26 April, 2018 – As previously mentioned, the Tories are not our friends and now as the result of two people getting shot dead in London they have decided to press ahead with the bonkers proposals in their recent consultation and even add to them, see if you can get through the press release without wincing.
In the face of hysterical headlines, the usual cry of “something has to be done” has been made, so this nanny state nonsense is apparently going to be it. As the BBC points out, armed crime hasn’t really changed that much, it was actually going down but has ticked up again in the past couple of years (the figure for 2010 includes the mass shooting in Cumbria, which makes the drop look more dramatic than it actually is). I cannot think of anything in recent memory more “nanny state” than a Home Office spokesman speaking after a shooting and saying that types of weapon that had literally nothing to do with the incidents being asked about will be banned. It sounded so impotent and callously bureaucratic.
What exactly two murders with handguns (already prohibited) have got to do with acid, “zombie” knives and .50BMG rifles is an interesting question, but logic has never been a strong point when it comes to weapon laws in the UK. Shotgun licencing was introduced in 1967 after the murder of three policemen in 1966 – using handguns.
Home Office consultations are usually an exercise in trying to say that black is white, then receiving responses to the effect that black is black and white is white, then the Home Office disregards them and insists that black is most certainly white and how dare you for suggesting otherwise. Thus foolish legislation prevails as a public relations exercise.
The Bill has yet to be published, but based on the press release and consultation it will:
- prohibit possession of corrosive substances in a public place without lawful authority or reasonable excuse;
- prohibit sale of corrosive substances to persons aged under 18;
- prohibit possession of offensive weapons prohibited under section 141(2) of the Criminal Justice Act 1988;
- prohibit the shipment of knives to residential addresses after being purchased from a website (you’ll have to go to a shop to pick it up to prove you’re 18 or older);
- change the legal definition of threatening with an offensive weapon;
- prohibit the possession of knives on further education premises;
- prohibit lever-release and MARS rifles;
- prohibit rifles with a muzzle energy of more than 10,000 ft/lb;
- prohibit bump stocks;
- update the definition of a flick knife.
Note the extensive use of the word: “prohibit”.
The most controversial bits are the prohibitions on the possession of certain types of weapons and firearms as this is going to cause a lot of otherwise law-abiding people problems, as most of them won’t be aware of the ban. It also suffers from serious problems of definition, as those definitions were originally intended only to ban import, manufacture or transfer – not simple possession. A “blowgun” for example is described as a: “hollow tube” and a: “stealth knife” basically means a piece of plastic with a pointed end. How on Earth do you effectively prohibit the possession of those?
It gets even more absurd with the definition of a: “zombie knife”, which is basically a knife with: “images or words (whether on the blade or handle) that suggest that it is to be used for the purpose of violence”. Such a ban would also ban “batons”, which has in the past been deemed to include toy police truncheons! There would also be a ban on Samurai swords, which was only introduced a few years ago and although there is an exemption for bona fide collectors of the real thing, even some of the reproductions can be quite valuable.
This is all going to lead to claims for compensation and inevitable arrests of people ignorant of the change in the law who merely possessed them as curiosities or ornaments.
The firearm ban has been extended to include bump stocks, no doubt as a result of the massacre in Las Vegas. As a practical matter, they can only be used on .22 rimfire semi-automatic rifles and maybe the odd semi-automatic shotgun in the UK legally anyway so this is a bit pointless.
More irksome are the proposed bans on lever-release rifles and rifles with a muzzle energy of more than 10,000 ft/lb. The latter proposal is particularly silly because muzzle energy might be a reasonable determinant of lethality at air gun levels, but at the levels of a .50BMG rifle it definitely isn’t. Both .408 Cheytac and .416 Barrett for example have muzzle energies below that, but have higher retained energy at medium distances of around 600m. All that will happen if they’re banned is that people will take their compensation money and buy a rifle that is arguably more deadly. The Home Office apparently think they can change the laws of physics through legislation.
There have already been several Firearms Acts in 1988 and 1997 that banned various types of firearm, however the closest analogy is probably the Firearms Acts (Amendment) Regulations 1992, which among other things banned: “firearms disguised as other objects”. At the time it was very hard to tell from the records the police had what was actually banned, because a .410 shotgun listed on a shotgun certificate for example might be a disguised firearm, but how do you tell?
All of these changes in the law were accompanied by compensation, but in 1992 it was very unclear how many people might claim compensation. The Home Office simply set up an ex-gratia scheme and hoped for the best. Nothing has changed here, as the Home Office states casually: “It is not possible to estimate the cost as the Home Office does not have data on the average value of restricted offensive weapons or the volume of offensive weapons that are kept in private.”
This Bill though affects a far, far higher number of people and even though most of the weapons probably aren’t worth much money, just the administration of such a scheme will be expensive (the Home Office reckons £600,000 for the administration of a hand-in but this doesn’t include the running of a compensation scheme). And if the Home Office fails to offer such a scheme, expect claims under the Human Rights Act 1998 (First protocol, Article 1) to follow – this law didn’t exist last time the Government banned simple possession of any type of firearm or other weapon (there have been bans such as the ban on air-cartridge guns and realistic imitation firearms, but those had grandfather clauses).
It seems pretty unlikely there will be a grandfather clause for any of the guns to be banned this time around and the ban on offensive weapons is actually removing the grandfather clause for possession.
Get hold of your MP
In a supposedly free country (stop laughing) you should be free of nanny state nonsense that prohibits possession of a sharpened piece of plastic or a hollow tube. So contact your MP and object to this legislation. Last time I checked car batteries contain a: “corrosive substance” so shall we expect people to be quizzed as to why they have a corrosive substance in a public place when they’re driving around? As the Home Office puts it: “We are not intending to define “corrosive substance” in this offence. As the proposed offence must be flexible enough to cover a range of possible situations…”
There’s so much nuttiness in this Bill it’s hard not to criticise it.
Note the police want this prohibition on offensive weapons because they “come across” them and want to be able to seize them. Well, as it’s already illegal to possess an offensive weapon in a public place, that means they’re coming across them in private places, and really in a free country should the police be able to randomly seize private property held in a private place? As the Home Office puts it: “At present if the police find a zombie knife in someone’s home they can only take action if it is considered to be evidence in a criminal investigation. Otherwise there is nothing that the police can do if they find such weapons in someone’s home.” Really? Otherwise known as: “private property rights”.
The Home Office continues: “…we see no case for such dangerous weapons to be in someone’s home and possession. Even if the owner of the weapon in question has no intention at all of using it, there is a risk that they may be targeted by criminals intending to steal it.” Yes, a knife with writing on it. A hollow tube. A piece of sharpened plastic. And you could ban literally anything on the pretext that a criminal might steal it and misuse it. I think criminals will be far too busy writing threatening language on knives, likely to be a big black market, I’m sure.
This is full-blown nanny state nonsense. Can’t let the citizenry have anything pointy, someone might get hurt, a bad person might steal it. They are actually making an argument that you can stop any reasonably determined person from getting hold of something to stab someone with by banning it. Seriously, this is their argument, backed up by very limited research. They have done a study on the effectiveness of forcing retail sales to be made through shops to be fair, but that’s a long stretch from talking about the effectiveness of banning simple possession of basic types of weapon that any person could easily make.
Here’s a counter-argument, (which if it ever was spoken inside the Home Office, the windows would probably shatter) – people should be allowed to own various types of weapon in order to have a means of self-defence. You can argue about how guns are too dangerous for the average person, etc. but we’re not talking about guns. We’re talking about batons (aka “sticks”) for example. The Home Office want a ban on possession of sticks designed for the purpose of self-defence – which the police themselves carry about. That they were banned from sale and manufacture was idiocy enough.
My own personal favourite part of the Home Office rationale (and this is the major argument apparently) is this bit: “…hospital admissions in England for assault with sharp instruments shows a rise of 13% in the year ending March 2016 compared with the previous year (from 3,590 in the year ending March 2015 to 4,054 in the year ending March 2016. Among them, 771 cases were children or teenagers aged 19 or under 6.”
Note the words: “sharp instruments”. So folks, it’s coming soon, a ban on the sale of screwdrivers and scissors to people aged under 18 and a ban on online sales to everyone as well. That is the only logical conclusion you can draw from the argument they are making.
I’ve heard many people in the shooting community go on about what a wonderful idea Brexit is. Well, as far as I can see, it managed to remove the first gun-owning Prime Minister for many years from office and isn’t going to stop the implementation of the changes in the new European Firearms Directive (these have to be implemented this year and the UK has to follow EU law until at least the end of 2020).
The Home Office and various police organisations have always been the main threat to shooters in the UK, not the EU. Some of the provisions in the original 1992 Directive originated in the UK. And even with Brexit consuming huge amounts of Parliamentary time, the Government is still going to find the time to come after shooters as well. If that doesn’t prove the point, I don’t know what does.
Fortunately, this is essentially a minority Government and I don’t think the DUP is going to be too keen on this Bill. Labour and the Liberals will probably support it but if people take the time to get in touch with their MPs there probably is a possibility of stopping some of the sillier bits of it. Because, you know, logic, facts. Bit too old-fashioned though.
The Home Office attitude was that a public inquiry was unnecessary since, as a senior official stonily told us, “There is nothing to learn.” The 1988 Act, he was happy to say, was preceded “by no research at all,” nor could he “point to any specific section and say that it addressed a particular problem.” – Jan Stevenson commenting on the Firearms (Amendment) Act 1988 in the May 1996 issue of “Handgunner”.