New firearms laws on the horizon

GunsNew firearms laws are to come to parliament as part of the Policing and Crime Bill, signalling the government’s willingness to listen to the Law Commission’s firearms law report.

A number of the amendments suggested by the Law Commission in December 2015 – including clearer definitions of “lethal”, “antique” and “component part” – are included in the Bill, which shooting organisations have mostly welcomed.

Led by David Ormerod QC, the Law Commission’s far-reaching investigation into firearms laws concluded they were in desperate need of simplification and clarification – and called for the introduction of a Firearms Code that would bring all the relevant legislation together in a “coherent whole”.

The Policing and Crime Bill does not do this – instead it adds another piece of legislation to the mass of laws governing the acquisition and possession of firearms, albeit one that does address many of the concerns the Law Commission expressed.

The Bill defines a “lethal barrelled weapon” as “barrelled weapon of any description from which a shot, bullet or other missile, with kinetic energy of more than one joule at the muzzle of the weapon, can be discharged.” There is an exception to this definition for airsoft guns, which must conform to a permitted kinetic energy level, which is 2.5 joules, or 1.3 joules where “two or more missiles can be discharged successively without repeated pressure on the trigger.”

The Bill defines component parts as a barrel, chamber, cylinder, frame, body, receiver, breech block, bolt or “other mechanism for containing the pressure of discharge at the rear of a chamber”, but “only where the item is capable of being used as a part of a lethal barrelled weapon or a prohibited weapon.”

The Bill also covers the definition and legislation of antique firearms. Here “antique” is defined by either the type of cartridge used by the chamber or the type of ignition system, but the list of designated “antique” types will be decided by a statutory instrument by the Secretary of State – meaning the list can be updated and changed without consultation. However, if an antique firearm is outlawed in such a manner, owners will be given an FAC without the additional need to show “good reason” (though they will still have to pay the fee).

As expected, a new offence has been outlined in the Bill for the possession of the tools to convert an imitation firearm and the intention to do so. The maximum prison sentence is five years and a fine of an unspecified amount. However, the Bill does not specify what these “tools” might be.

The Bill also makes it a legal requirement for police forces to have regard to Home Office guidance during the licensing process.

The British Association of Shooting and Conservation (BASC) has welcomed the Bill, saying it is “an opportunity to clarify areas of the law which would benefit those who shoot.” BASC also expressed its commitment to continue to scrutinise the Bill as it passes through parliament and undergoes changes before being passed into law.

The Countryside Alliance also welcomed the Bill, but head of shooting Liam Stokes expressed some reservations: “This is a golden opportunity to include further provisions which would improve firearms legislation, and most importantly reduce the burden of administration upon both shooters and the police without any risk to public safety.”

The Bill had its first reading in the House of Commons on 10 February, and the date for a second reading is yet to be announced. The full Policing and Crime Bill can be read online.

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