responsible for the following fiasco and encouraging the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police to do the same:

The persecution of Mick Shepherd

I won’t rehash this one at length, because the BBC do a pretty good job of laying out this shambles masquerading as law enforcement in their article.

I suppose one could argue that justice was done in that Mr Shepherd was found not guilty, but unfortunately it clearly wasn’t, as it is hard to see why he was locked up on remand in Belmarsh maximum security prison for nine months prior to his trial.  One can only hope that Mr Shepherd successfully sues the Met for every penny they’ve got.

My main point of disagreement with the BBC article is that the law on antique firearms is not a grey area at all.  It has in fact been on the statute books for 87 years at the time of writing, and there is literally acres of case law defining every single word of section 58(2) of the Act in excruciating detail.

The problem is that the Home Office likes to ignore all the case law that fails to agree with their own guidance.  As a result, the police are often misled into thinking they have a case against someone when in fact they don’t, although the Shepherd case has to be by far the most spectacular failure of the guidance to date.  The basic problem is that the Home Office insist that antique firearms must be chambered in an “obsolete” calibre, although there is no basis in law for that definition, and there is plenty of case law that disagrees with that definition as well.  It’s also a very vague standard, because something that is obsolete today can be manufactured tomorrow.  So at the end of the day, the Home Office cops out and says: “we’ll let the courts decide”, which isn’t really of much help to the police.

This issue has been growing increasingly messy in recent years because of the additional guidance added in 1997 in relation to section 7 of the Firearms (Amendment) Act 1997, which has never made any sense to me.  If you read section 7(4) of the Act, it says quite clearly that the section is without prejudice to anything covered by section 58(2) of the 1968 Act.  The end result is that there are firearms, such as a .32 Browning 1910, which Mick was charged with the illegal possession of, that could fall under section 58(2) of the 1968 Act or section 7(3) of the 1997 Act.  In the latter case, you need a firearm certificate (or prohibited weapons authority) and need to keep the gun at a “designated site”, in the first case you don’t.

The jury decided that Mick didn’t need a firearm certificate and he was in possession of an antique, thus basically sinking the Home Office guidance on section 7 of the Act, something I tried to do unsuccessfully in court in 2000 myself (a case which the Home Office has also put a misleading spin on in their guidance).  This ruling renders section 7(1) of the 1997 Act (antique handguns that can be kept at home with an FAC) essentially redundant.  If it doesn’t, then the passage of time will in a few years when it becomes impossible to argue that a gun made in 1918 isn’t an antique.

The Home Office has been making noises for years that when and if the desperately needed firearms consolidation Act comes to pass that they will re-write the section dealing with antiques to agree with their guidance.  Don’t be surprised if this happens sooner rather than later in light of this court case.  However this won’t alter the reality that it’s a very vague definition of an antique.  I’ve always felt that simply setting a 100-year old standard would be the simplest solution, it’s generally accepted with the public, easy to understand and easy to enforce.  There may be 100-year old guns knocking about that are still dangerous weapons, but the same can be said of the swords displayed in various National Trust properties.

The other point brought out by this court case is how the police like to exaggerate the armed crime problem.  As the BBC article points out, absolutely no evidence was presented in court that any of Mick’s guns had ever been involved in any sort of criminal activity, despite Scotland Yard strongly suggesting this to the press.  No doubt the Met would say that for operational reasons they did not want to disclose information about on-going investigations, however to not present any evidence at all of any criminal misuse implies quite strongly that they were exaggerating the problem.

The police are no strangers to exaggeration, as I have detailed at great length in previous editorials, e.g. this one.  Finally they’ve been caught with their pants down in a spectacular fashion.  This is one of the few good things to come out of this fiasco of a court case and will hopefully cause the police to tread more cautiously in the future.

“Today’s verdict is a message to anyone who should try to covertly sell illegal firearms.” – Detective Superintendent Kevin Davis of Operation Trident commenting on Mick Shepherd’s case, before he found out what the verdict was.


Out of ideas and out of time


April 1, 2007 – Nothing indicates quite clearly how intellectually bankrupt the Government now is on the subject of armed crime in our society than the recent fiasco involving statements made by Tony Blair.

Responding to public concerns over a recent spate of shooting incidents in London, Manchester and elsewhere, Mr Blair made one gaff after another on a BBC breakfast TV show.  First he stated that the age limit for being subject to the mandatory 5-year sentence for possession of a prohibited firearm should be lowered from 21 to 18.  Unfortunately, section 287 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003 already says that, and the Conservatives were able to make political hay out of the Prime Minister’s gaff at apparently not being aware of major provisions of legislation his own Government is responsible for.

The second gaff the PM made was to announce a “review” of firearms controls, without apparently being aware that the Home Office is already conducting one.

And then the PM fell back onto tired old rhetoric about gun crime “summits” and the usual platitudes.  Unfortunately for the PM, this time virtually no-one finds any of it credible.

It’s the same old rubbish we’ve heard many times before, which is why laws like the Criminal Justice Act 2003, Anti-Social Behaviour Act 2003 and Violent Crime Reduction Act 2006 exist.

The Met police chief, Sir Ian Blair, then destroyed his own credibility by pulling another tired old idea out of the hat, i.e. a call for a gun amnesty.  The Home Secretary, John Reid, appeared non-committal.  Probably a good idea as his career will outstrip that of either Blair.  Or there is the remote possibility he is aware of his department’s own guidance to the police, which says:

25.5 Anyone surrendering an illegally held
firearm should be questioned discreetly with
a view to establishing its history but, unless
circumstances exist to give serious cause for
concern as to its provenance (for example,
if it appears to have been stolen), the
person handing it in should not be pressed.
The emphasis should be on creating an
environment in which people hand in illegally
held firearms.

What this basically means is that there is a permanent firearms amnesty going on all the time.  That the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police appears to be unaware of this is rather worrying.

The real picture

Home Office statistics on firearm-related crime paint a mixed picture, and it is possible to pull things out of them in isolation that support the view that gun crime is not as bad as it was, or alternatively, that it is getting worse, by picking on whichever category you want.  For example, armed robbery is up, while firearm-related homicide is down.

However, to draw any conclusion its necessary to look at the complete picture, which of course no politician is going to do, especially on national TV, unless its overwhelmingly positive, which it isn’t.

What we see if we look at the statistics in total is that the most serious types of armed crime are indeed going down, such as homicide.  On the lower end of the scale, such as offences involving the use of airguns, the statistics are relatively static.  However, it is the middle tier of offences where things are getting worse, such as armed robbery.

This gives us a mixed outlook.  There are various theories that fit these statistics.  My own theory is that the use of firearms in the middle tier of offences is slowly broadening, and that is supported for example by the increasing use of firearms in robberies on public highways.  This is not a good long-term sign, because although the total number of offences is still relatively low, the broadening of various categories of offence indicates an increasing reliance on the use of firearms in crime generally.

Also, firearm-related homicide is such a rare event it’s difficult to draw any conclusion on one year’s worth of statistics.  Injuries caused with firearms are however down, but this is a small drop after several years of sharp increases.  I wonder whether part of the drop in homicides could be attributed to the fact that hospitals and ambulance staff are simply becoming more skilled at dealing with firearm-related injuries?

Suffice to say however that there is no strong indication that any of the legislation in the past few years has caused any sort of massive impact on armed crime.  Which is why we are now being treated to all sorts of politicians and policemen going through the motions with the same tired old rhetoric.  They are, quite simply, out of ideas; but then that was obvious years ago.


France has recently amended their firearm laws in an intriguing way – to allow people “who are exposed to serious risks to their security” to have a Category 1 or 4 firearm for personal protection, (meaning basically a handgun).

The motivation for this has been to safeguard against terrorist attacks.  It is similar to the provisions that exist in Northern Ireland, where it is possible for someone who is at risk of terrorist attack to obtain a firearm certificate for one pistol for personal protection.

France has had for many years a tightly circumscribed provision that allows people to have a Category 4 handgun on their own property for personal protection, but being allowed to carry a handgun around, and a military calibre one at that (Category 1) is a new phenomenon.

I have argued unsuccessfully for some time that Great Britain needs a similar provision, but it always seems to fall on deaf ears.  I have never understood (and neither have many Northern Irish politicians) why a person who is able to qualify for an FAC for personal protection in Northern Ireland should suddenly not be deemed fit to even possess a handgun, let alone carry it around with them, when they set foot in Great Britain.  Do terrorists not travel?

In this era of terrorist attacks by radical Islamic fundamentalists, it does seem odd that a provision equivalent to the new French law does not exist in Britain.


Calls for an airgun ban in Scotland, mainly by those on the far left, continue.  The cynical view of this is that the sponsor wants to divert attention away from his allegedly seedy personal life, however there is more than that to it, with victims of crime also calling for a ban.

The Scottish Government has so far resisted calls for a ban, for two simple reasons – the Scottish Govt. doesn’t have the power to enact local firearm legislation, as this is reserved to Westminster.  The second reason why is that they don’t want to ask because it would be politically embarrassing and patently wouldn’t work, because it could be easily evaded by simply crossing the border to acquire an airgun.

However, if you live in Scotland, it would be wise to contact your MSP to protest against calls for tighter airgun regulations.  If for no other reason than the large amount of legislation that has been passed at Westminster the last few years.

The “Violent Crime Reduction Act”

Last, and by no means least, is the pending introduction of the Violent Crime Reduction Act 2006 which contains many firearm-related provisions.  I will update the legal section when the regulations under the Act have been finalised, but the Act will come into force during 2007.

On Friday April 6th various firearm-related provisions will be commenced: 

  • enhanced application of mandatory minimum penalties to firearm-related offences; 
  • the new offence of minding a firearm; 
  • the requirement for dealers in air weapons in GB to be registered (note: this is only a limited commencement of these provisions to allow time for dealers to become registered, before the rest of the provisions relating to mail order bans, higher age limits, etc. is brought in); 
  • the requirement for transfers of primers or primed cases to be made only to people who hold a firearm or shotgun certificate, an RFD or who are otherwise exempt.

There is also lots of new firearms legislation in the Republic of Ireland, in the shape of Part 5 of the Criminal Justice Act 2006.  However the Dept. of Justice is still trying to figure out how to implement the various provisions, so I shall update the legal section at the relevant time. 

“Outside of the killings, Washington has one of the lowest crime rates in the country.” – Mayor Marion Barry of Washington, D.C., at a time when the city had the highest per capita murder rate in the US.  Washington also has the highest per capita rate of handgun-related murders in the US, despite banning handguns in 1976.  Only one firearm-related homicide has been committed in Washington with a firearm other than a handgun since 1976.


More legislative nonsense


4 June, 2006 – The Violent Crime Reduction Bill continues through Parliament, and will likely be enacted before the summer recess.

Some of the sillier provisions in this Bill that would have affected shooters have actually been removed, such as the ban on deactivated firearms and the requirement to show a firearm certificate before acquiring a reloading press.  However, it still contains various nasty provisions, such as the very broad prohibition of: “realistic imitation firearms”.  This will largely outlaw airsoft guns, although ones currently in circulation will be legal to possess and transfer by gift.

The problem of course, as I’ve previously described, is that due to the widespread ownership of these guns, hardly anyone will be aware of the prohibition, and if those people then attempt to sell their airsoft guns, they will be liable to prosecution.  The Government has made a small concession to airsoft enthusiasts, that being that dealers will be allowed to import them for the purpose of making them not look realistic (presumably by changing their colour) prior to sale.

One hopes the Home Office will make a more serious effort to explain this prohibition to the public at large than they have with previous prohibitions, such as the prohibition of self-contained air cartridge guns, which was met with 10% compliance – at best.

The Bill also contains a provision requiring the age limit for the legal purchase of airguns to be raised to 18 and also imitation guns (which presumably includes water pistols and many toys) will have an age limit of 18 imposed for their acquisition.  How raising the age limit for airguns from 17 to 18 will make any difference is unclear, and the Government are more than happy to say that, contradicting their own consultation document which suggested that age limits be made more consistent.  So when this Bill is enacted, a person will be able to buy a shotgun or a rifle at a younger age than they can an air pistol or air rifle.  Yes, very logical, I don’t think.  Dealers in airguns will also need to be registered with the police, as it the current case with other types of firearm.  The main upshot of this is that mail order sales will be prohibited.  At one fell swoop, this will wipe out a large chunk of the gun trade.

And just to illustrate how stupid this legislation is, there is nothing in it that prohibits people convicted of serious offences from possessing a realistic imitation firearm.


A recent racially-motivated killing in Belgium by a self-confessed fascist teenager has led the Belgian legislature to vote nearly unanimously to enact the pending gun licensing bill that has been languishing for some years now.  The teenager in question had purchased a rifle from a dealer, and under current Belgian law, the dealer issues the licenses for Category C and D firearms (most sporting long guns) rather than the police, who are simply notified of the sale.  The passage of this law predictably led to a rush of people buying guns before the new licensing provisions come into effect, so I’m sure that will make everyone a lot safer.

The new licensing law is very invasive, and allows the police to interview the neighbours of the applicant, requires frequent license renewals, limits the number of firearms a person can own, etc.  It’s based on Dutch law, and we all know how intolerant and illiberal the Netherlands are.  When it comes to guns, anyway.  I should note that it’s entirely possible the teenager in question would still have been able to get a license.

The real problem with the law however is that it has now been rushed through without proper consideration, and this leads me onto my next point…

South Africa

The South African Government rammed a heavy-handed piece of legislation down the throats of South African gun owners in 2000.  It was doomed to failure due to the hugely bureaucratic nature of the law, which the already stretched South African Police Service couldn’t hope to cope with.  This was made worse by the very short periods that licenses were valid under the Firearms Control Act.

Since the law came into effect, very few licenses have been issued as SAPS is swamped with paperwork, and the situation has rapidly descended from a state of chaos into a frank admission that they can’t meet the requirements of the Act.

After consulting with gun owners, the Government decided to scrap the relicensing requirements of the Act and simply proceed with an audit of guns owned by licensees.  However, they then decided that they could face civil action by people issued new licenses who had been forced to dispose of some of their guns without compensation because they were unable to obtain new licenses for them (the new Act imposes numerical limits on the number of guns licensees can own).

So, the Government is going to proceed with the relicensing provisions of the 2000 Act, but the new Amendment Bill introduced into Parliament will extend the validity of most categories of license, and create a much longer transitional period that will end in 2009 for the new licensing provisions to be brought in.

Hands up everyone who thinks that SAPS will be able to complete this massive bureaucratic undertaking by 2009?

As I suspect the Belgians will shortly find out, it’s easy to vote for “gun control” – but putting it into practice without wasting huge amounts of police resources that could actually be used to catch criminals is something else.  Hmm… which leads me onto my next point…


The new Conservative Government in Canada is coming under pressure from gun owners to scrap the hugely costly gun registry, which came into being as a result of the Firearms Act 1995.  Originally it was expected to cost $2 million, but with on-going costs it’s probably topped $2 billion by now.

The new Government has pledged to scrap the registration of so-called: “non-restricted firearms”, i.e. most sporting long guns, which make up more than 90% of the firearms owned by Canadians.  However, it is the gun owner licensing provisions that make up most of the cost of the system, and it’s not clear what will happen there.  So far the Government has merely proposed handing it over to the RCMP to manage instead of the Dept. of Justice.

Many gun owners in Canada were hoping the law would return to the pre-1995 situation, but this was always unlikely.  Some of the more hated provisions of the legislation, such as the prohibition of handguns with a barrel length of 105mm or less, magazine capacity restrictions on pistols and semi-automatic rifles, etc. seem destined to stay, at least for now.


The national target shooting associations in the UK, the National Rifle Association, the National Smallbore Rifle Association and the Clay Pigeon Shooting Association have announced their intent to merge into one organisation that will be called the “National Association of Target Shooting Sports”.  I can think of better names frankly, but this is a huge step in the right direction of strengthening the shooting sports in this country.  It will allow for a co-ordinated national strategy in many areas, including the political one of course.

Shame they didn’t do it twenty years ago, but better late than never.

“A strong body makes the mind strong. As to the species of exercise, I advise the gun. While this gives a moderate exercise to the body, it gives boldness, enterprise, and independence to the mind. Games played with the ball, and others of that nature, are too violent for the body, and stamp no character on the mind. Let your gun therefore be the constant companion of your walks.” – Thomas Jefferson in a letter to his nephew, 19 September, 1785.


Gold for Gault

April 1, 2006 – Which just about says it all, Michael Gault won Gold for England in 25m Standard Pistol at the recent Commonwealth Games in Melbourne, Australia.

Winning this award is virtually miraculous, due to the fact that the .22 rimfire semi-automatic pistols used in Standard Pistol are prohibited in Great Britain, and Mick has to go to Switzerland to practice.  Winning it also makes Mick the most successful English competitor in Commonwealth Games history.

As amazing as all this is, it is obviously tempered by the fact that unless something is done to repeal the handgun ban, Mick will likely be the last British competitor to be so successful in these pistol disciplines.  By the time the 2012 Olympics roll around, Mick will be in his late fifties, and it’s hard to see how much in the way of new blood can be gotten into these disciplines.

Thanks to the determination of people like Mick, legal equipment has become available in the past few years that is suitable for 50m Free Pistol under ISSF rules.  It’s legal because the barrel has been made longer and counter-balance rods have been added to the rear of the pistol which make it legal under GB law, as the law defines a handgun by length.

Alan Westlake of Westlake Engineering has been making similar efforts with semi-automatics, unfortunately although he has come up with guns that are fairly workable, they are not legal for competition use under ISSF rules (which means transitioning to another pistol overseas for international competitions).

What this means is that there is a chance of new competitors coming through who can win at the international level, but realistically, with all the barriers they face it’s going to be an uphill struggle.

The handgun ban is a stupid law that needs to be repealed.  Handguns are more widely used in crime than they ever were before the ban, as proven by Home Office statistics.  The Government sometimes tells us that the reason for the ban was to stop “legal” handguns being used in crime, after the events at Dunblane.  The problem with that statement has always been that the public inquiry headed by Lord Cullen came to a different conclusion.  Even if the Government wanted a ban and ignored his recommendations in relation to them, Lord Cullen wrote, there was no reason to ban clubs from possessing handguns for the use of their members.  So what do we have today?  A complete ban on target shooting with handguns, with the exception of muzzle-loading pistols and air pistols.

Kate Hoey MP has introduced an Early Day Motion into the House of Commons which makes this point.  It’s important that you get hold of your MP and urge them to support this EDM, and point out to them the heroic efforts of people like Mick Gault.  If you don’t know who your MP is, find out who they are on the Parliament website, and write to them at the House of Commons, Westminster, SW1A 0AA.

The Dunblane “Conspiracy”

Talking about stupid things, I grow increasingly depressed by how many people keep getting taken in by the conspiracy theory surrounding the tragic shootings at Dunblane Primary School.

It seems to have a never-ending life, as soon as one aspect of it is disproven, along come another bunch of people with yet another spin on the theory to which they want: “answers”.

The reality is that it’s simply not true, the various theories that Thomas Hamilton was somehow involved with the masons or some sort of paedophilia ring with members of Central Scotland Police are pure fiction and have no basis in fact.

You may wonder why I am so certain about this; well apart from the fact that I can think logically, I know for a certain fact that this conspiracy theory was made up, because I know who the people are who originally made it up.  Despite my best attempts to quash it at the start it continually keeps popping up and has been endlessly embellished by the latest campaigner for the “truth”.

Over the years I’ve had bona fide journalists contact me for information, and after I’ve given them the information I have, they too have also concluded that it’s a fantasy.

Like all conspiracy theories, it contains some limited elements of truth.  For example some of the people who gave oral evidence at the public inquiry made statements that don’t entirely match up with their written statements.  This is one of the things that is seized on to say there was a “cover up”.  Unfortunately it proves no such thing, I doubt there has ever been a judicial inquiry in the history of the planet where all the oral and written statements entirely match up.  Knowing that it’s made up I suppose gives me an advantage, because I can clearly see through all the claptrap and flawed theorising immediately.

For awhile, people prattled on about how there must have been a cover up because Lord Cullen put some of the evidence under a 100-year closure order.  Since it’s been lifted, yet more embellishment has come out of the woodwork.

If you actually take the time to think it through logically, it’s obviously bunk, because why would someone like Thomas Hamilton, a person who was heavily in debt and almost certainly a paedophile, go on a rampage and kill over a dozen children if he had connections to various people in authority who would have overlooked his transgressions?  The answer is that he wouldn’t of.

The calls for a further public inquiry also make me laugh, because I guarantee that the end result of any further inquiry would simply be that the whole thing would be discredited – and so would be all the people who have put it forward, which unfortunately includes a number of shooters who should know better.

Now if you’re a conspiracy theorist and want to waste your time pursuing this absurd conspiracy theory, go right ahead and waste your time.  However, if you’re a shooter, please come to your senses and realise that this theory is total nonsense and use your time more usefully, e.g. by trying to get the handgun ban repealed.  Certainly undermining the Dunblane Public Inquiry won’t do that, because Lord Cullen didn’t recommend a handgun ban, and he also concluded that Central Scotland Police made serious mistakes in their dealings with Thomas Hamilton and the manner in which he was able to retain his firearm certificate.

It’s a stupid theory and endlessly going on about it helps no-one.  Get a grip people.  (And no, just because I wrote this on April 1st doesn’t mean I’m pulling your leg either.)