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.


…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).


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.


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.


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?


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.

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. 


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!


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.

Shooting Abroad

One of the questions I get asked most frequently is: “I want to shoot pistols, where can I go to do it?” This is either asked by people who had pistols and had them banned in 1997, or by people who never had the chance and want to have a go. Less frequently I am asked where to go to shoot self-loading rifles which are also banned, but the principle is the same.

I think it’s safe to say there are few people who have travelled more than myself in search of the best place overseas to continue with the sport of pistol shooting, so I shall share my knowledge on the subject:

In general

Before you even think of going overseas, I will make the point here to novice shooters that you are probably better off going to your local gun club and trying air pistol shooting first. If that doesn’t tickle your fancy, you might find that shooting a muzzle-loading pistol, or long-barrelled revolver, or one of the other legal contraptions that we shoot nowadays in Britain does. If, however, you really want to shoot a modern pistol, then…

About 80-90% of countries fall into a similar pattern when it comes to allowing non-residents to use and own pistols. They all have their own bizarre quirks that I could spend hours listing, but I won’t waste your time with the more esoteric provisions. Suffice to say if you have a specific question, e-mail me, I may not know the answer but I can point you in the right direction most of the time.

Basically, in most countries it is not a problem to join a gun club there and shoot pistols owned by the club, provided pistols are legal there. In a few of the Eastern European countries the laws are so tough as to not be worth bothering with as there are so few types of handgun legal there and very few gun clubs (on the other hand, the Czech Republic has some of the least restrictive gun laws in the EU).

However, once you’ve joined the club in the country of your choice, you probably will be thinking to yourself: “I’m tired of shooting with this old clunker, I want my own gun.” And that’s where the trouble begins, because in most countries you need to be a resident of that country in order to own a pistol there. Most countries also have some sort of secure storage requirement, so you have to have some sort of residence there, although in some cases you can store the gun with a dealer. In addition to the residency requirement, most countries also require a probationary period that must be completed prior to your even being able to apply for a licence. For example, in France and Spain you must attend regularly for six months, in Germany and the Netherlands you must attend regularly for a year! In some countries the probationary requirement is waived, but usually only if you are permanently moving to that country and taking up residence and if you have a licence from your home country – i.e. a firearm certificate. This is of course of little help, if you were moving country you wouldn’t be reading this!

Countries and locales that fall into the “You can join a club and use a club gun but you must be resident to get a licence” category include:

Austria, Australia, Finland, France, Germany, Gibraltar, Greece, Guernsey, Hungary, Italy, Jersey, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, New Zealand (tourist licence required), Norway, Poland, Sweden and doubtless many others.

Of course, you may be thinking to yourself that you don’t even want to join a club, you just want to go out for the day and have a go. Once again, this depends on the country, it would take me forever to detail each country but suffice to say in some countries it is possible to walk through the door, pay for a day membership and start shooting, but in many you need to attend on a specific guest day, and in some you also need to take safety training before they will even let you touch a gun. If you have a firearm certificate, this usually helps grease the wheels as your hosts will assume that you at least know one end of a gun from the other and that you aren’t a criminal. It does help to take your FAC along and also your European Firearms Pass if you’re in another EU country.

However, rather than me blather on about this I think if you just want a day out then you’ll be far better off doing a search on the net or in the phone book (if possible) and giving the local club a phone call prior to travelling.

The other thing I’ll point out to you is that even if you come to the conclusion: “Oh, I was going to buy a holiday home in France/Spain etc. anyway so I can keep a pistol there” is that you really need to have a good command of the local language as gun laws are extremely complex and the local licensing officer will expect you to understand them. For example, in France not only does a pistol have to be unloaded but it has to be disassembled or fitted with a trigger lock while being transported to and from the range. Also, a lot of overseas shooting schemes have tripped up by trying to play silly buggers with the residency requirement. The police are usually the licensing authority, and they will expect that residence to be occupied by you for most of the time.

The pistol licensing laws in most other European countries are in fact a lot harsher than they were in GB prior to the ban, limits on the number of guns you can have, limits on the calibres you can have, limits on how you can carry them, limits (or even prohibitions) on the possession of ammunition, prohibitions on handloading etc.


…there are exceptions to the above, and not surprisingly this is where most shooters have eventually gravitated to. I will deal with these separately.


There is a club in Belgium which caters to British shooters, although from my investigations most of them are fairly accommodating to the idea.

I did have a whole section here describing how to get a non-resident licence, however it became impossible after the law changed in 2006 after a multiple murder in AntwerpHere is a report on the subject.


Canada is unusual in having a specific provision in their law that specifically allows non-residents to hold firearm licences, and moreover, with that licence you can get permission to buy a firearm. However, Canadian gun laws are of Byzantine complexity and there are so many permits and licences you have to get that I’d better run through it.

Firearms are divided into three main classes, prohibited, restricted and non-restricted. Handguns with a barrel length of 105mm or less or chambered in .25 or .32 calibre are prohibited, as are a long list of semi-automatic rifles, and also (really annoyingly) is any pistol magazine that can hold more than ten rounds of ammunition or any magazine for a centrefire semi-auto rifle that holds more than five rounds (with some very limited exceptions). So you are somewhat limited in what you can legally own.

You can’t get authority for prohibited weapons. Handguns that aren’t prohibited plus AR-15 rifles are “restricted”, but many types of semi-automatic rifle are “non-restricted”. However in both cases you still need a Canadian firearm licence. To get it, first you have to complete the Canadian Firearm Safety Course and also the Canadian Restricted Firearm Safety Course, which is offered by most gun clubs in Canada. Then you fill out the licence application and send it in – what is not mentioned anywhere on the application form is that you also need to send a copy of your police record with it – you can obtain this from your local police under the provisions of the Data Protection Act.

Once you’ve got the licence, you can then buy a firearm. Restricted firearms are also registered and each requires a registration certificate, but with these there is another catch – you also need to apply for an “authority to transport” the firearm so you can take the firearm from the shop to the place you store it, although this may not be absolutely necessary if the shop/club/place of storage are all the same business, usually to get an ATT for range use you must be a member of a gun club, but obviously you will be so that shouldn’t be a problem. Contrary to what it says on the CFC website and the ATT application form, in Ontario and Québec (and the maritime provinces) the club you are a member of applies for the range use ATT for you. If you store it with someone who has a licence, they must get a “restricted firearm storage permit” because the gun isn’t registered to them. So basically for a handgun, you need as many as four bits of paper/plastic (licence, registration, ATT, storage permit)!

This is a very quick run-through, and there is more information and a comprehensive cure for insomnia at the Canadian Firearms Centre website. You can download the many, many forms you will need and marvel at the complexity of their licensing system and wonder how much money people are making out of supplying it to them.


France used to have a really complex licensing system, but in 2013 they revised it, however, it may be less complex now but it’s still restrictive.  The new system is based on the categories in the European Firearms Directive, but using more nuanced language.  So handguns fall into Category B, as do most semi-automatic rifles (except semi-automatic rifles with a fixed two-round magazine, which are in Category C).  Note also that any rifle in five modern military calibres (including 5.56mm) is in Category B.

So you have to be a member of a gun club, have attended at least three times in the past year, pass a medical exam and have the favourable opinion of the FFTir.  And also secure storage for the guns.  So somewhat similar to how it used to be in GB, except for the addition of the medical exam.

There are limits on how many Category B firearms you can own, namely a dozen and you can only possess a maximum of 1,000 rounds of centrefire ammunition per Category B firearm at a time.  Although you can also own up to ten additional single-shot .22 pistols (this is because at one time they didn’t require a licence in France so there are a lot of them floating around).  Magazines that hold more than 31 rounds are banned; but you have to get special permission (presumably proof of being an IPSC shooter) to own a magazine that holds more than 20 rounds… and you can’t own more than ten magazines total.

However, France is close, so if you want to join a club there I suggest you have a look at the French Shooting Federation website clubfinder gizmo.

This is a summary of the licensing procedure.  This is a summary of what a Category B firearm is.  You can also have a look at the French firearm laws via the UFA website (I recommend you do as the summaries are a bit vague). Another good place to look for a gun club is in the French gun magazine CiblesHere is a company offering shooting holidays.


I mention Israel separately because some people seem to be under the illusion that Israel is some sort of gun-owning nirvana. Actually Israel has a licensing system that was put in place originally by the British, however the police are not quite so narrow-minded as in other countries about issuing licences, well, at least if you’re an Israeli. You can join an Israeli gun club but once again, you need to be resident or at least a very frequent visitor to get an Israeli licence.

There are however lots of ranges in Israel and it’s worth mentioning because if you go there you may be able to wangle a go with an Uzi or an M16 as loads of people are issued them and a lot of ranges are used by both the military and civilians. There was a company in London called Edenbridge that was organising trips to a training camp in Israel where you did get to have a go with lots of interesting things that go bang but I haven’t heard from them recently. Main problem is the cost of getting there.

Isle of Man

I’ve done a summary of the gun laws on the Isle of Man. After the handgun ban a lot of people moved their handguns to the Isle of Man, one of the reasons being that the Isle of Man has a treaty with the UK so you don’t need an export licence to send your guns there. However, once the Government there realised what was happening they sent a circular to the dealers on the Island pointing out that people could only shoot their guns if they held a certificate or permit issued by the Isle of Man Police. In theory, the Isle of Man Police can issue a visitor’s permit so that you can use a gun held by an Isle of Man dealer or firearm certificate holder, but I don’t think they have done this to date.

As with France etc., you can join a club there and shoot the club guns, but you really need to be a resident to have your own guns and shoot them.

The main reason I mention the Isle of Man separately is because it is so convenient to get there, at least during the summer when the Sea Cat is running. There are two pistol ranges on the Island, although only one club that is primarily a pistol club, and only some sixty-odd firearm certificates on issue to pistol shooters. However, one of the ranges is about five minutes walk from the port in Douglas, so you can go across as a foot passenger on the Sea Cat, which costs little, and stay in a hotel in Douglas, which costs very little indeed (due to massive overcapacity except during the TT) and you don’t need a car. The range in Douglas itself is a typical 25m indoor dungeon, and it is only open on Sundays and a couple of weekday evenings, but if you get a large enough group together they will open especially for you (P.S. this range flooded in February 2002, and is not currently in service although there is a plan to get it running again).

One of the endearing qualities is that the back of the range is part of the wall of the port, so there is a water pump going most of the time!  This is the other club.


My personal view is don’t bother, however lots of people ask, so… basically only single-shot .22 rimfire handguns and .22 semi-automatic pistols with at least a 10cm barrel for use in ISSF competition are legal.  The licensing system in Ireland is described elsewhere on this website.  I suppose theoretically you could join an Irish gun club and use a club gun, but it seems silly if you’re from GB, especially if you have an FAC, because Northern Ireland is just generally less hassle.


Jersey is nice and close, you can’t own a handgun there but you can join the Jersey Pistol Club and borrow a member’s gun (they don’t have any club guns).  The one point I would make is that the Jersey Government made a policy statement saying they wanted to discourage “gun tourism” and attempted to ban non-residents from joining clubs. I talked them out of that, and the Jersey legislature also removed a prohibition in the Bill against temporary members also. However, clearly the situation is not going to improve to the point where you will be able to keep guns there.  More information here.

Northern Ireland

The advantage of Northern Ireland is that it is part of the UK so your firearm certificate carries some weight there and handguns are still legal.

The club that gets most of the press is the Newtownards & District Shooting Club. There are however many other pistol clubs in Northern Ireland, the only people with a comprehensive list to hand that I know of are the PSNI firearm licensing dept. in Belfast.

As with most other places, it’s not a problem to join up and use the club guns, the procedure is essentially the same as GB (except there is a 12-month probationary period – but that won’t matter if you have a certificate already). The problem is, as per usual, if you want your own gun.

In the past with considerable effort to get a non-resident firearm certificate and potentially store a firearm with a dealer or club, but the Firearms (Northern Ireland) Order 2004 introduced a new system of visitor permits (for people resident outside the UK) and letters for visitors from Great Britain (to bring in guns covered by their certificates). The new law doesn’t make any provision for storage of guns in Northern Ireland by non-residents, unfortunately.


Poland has pretty restrictive gun laws, but apparently Mike Wells has figured out a way of storing guns there for British shooters.


I get asked about Spain a lot, not surprising seeing as two million British citizens live there now. Spain has a complex licensing system. To begin with, you have to have Spanish national ID, as well as a certificate of Empadronamiento (proof of property ownership). Then you also have to join the Spanish shooting Federation, and join an affiliated gun club. Once you’ve done that, you also have to take a comprehensive written test, and a shooting test. This is given in Spanish of course, and is apparently quite tricky, so training is recommended. Once you pass, you pay for your training certificate, and then you also have to have a criminal background check done as well as having a psychometric test done, and photos taken, all of which costs more money. Once you’ve done all that, you can then apply for your licence, which allows you to buy a single handgun. If you shoot well with it, you can have your licence upgraded so that you can acquire up to six handguns. You must also attend at least one competition a year to retain your licence. This website gives more info. Use a translation engine if you can’t understand it. Lots of different licence categories covering different things, Category F is probably the one you’ll be interested in, if target shooting is your interest. There are also demonstration tests on the site, but not for Category F unfortunately.

Spain (like everywhere else) has its quirks, the licensing issue mentioned above basically rules out shooting holidays by non-residents. Also, semi-automatic rifles in modern military rifle calibres are banned (5.56mm NATO, 7.62 NATO, 7.62×39, 5.45×39), although you can have, say, an AR-15 in .222 Remington, or a semi-automatic rifle in 9mm Parabellum. There aren’t many rifle ranges suitable for centrefire rifles either, and no private rifle ranges at all longer than 100m. Handloading of ammunition is also tightly controlled, and you can’t have more than 200 rounds of ammunition.


Without doubt the best place for target shooting on the face of the planet, if you can afford it, go there! Staying in Switzerland is actually inexpensive, it has a reputation for being costly because of the tourist trap areas, but outside of those there are plenty of inexpensive hotels and taxes are the lowest in Europe. Switzerland also has the severe advantage of being a damn nice place to go on holiday even without any shooting, so if you are dragging the family along they will have something to do.

Although there are heaps of ranges all over the place, it is assumed you’re going to bring your own gun, so you may be limited to the commercial indoor ranges. There are several throughout Switzerland, and the fastest way to find one near where you are going is to buy a copy of Visier and look at the ads, or you can look on the net (remember, French or German, not English) or you can ask me if you’re really stuck.

A lot of the indoor ranges have club guns that are far superior to other clubs in Europe. Usually in most European countries they will have a tatty S&W, an IMI Jericho, perhaps a Hi-Power or if you’re lucky a Glock. Go to Switzerland and you may find that you can rent a SIG P210 or a Hämmerli target pistol!

You can also buy a pistol in Switzerland and keep it there, essentially you apply at the local town hall for a permit (takes two weeks usually), although it is more complicated for non-residents (you’ll need your firearm certificate, passport and a letter of good character from your local police, and perhaps other paperwork such as details of your Swiss address). My suggestion is to look at the legal summaries on some of the Swiss gun dealer websites, such as Gun Factory. Once you’ve got the gun you have to find somewhere to keep it, such as with a local club. From a legal standpoint it is your possession at that point so it has to be locked up somewhere so that you don’t inadvertently “transfer” it, which requires some paperwork.

If you’re really keen you can join the British Alpine Rifles who organise regular trips to Switzerland, if you have a firearm certificate and complete the rather complex membership requirements (including heavy duty references) the Swiss become more trusting and will issue an acquisition permit more quickly, usually in a day. The only problem is that I don’t think BAR can handle too many more members.

There are some snags. Basically it is nearly impossible to take your guns out of Switzerland once they’re there, unless you are permanently moving them. This is a teeny bit annoying if you want to shoot a competition in Germany, for example. The only way is to get a Swiss export licence and import licence, but once outside of Switzerland you have nothing to indicate legal possession as you are not a resident of Switzerland, so it’s best avoided unless you want to spend time in a German or French nick trying to explain the complexities of gun laws.

Remember, Switzerland is not part of the EU so your EFP etc. carries no weight there. This is important if you fancy taking a rifle along, as there are various requirements for marksmen bringing in guns for competitions (such as a limit of 250 rounds of ammunition). On the subject of rifles if you want to shoot SLRs, Switzerland is the closest thing to heaven you will find, almost everyone there seems to have one, many given to them by the Government!

The only other real problem is getting there.

United States

Often I am asked something along the lines of: “I’m going on holiday to Boston, where can I go and shoot a pistol?” Er…

Although the US has a reputation of being full of guns (that is true to some extent, some two-fifths of privately owned firearms in the world are in the US), you need to pick the destination carefully. Many States and cities have very tough gun laws.

Following is a brief list, States with very tough handgun laws include: New Jersey, New York and Massachusetts (as well as the District of Columbia). Most gun owners have simply moved out of those areas, so there aren’t many places to shoot even if you are permitted to. In addition, many States also prohibit non-resident aliens from possessing firearms, or impose additional requirements, and this includes Arizona (hunting licence issued by any State or match invite) and Washington for example. This usually does not preclude you from renting a pistol at a pistol range, but sometimes it does (see FAQ below).

My best advice is to pick somewhere in the southern part of the US (excluding California) or the south-east, as regardless of the gun laws, this is where most of the pistol shooting is to be had. There are loads of places to shoot in Nevada, Arizona, Texas and Florida, and these are also good tourist destinations. I also quite like some of the ranges around Atlanta but there’s not much else to do other than shooting (okay, Six Flags and Civil War battlefields, but not like Florida).

In some places there are even dealers who will rent you a submachinegun, although these places come and go due to the heavy duty insurance they have to have which is very expensive, plus the legal complexities of them doing it (hint: Las Vegas).

Ranges vary in my experience from a single lane with a single gun to rent, to a mammoth setup with huge indoor ranges and dozens of guns to pick from (and those two quite ironically were about 30 miles apart).

A good place to start looking is Real Pages, search under “Guns” or “Rifle Ranges”.

And then of course people ask me how to keep a gun in America. Ugh. This is a very difficult question to answer. First of all you need to be in a State that allows aliens to possess firearms under State law. Assuming you’re past that one, you still have the Federal requirements to fulfill and that is very complicated to explain.

The US tightened up its requirements for possession of firearms by aliens in 1998 and this was also tightened by a regulatory change in 2002 because of the attack on the World Trade Center.  This was relaxed a bit in 2012, to exclude people who don’t enter with a non-immigration visa. So if you enter with a non-immigrant visa (e.g. B-1 or B-2 rather than the visa waiver program), then 18 USC 922 (y) requires the purchase essentially to be for “hunting or sporting purposes”. Sporting purposes are very narrowly defined by the 2002 regulations, basically only for a competition (under the auspices of certain organisations) or to attend a trade show, you can prove “hunting” basically only with a valid hunting licence. I’m not sure how you would demonstrate to a dealer that you wanted it for a “sporting purpose” other than hunting, although technically that’s as sufficient as a hunting licence.

One principle of US law that is difficult to wrap your head around is the prohibition on interstate transfers of firearms. What this means is that a person resident in one State cannot buy a handgun in another State, but in this context, a person from another country cannot buy a handgun in a State either unless they are a resident of that State, so you need to be able to prove that. And how you typically do that is to get State ID or a Driver’s License. And doing that if you’re not a bona-fide resident is pretty difficult because of the DHS SAVE system which States check before issuing ID (although various States have started issuing “alternative” identification under the REAL ID Act, which does not require the State to check the DHS SAVE database – be aware though that federal law requires you to be lawfully present, to buy a gun or otherwise, obviously).

The exemption in 18 USC 922(y) of Chapter 44 for sporting or hunting purposes can be looked up at the GPO if you really want to (scroll down to subsection (y)), for sporting or hunting purposes. There is another exemption for people who have been in the US for at least 180 days and have a letter from the Attorney General etc., but I’m assuming six months is a bit long for a visit!

ATF has their own FAQ, but it doesn’t cover all the likely questions – it’s probably best if I give some of my own Q&A, although bear in mind this may not be 100% accurate:

1) Can I buy a handgun in the US?

Only if you’re resident, can prove it, have State ID, and if you’re there on a visa, have a hunting licence (or were admitted for “sporting purposes” and can prove it) -or- you’ve been resident for 180 days, can prove it, have State ID, have a letter attesting to your good character from the embassy and have been granted a waiver by the Attorney General of the United States. (You also have to complete the general purchasing requirements that apply to everyone else, i.e. be at least 21 years of age, not be a convicted felon, comply with any waiting periods and so on).

2) Can I rent a handgun at a rental range?

Yes, depending on State law, you can rent and use a handgun at a range, because of an exemption in the federal law for this purpose, as licensed dealers can lend a handgun to a non-licencee for use on a range on their premises for “sporting purposes”. However, if you’re there on a visa, the new regulations introduced in 2002 (and amended in 2012) require that you have a hunting licence to prove that you are renting it for “sporting purposes” (Arizona has a State law that extends this to any non-immigrant alien). Non-resident hunting licences can be quite expensive in some States. I strongly suggest if you plan on doing this that you check prior to arrival where you can obtain a hunting licence from as it varies from State to State. In most cases you can get a non-resident hunting licence through the mail before you travel to the US. It doesn’t matter which State issued the hunting licence, but you must have one if you’re there on any non-immigrant visa.

3) Can I borrow a handgun for use in a competition?

I’ve gotten conflicting advice on this from ATF, sometimes they say it is okay, sometimes not – so I don’t think they know. Here is my interpretation of the law – even if you have been “admitted to” the United States specifically for the purpose of attending that competition, then you still cannot have a handgun transferred to you. However, I have been told by the ATF that if you have a hunting licence you can borrow a gun from a fellow competitor, but I have also been told the contrary by ATF also, it boils down to what is a “transfer”: the longer you have the firearm the more likely it is to be considered a “transfer” – borrowing a competitor’s gun and using it on a course of fire under their supervision is probably okay, taking it back to the hotel and cleaning it probably isn’t; but there is no case law so no-one really knows for certain. (Note that if you take your own gun to the US with you, such as a rifle, that’s okay because there is no interstate transfer – but you must be attending a competition or going hunting and have an import permit however, and if you’re entering with a visa, to get one you have to attach proof such as a copy of a hunting licence from any State or a match entry form – note the 2011 edition of the form pre-dates the 2012 rule changes, so ignore questions 13 and 14 if you’re not entering using a visa.)

4) Can someone else buy a handgun for me?

No, this is a straw purchase and is a federal felony (actually two, lying on paperwork followed by an illegal interstate transfer), even if you did complete all the residency requirements, unless it is a gift from a close relative who is a resident of the same State. (Plus many States have restrictions on private transfers).

5) What if they buy it and keep it and I only borrow it?

Probably not, because the exemption for borrowing guns for “sporting purposes” only extends to federal firearm licencees (gun dealers) lending people guns to use on their own range – the exemption doesn’t extend to you borrowing a gun off a non-licencee. However, once again it depends on what you consider to be a “transfer”, which a court would probably decide on how temporary or not your possession of the firearm is.

6) Does this apply to rifles?

Unfortunately, pretty much yes, because although interstate transfers of rifles by dealers are legal, it is conditional on the laws of both States being complied with. Obviously a US dealer cannot comply with a foreign law, so you’re in the same situation. Plus you’ve still got all the non-immigrant alien crap to comply with also.

7) I’m staying with a friend, can I use their handgun for self-defence?

No, because the exemption in 18 USC 922(y) applies only to sporting purposes (and moreover, that you have specifically been let into the US to attend). After being in the US legally for 180 days you can get a waiver from the Attorney General which you get by showing you have been resident for 180 days and have a letter from the local embassy attesting to your good character.

8) Can I attend a firearm training course in the US?

So you’ve read the above and thought to yourself, well you could borrow a gun temporarily and go on a training course where they’d lend you one. Unfortunately this requires licensing from the State Dept. under Part 120.9 of the ITAR. A handgun is a “defense article”, so any training with one is: “defense training”. This section is currently under review. Some of the bigger training companies will do the export licensing if you’re willing to fork over the cash.

Fun isn’t it. You’d never guess the US is the most litigious society in the world would you? Anyway this article has gone on long enough, I’m ending it here!

“Exterminate gangsters with guns. Fight fire with fire… If I had my way, I would arm honest, dependable citizens and declare open war on all manner of gangsters. I would shoot on sight. If the gangsters were obliged to face the same weapons they use in menacing honest citizens, they would change their tactics.” – Police Commissioner Roche, quoted in the Buffalo Times, Buffalo, New York, July 11, 1933.

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.


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.

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.

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.