Since the 1920’s the British Government has legislated for the civilian ownership and use of firearms in a haphazard and reactive way; either in response to perceived or real terrorist threats or public outrage at the tragedies of recent decades. Obviously the Government needs to balance the safety of the public with the civil liberties of those who wish to use firearms for sporting purposes or the need to control vermin. They have the choice of banning the civilian use of firearms outright or imposing sensible restrictions without diverting police resources away from the front line. This proposal assumes that it will pursue the latter path.
At the moment UK firearms legislation is focussed on the type of firearm. In general the types are: air powered, small bore rifle and pistol, full bore rifle and pistol and shotgun. Some air powered rifles and pistols are permitted, others not, pistols are banned unless over a certain size, full bore rifles may only be bolt operated but small bore rifles may be semi-automatic; shot guns are prohibited if they can hold in excess of three cartridges. The police are responsible for the issue and enforcement of firearms certificates; which is right and proper. A firearms certificate details the type and number of firearms that a person may hold and the amount of ammunition.
Firearms are defined in terms of their calibre; for example a .223” rifle. Were a certificate holder wants to buy a .222” calibre rifle instead (a difference of one hundredth of an inch in calibre) he must approach the police for his certificate to be changed! This process provides no apparent public safety benefit; its only effect seems to be to increase the workload on the police, increase costs and for law abiding citizens that have already been the subject of significant police scrutiny to continue to undergo this for changes that have little relevance, i.e. a small change of calibre etc.
If a person is deemed to be ‘safe’ to hold a firearm then what value is there in legislating for what type and the number (within certain limits)? The present legislation highlights this inconsistency; a person may be deemed ‘safe’ to possess a full bore hunting rifle but not ‘safe’ enough to hold a small bore target pistol (an anomaly created by the political pressure surrounding the post-Dunblane election in 1997).
By banning certain types of firearms the legitimate sporting interests of many law abiding citizens have been curtailed and significant sporting opportunities have been withdrawn from our young people. Denied the opportunity to pursue a lawful interest in shooting sports our young people’s experience of firearms is restricted to the fantasy (computer games), uncontrolled and the unlawful.
As well as alienating many people our ability to compete in many international events, such as the Olympic and Commonwealth Games (where we traditionally won many medals) has been taken away. The Olympic Authorities intention to create and then destroy a shooting venue at Woolwich rather than develop the existing facilities at Bisley is viewed with the deepest suspicion by the shooting community.
My submission is that the UK’s approach to firearms legislation is misdirected, costly and burdensome for law abiding citizens and diverts police resource away from the ‘front line’. The critical question can only be whether a person may safely be in possession of a firearm. There are ways in which this can be determined and the existing methods have been proven over 40 years to be highly effective: a lack of a criminal record, a lack of evidence of severe mental illness, adequate home security, a structured probation system through shooting clubs, evidence of access to land for game shooting, evidence of continued participation in target shooting etc.
My proposal is that a person, having been determined to be ‘safe’ to hold firearms, is granted a certificate that allows them to hold up to an agreed number of firearms. The number would be based primarily on their security arrangements. They would be able to sell and buy firearms within their limitation without burdening the police for permission.
Safety would not be compromised by a person owning five pistols or five full bore rifles or any permutation thereof if that person was deemed ‘safe’ to hold a firearm in the first place. It would still be appropriate for the police to be informed as to which firearms a person possessed, bought and sold (in the way that it is now) but it would do away with the need for individuals to have to burden the police every time they wanted to change the firearms they hold.
By redrafting firearms legislation in this way I believe that significant costs savings and streamlining could be made in respect of police resources and the obvious anomalies in the legislation can be removed. Most significantly the Government can demonstrate that it trusts law abiding citizens while creating sensible legislation to safeguard the population as a whole.
Why is this idea important?
It simplifies firearms legislation for all concerned.
It removes unnecessary regulations thus freeing up the police to concentrate on 'front line' tasks.
It promotes the legitimate shooting sports and encourages the young in the responsible use of firearms.
It removes a 'stigma' from the legitimate shooting population