May 13, 2004 – Sometimes I think I could start up a business that has the sole purpose of responding to committees, inquiries and consultations on the subject of firearms in this country, after all, since 1996 there have been the Dunblane Public Inquiry, two Home Affairs Committee reports, the Northern Ireland consultation, the Northern Ireland Committee report, several Firearms Consultative Committee reports and doubtless a few others I’ve forgotten. The problem of course is that I couldn’t make any money out of it, although I have no doubt there a fair few bureaucrats at the Home Office who do.
So in the interests of having yet another inquiry, the Home Office has published a consultation paper. The impetus for this consultation was the murder of two teenage girls in Birmingham with a submachinegun, which really should tell you all you need to know about firearm controls in this country, seeing as submachineguns have been prohibited since 1936. Somehow the Government appears to figure from reading through this consultation paper that possibly banning .22 rimfire self-loading rifles and requiring firearm dealers to have frosted glass in their windows might have some impact on the “gun culture” that led to this tragedy. Call me a pessimist, but methinks not, somehow…
One only has to look at the two main pieces of firearm legislation introduced under this Government to see what lays in store for gun owners, have a look at the Firearms (Amendment) (No 2) Act 1997 and the Anti-Social Behaviour Act 2003, to see how effective my psychic abilities were when I created the tagline at the bottom of this page [Since removed – Ed]. The ban on Brocock air pistols has been a complete disaster while I’m on the subject, despite estimates of approximately 70,000 such guns having been sold in the UK, police forces appear to have received only a few dozen applications each on average for authority to possess them under the “grandfather” exemption in the prohibition. I’m sure the rest were legally exported by their owners or handed in. Much like all the large capacity shotguns were in 1989.
The new Firearms (Northern Ireland) Order 2004 gives us some insight into how consultations on this subject are handled. Basically, the Government formulates proposals, puts them into a consultation paper, people respond to the paper, then there is an election, a new Secretary of State comes in, takes no notice of the Government’s original proposals and the responses to them whatsoever, and instead decides to foist upon the public a totally unworkable law chock full of anomalies and other nonsense. Bear in mind the new consultation ends on August 31st, so there is unlikely to be legislation introduced until after the next General Election. This means Blunkett is unlikely to be around then, and a new Home Secretary brimming full of ignorance, oops, sorry, ideas, will try to cram them down our throats.
The new Northern Ireland law contains various unworkable provisions, for example the Order aimed to reduce the amount of paperwork the police had to handle, and helpfully allows dealers to perform one-for-one variations for shotguns. The slight snag is that “magazines” are now classed as component parts of firearms, meaning the PSNI will likely have to call in 10,000+ firearm certificates to amend them, and handle vastly more variation applications each time someone wants to acquire or dispose of one. And you can now get ten years in prison for simple possession of a Bren gun magazine. Another bit of the law that will create immense amounts of paperwork are the new visitor permit requirements that are copied out of the 1988 Act. These make sense somewhat in Great Britain, but in Northern Ireland 99.9% of the people who visit with firearms come from the Republic of Ireland, and simply drive across the border to visit a gun club. So instead of obtaining a non-resident firearm certificate like they used to, they’ll have to endlessly keep on applying for visitor permits.
Additionally, have a look at Article 6(5) of the Order – yes, you’ll have to find someone to follow you around for a year every time you want to own a new type of firearm and they must already own the same type of firearm. I’m fascinated to know how or if this will be applied to people who want to have a handgun for personal protection!
What is most fascinating about the Order is that there were several proposals made by the Government themselves in 1998 that don’t appear in the Order, notably in relation to age limits to possess firearms and also the appeal provisions, which were supposed to be moved back to the courts. Let us not forget that it was no less a figure than the Attorney General who pointed out that the current appeal provisions probably violate Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights, but of course it’s so much more simple to come up with a law based on ignorance, er, I mean new ideas, isn’t it?
Ah yes, there’s a business there somewhere. “Guaranteed Never To Be Listened To Consulting Service” has a nice ring to it, don’t you think?
“Did you hear what I was playing Lane?”
“I didn’t think it polite to listen, sir.”
– from “The Importance of Being Earnest” by Oscar Wilde.