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.