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towards the Acts is hinted at in the fact that there were 929 submissions to the HAC, most of which (unusually) were unpublished and it’s a safe bet that 900+ of those submissions said something along the lines of: “Can I have my handguns back now, please?”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.