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Jonathan Djanogly welcomes Government climbdown on proposed .50-calibre rifle ban

28th November 2018

Jonathan Djanogly welcomes the Government’s decision to remove proposals to ban .50-calibre weapons which are too heavy and too expensive to be used in crime and would disproportionately impact those who legally hold such weapons for shooting sports.

Mr Jonathan Djanogly (Huntingdon) (Con)

I declare an interest: as set out in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests, I am chairman of the British Shooting Sports Council, the umbrella body for British shooting organisations. I rise to speak to Government amendment 26 on .50 calibre rifles but, on behalf of British sports shooting people, I thank the Government for having listened and acted on this matter, and confirm the BSSC’s wish fully to engage with the Government on getting the law right in this policy area. Having just listened to the hon. Member for Bristol South (Karin Smyth) talk about air rifles, I hope that the Government will learn from the debate on .50 calibre rifles. I agree that there are issues in respect of air rifles that need attention and clarification, but we should deal in a cautious and proper manner with the 3 million or so owners of such guns.

The proposal in the Bill to ban firearms with a muzzle velocity of more than 13,600 J, including .50 calibre guns, was not, under any interpretation of the facts, going to help the fight against crime. The guns are very expensive, costing around £20,000 each. There are therefore very few in number, with only 150 or so in private hands. They are extremely bulky, heavy at 30 lb and slow to load, with large, hand-loaded ammunition. In fact, one could hardly find a firearm less likely to be used in a crime. They are simply too big. That is probably why they have never been used in a crime in this jurisdiction.

2.30 pm

That needs to be considered against the wider perspective of the very small chance of people being murdered with legally owned guns. In 2017, for example, just nine people were killed by someone in legal possession of the murder weapon. That is nine people too many, of course, but it is a very small figure compared with deaths by illegal weapons. There has been a lot of confusing evidence about .50 calibres potentially being used as military-style “materiel destruction” rifles—for instance, by terrorists to shoot car engines. However, that would be possible only when used with armour-piercing or incendiary ammunition, both of which are already barred for civilian use. Not only is there no evidence of such firearms being used for criminal purposes in this jurisdiction, as recognised by the National Crime Agency, but to imply that the provision would make the public any safer from gun crime is, I believe, unrealistic.

Bob Stewart (Beckenham) (Con)

I am trying to remember, but I think that .50 calibre weapons were used by terrorists in Northern Ireland, although I stand to be corrected.

Mr Djanogly

I believe that they have been, but I advisedly used “in this jurisdiction” for that purpose.​
If we are to start banning things just because of the use to which they might be put, logic could dictate that all firearms should be used, as well as all knives. That is not my idea of a free society.

Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (The Cotswolds) (Con)

Just to correct what our hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart) said, the weapons used in Northern Ireland were illegally imported into this country.

Mr Djanogly

I thank my hon. Friend for that important clarification.

The National Crime Agency position brief was received by the Library and heavily commented on by shooting experts across the board. The following points are based on their feedback. The NCA brief states that .50 calibre rifles

“are built around enormously powerful cartridges originally designed for military use on the battlefield and to have devastating effect”.

That is true, but it is also true of one of the most common target rifles ever used, the .303 Lee Enfield rifle and one of the most common hunting rifles, the .308, which is also based on a military round. The current full bore civilian target shooting round, at 7.62 mm, is a military round often used in machine guns. The NCA brief further states:

“The propellant mass in a standard M33 .50 calibre ‘ball’ round is nearly ten times as great as that in the standard ‘ball’ round used in the…Army’s primary battlefield rifle, the L85.”

However, that is simply disingenuous, as the 5.56 round used in the L85 is specifically designed to be light and to perform a totally different role from the .50 calibre rifle. In particular, that round is designed to enable large quantities to be carried by troops and is faster firing and easier to use at close quarters, but to say the L85 is any less dangerous as a result is bizarre.

The irony is that .50 calibre firearms could have their barrels shortened, thus taking them beneath the maximum velocity. The 13,600 J limit is entirely arbitrary, and many owners and manufacturers could simply adapt their guns down to the new limit. The NCA refers to recent seizures of guns, including fully automatic weapons, as showing that crime groups are seeking more powerful weapons, but the .50 calibre is not automatic and there is no evidence of crime gangs ever having wanted to use it.

There was also a failure to consider the historic arms position. People should have the right to engage in shooting sports, unless serious possible injury to the public can be proved. I am a Conservative, and Conservatives to my mind do not ban things for the sake of it.

Mr Steve Baker (Wycombe) (Con)

It is about 20 years since I fired a .50 calibre. My hon. Friend is entirely right to talk about how large and inappropriate they are for crimes. I very much support the case that he is making.

Mr Djanogly

I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention.

It is unfortunate that this debate is not about the criminals who we should be targeting, namely the owners of illegal guns that are being used for crimes, but about the law-abiding sporting men and women who would lose out for no good reason.

Chris Davies (Brecon and Radnorshire) (Con)

I thank my hon. Friend for giving way and thank the Minister for seeing common sense and considering a consultation. I have a shooting range in my constituency. Does my hon. Friend agree that the majority of the totally law-abiding people using my range and others are primarily ex-servicemen and women or ex-policemen and women, and that it is important that they can continue doing what they do?

Mr Djanogly

I am not sure whether those people are primarily ex-servicemen and women, but I am sure that a lot of them shoot. A lot of children learn to shoot on the range in my constituency, which is an important part of the community that provides an important sporting outlet for disabled people, who cannot do other sports and hugely enjoy their shooting.

Huw Merriman (Bexhill and Battle) (Con)

I thank my hon. Friend for giving way; he is being extremely generous. I would ask him to consider this scenario, which happened in my local shooting club. Somebody who was clearly quite troubled was able to book up all the shooting lanes and then held up the shooting range official, took the guns and murdered two women a mile away from my constituency border. My hon. Friend talks about the illegal versus the legal and about the risk being minimal, but when things go wrong, even in minimal-risk circumstances, it can have devastating impacts. That is why I find myself a little hesitant about what is now being changed.

Mr Djanogly

My hon. Friend makes a very fair point. Firearms are potential very dangerous things to use. I can only say to him that, as I said before, the number of legally owned weapons used in crimes is very limited, although that is not to say that we do not have a gun problem in this country. We certainly do, and we need to address it.

Bill Wiggin (North Herefordshire) (Con)

As my hon. Friend the Member for Bexhill and Battle (Huw Merriman) said, my hon. Friend has been extremely generous in giving way. Guns are meant to be fatal if they are used properly. That is why they have to be protected with super-legislation—the toughest in the world—to ensure that the constituents of my hon. Friend the Member for Bexhill and Battle are safe. Indeed, some of the vilification that I suspect my hon. Friend the Member for Huntingdon (Mr Djanogly) got was most unwelcome, because some of the effort that we went to with the tremendously helpful Minister was intended to seek further protection, so that the public were safer.

Mr Djanogly

I thank my hon. Friend for that important intervention. I can honestly say that I have never heard a Member of Parliament or anyone involved in the shooting fraternity say that we do not need very tough rules, but they must work and must be fairly applied.

Just as worrying to the shooting community is the “thin end of the wedge” effect. If we could ban a calibre that is not held illegally and has never been used in a crime, how much easier would it be down the road to ban calibres that have been held illegally and are frequently used in crimes? By picking on the seemingly easy target of only 150 gun owners, the unamended Bill would have undermined shooting sports in this country as a whole.

John Woodcock (Barrow and Furness) (Ind)

Nuclear weapons have never been used for a crime, nor are they used in sport, yet they are not allowed to be held by civilians. I am trying to follow the hon. Gentleman’s logic, but I am afraid that I am struggling.

Mr Djanogly

I am afraid that I do not really understand the hon. Gentleman’s logic. I am talking about sports.

It was important and impressive that 74 hon. Members across the House signed the amendment tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for The Cotswolds (Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown) to remove the .50 calibre provisions. The Government are to be congratulated on tabling their amendments.


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