Well, we’ve been waiting since April for it, and finally the Government has responded to the Home Affairs Committee report with a Command Paper, Cm 4864. The Government is required to respond to committee reports in the form of one of these papers.
To cut a long story short, the Government has rejected the Committee’s recommendation of licensing for airguns, and a ban on young people possessing firearms, but they have accepted most of the other recommendations.
Licensing for airguns or a ban on youngsters using guns would have been a red flag to the countryside lobby, who are already sounding off loudly about the proposed ban on fox hunting with dogs, and despite what deputy PM John Prescott has to say about it there is no doubt the Government is keen to avoid a repeat of the Countryside Alliance march on London.
The Government have however accepted the idea of an age limit of sixteen on unsupervised use of firearms, and that would be further limited by the requirement that supervised use by young people must be on private land. The main objection here is that some shooting does take place on public land, but worse than this is the reality that a farmer could not legally give an air rifle to his fourteen-year old son to perform pest control with, unless he was supervised. This is hopefully a flaw that can be fixed with some lobbying.
Wait for it…
But all is not roses or technical arguments. The command paper does include a number of worrying proposals, most of them relating to shotguns and also registration.
The Government wants:
(a) to require referees for shotgun certificate applications, as is currently the case with firearm certificates;
(b) to require that an applicant for a shotgun certificate have a “good reason” for needing shotguns (but apparently not for each individual gun, as is the case with firearm certificates);
(c) to require applicants to state on the application form the maximum number of shotguns they intend to acquire, and to have to apply for a variation if they want more than that;
(d) to standardise the fitness criteria and revocation criteria with firearm certificates.
Of these proposals my view is that (c) is the worst, because if it were rigidly applied shotgun certificate controls would only be marginally less restrictive than firearm certificate controls. If all four proposals are adopted, in a very short period of time it is likely full Section 1 controls will be placed on shotguns, in my opinion.
The Government also thinks that centrally registering all guns held on certificate is a good idea. Given that they still haven’t gotten the database of certificate holders working one wonders where on Earth they came up with this suggestion. The Government doesn’t expect the current database to become available until the end of 2001, i.e. four years after the law requiring it was enacted.
My view here is to let the police and the Home Office dig their own grave. It doesn’t make much difference to certificate holders as all our details and gun details are held by each local police force anyway, if the Government think holding them centrally can be done, let them try and fail like the Canadians!
Holding all the details centrally, available to the police, will likely open the licensing system up to attack under data protection and human rights laws as well, because by definition certificate holders have not been convicted of any serious offence, so our civil rights are fully intact.
Having a central register of everyone who owns a firearm, open to the police on demand and maintained by them without any sort of warrant or judicial oversight is certainly illegal under even the most casual interpretation of human rights legislation.
The Government also wants a tighter standard for deactivated firearms, which is something that has been on the cards for some time now.
The Government also wants to stop a “gun culture” from developing, whatever that means.
However, the most ridiculous comment is contained in the Government press release. The Government apparently wants to “…work to tackle the use of illegal guns in crime…”, because as the Home Office minister, Charles Clarke assures us: “Our firearms controls are already among the strongest in the world, and these new proposals will increase their effectiveness.”
Well, if our controls are so strong, why do we need them to be stronger? If our controls are so strong, why is illegal gun use a problem?
Answers to your local MP and the Home Office!
When any of this will be enacted into law is an open question.
“Because controls are good.” – A Home Office civil servant, when asked by author Jan Stevenson in 1987 why the Bill that became the Firearms (Amendment) Act 1988 was needed.