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Violent Crime Reduction Bill: Weapons Provisions

18th October 2005

It was made clear at second reading by a number of my colleagues, some of whom are members of the Committee, that, for a number of reasons, the Bill is flawed.

(Edited for the purposes of the website)

It was made clear at second reading by a number of my colleagues, some of whom are members of the Committee, that, for a number of reasons, the Bill is flawed. The amendments give us the chance to consider in detail some of the problems and flaws in Part 2, and to see whether they can be ironed out. As I will show, the controls on Firearms in the UK are represented by a series of haphazard and disjointed laws that unfortunately create anomaly after anomaly. This Bill introduces yet another level of intricacy to weapons law, coupled with the extra burdens on law enforcement and administration, without really offering anything substantive in the fight against violent crime.

But the gun clauses in this Bill itself, without any assistance from previous inconsistent laws, is a hotchpotch selection of badly drafted, woefully inadequate, poorly thought through clauses that in many parts represents nothing more than gesture politics.

So I intend to review the severe inconsistencies in this Bill and show the committee how government has in places reversed its position and indeed sometimes even ignored its own advice, not to mention ignored the large amount of existing legislation. This is not the first time we have discussed controlling weapons. I have counted 42 existing offences relating to weapons, ranging from possession of a firearm or ammunition without a certificate, to selling firearms to a person without a certificate, to falsifying a certificate, to a pawnbroker taking a firearm in pawn, to conversion of firearms, to possessing or distributing prohibited weapons or ammunition, to possessing or distributing a firearm disguised as another object, to possession of a firearm (including imitations) with intent to endanger life or injure property, or cause fear or violence, to use of an imitation firearm to resist arrest, to carrying a firearm or imitation firearm in a public place, to trespassing with a firearm or imitation firearm in a building, to a person under 17 acquiring a firearm, to a person under 14 having a firearm in his possession without lawful authority, to a person under 15 having with him a shot gun, to a person under 17 having with him an air weapon or ammunition, to a person under 17 making improper use of an air weapon on private premises, to making a gift of a shot gun to a person under 15, to supplying an air weapon to a person under 14, to supplying a firearm to a person drunk or insane. In addition to the 42 offences, a few of which I have just mentioned, there are a further 17 offences relating to passes, certificates, and their compliance. Reduction of violent crime would be far better served enforcing this existing legislation than adding to the layers of intricate legislation.

My conclusion will be that this Bill is, to a great extent, an exercise in tokenism that does extremely little to actually combat violent crime. If this Bill is enacted, I can be fairly sure that it will have little to no impact on violent gun crime statistics in the United Kingdom.

In May 2004, the Home Office published a consultation paper - Controls on Firearms - commissioned by the government. Astoundingly, the government has not yet responded to this. They have undertaken a full review, ignored it and haven't even published a response. Any legislation should surely take into account that review. Changes to firearms and weapons legislation, affecting over 1 million sportsmen and women should be soundly based on evidence and not on a perceived need to be seen to be doing something as a reactive response to a single event. In fact, the Home Office's own website says:

'The Home Office published a consultation paper in May 2004 seeking views on whether existing firearms legislation can be improved. The consultation process closed at the end of August [2004] and we will now be reflecting on responses before coming forward with proposals for further discussion.'

The Home Office Regulatory Impact Assessment on the amendment to firearms legislation specifies that there were some 4,371 responses to the May 2004 consultation paper, yet we as the opposition have seen nothing of these. In fact I recently even submitted a Freedom of Information Act request, yet nothing has been forthcoming from the Government, except a new amendment lobbed in by the Minister a week or so ago, to ban the sale of airguns outside of gun shops [Licensed gun stores?] without a word of explanation why. Doubtless those 4,371 or so consultation responses represented many hours spent by sportsmen contributing to the review and consultation and contained many valid views and concerns. Why have they been ignored and why have we been banned from seeing them?

The government also succeeded in abolishing the advisory Firearms Consultative Committee. However, its promised replacement - the Firearms Advisory Committee - has never materialised. So not only has the government ignored the consultation paper, but it has been without expert, independent advice on firearms matters for nearly 2 years. The FAC would indeed have been the most appropriate body to debate the practicalities and intricacies of the proposals in this VCR Bill, so as to be effective without disadvantaging the vast numbers of law-abiding activities that are now threatened by this clumsy piece of gesture politics. In fact, the most consultation that was mustered was a day long Home Office meeting at which it is understood that no Ministers were present and which I hear soon became so bogged down in detail that it achieved virtually nothing - too little, too late was the consensus of the lucky few interested parties attending and we have received word of complaints from those who were not invited who believe that they were genuine stakeholders - this is a very clear example of the need for an advisory committee such as the FAC, which would have gone some way to limiting the widespread, unintended ramifications lurking beneath this Bill.

So, in summary then, to set this Bill in context before I begin with the first amendment, the Home Office has:

  • Gone to the trouble of an extensive consultation on firearms in 2004
  • Done nothing for a year
  • Disbanded the respected Firearms Consultative Committee
  • Announced a new Firearms Advisory Committee which has not yet been formed
  • And finally, introduced more legislation without either evidence or consultation.

Using someone to mind a weapon

The purpose of this clause is to make it an offence to use other people to hide or carry a dangerous weapon which is intended for unlawful use. This is a welcome clause and one with which we are in general agreement, save for the fact that some of the definitions require tightening so as to avoid this clause catching anyone not intended to be caught under this provision, as such there are a number of amendments which I intend to introduce.

Penalties etc. for offence under s24

This section of the Bill relates to the imposition of new length mandatory sentences that relate to the crime of using someone to mind a weapon. Whilst it is obvious that sentences should be severe and certain enough to act as a deterrent, we have several reservations. The first is that there is no evidence to support these increases and no evidence to justify the imposition of mandatory sentences. The second is in relation to the imposition of mandatory sentences themselves.

Air guns

I shall be opposing this clause in stand part for the principal reasons that this clause is really nothing more than an exercise in tokenism that is not in fact based on any genuine evidence or consultation that suggests that it will have any impact in reducing violent crime. As recently as 2003, the age limits were increased and the impact of these law changes has yet to be assessed. There are many existing laws that would counter the problem if only they were better enforced. The solution is not in more laws that serve only to penalise the law abiding shooting community, but rather in better law enforcement of existing laws. Unless the Minister can alleviate my concerns and provide compelling evidence as to why this clause is indeed necessary and precisely how it will serve to reduce violent crime, I shall be proposing in stand part that we vote against this clause and indeed remove it entirely from the content of the Bill.

Effect of the clause

The clause raises the age from 17 to 18 at which a person may purchase or hire an airgun or ammunition for an airgun. This clause also raises the minimum age from 17 to 18 at which a person may have with him an airgun or ammunition unless he is supervised by a person aged 21 or over, and raises the minimum age from 17 to 18 at which a person may borrow an airgun or receive one as a gift.

Firing an air weapon beyond premises

We support this clause in principle, but it must be recognised that this may be problematic for air gun users who shoot on two adjoining pieces of land and so there is a need to tighten this clause slightly so that individuals not intended to be caught by this clause are not.

Restrictions on sale of primers

This clause of the Bill relates to the restriction on sale of primers. This is another extremely problematic clause. Primers form an essential part of shooting equipment. Many members of the shooting community enjoying loading there own ammunition and it forms a part of the sport. Sales of primers increase dramatically in the run up to the shooting season. As it stands this clause is inherently flawed and as such I propose to introduce numerous amendments to this clause.

Restriction on sale and purchase of ammunition loading presses

This clause restricts the sale of ammunition loading presses and dies to all persons except those who may be permitted to purchase them by virtue of their being a certificate holder, registered firearms dealer, exempt person etc. It is sufficient to produce a certificate and no recording of transactions is envisaged, and again, persons may purchase on behalf of others. Offences, if committed, are committed by both the seller and purchaser. This is one of the most inherently flawed and misguided clauses in the entire Bill. Now that's saying something. I intend to oppose this clause in stand part in order to prevent this needless piece of legislation which will serve only to penalise collectors and create further unnecessary administrative burden whilst doing absolutely nothing to combat violent crime.

Imitation Firearms

Whilst we agree with the essence of this clause, we must to realise that this is an area fraught with difficulty and that hasty legislation that has been poorly thought through without proper consultation with have serious unintended consequences. It is for this reason that I shall be introducing several amendments to this section in order to limit the effect that it will have on law abiding businesses and pastimes.

Following enactment of this Bill, it will be possible to own a realistic firearm and also to make a gift of a realistic firearm, but that's it. No one will be able to purchase them because it will be illegal to sell them, certainly in this country and we need to investigate the non-UK position. Based on consultation with the BASC and the Gun Trade Association, it seems that there are some estimated 30 million imitation firearms in the UK excluding toys of which there are another estimated 30-50 million. According to the National Criminal Intelligence Service (NCIS), the replica firearms market has doubled in value since 1999 and was, during 2003, estimated to be worth almost

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