Home Affairs publishes report into firearms control
20 December 2010
The Commons Home Affairs Committee today publishes a report on firearms control in which it urges the Government to codify and simplify the law.
The Home Affairs Committee reports that well-designed legislation which regulates and restricts the legal supply of firearms can help to reduce gun crime. The committee recognises that thousands of people use firearms responsibly for recreation and in their work. It has no intention of restricting such activity.
However, the committee today concludes that interpreting and applying the current 34 pieces of legislation governing the control of firearms places an "onerous burden" on the police and on members of the public who wish to abide by the law, because it is "so complex and confused".
It urges the Government to codify and simplify the law. In particular, the committee recommends introducing one licensing system to cover all firearms which require a licence (which would also add greater safeguards), and identifies age restrictions on firearms use as a particular area of uncertainty.
Although the majority of firearms-related crimes are not committed with licensed firearms, the committee is also concerned about the use of legally-owned weapons in domestic shootings, including those related to domestic abuse. The committee therefore:
- Calls for a review of the minimum age limits on the use of firearms and eligibility for firearms certificates, with the aim of reducing inconsistency and complexity around the use of firearms by children
- Welcomes the news that GPs are to be consulted on every new and repeat licence application, to ensure that they are assessed on the basis of accurate information about the applicant’s health. However, it was unconvinced by arguments in favour of “tagging” licence holders’ medical records
- Recommends tighter restrictions and clearer guidance to the police on the granting of firearms and shotgun licences to individuals who have engaged in criminal activity
- Suggests that the Government considers requiring the police to consult the domestic partners of licence applicants in making the decision as to whether to grant a licence
- Advocates raising the fees charged to applicants so that it covers the costs of licensing, to ensure that police spending cuts do not jeopardise the rigour of the licensing process
- Urges greater enforcement of air weapon offences
Finally, the committee was concerned at evidence of the significant criminal threat posed by reactivated and converted firearms, which has emerged in recent years in response to tighter regulations on genuine lethal weapons.
Progress on closing a number of loopholes - particularly relating to the ease at which such items can be converted into firing weapons - has been too slow, and the committee recommends that legislation is brought forward promptly to address this.
Committee Chair's comments
The committee Chair, Rt Hon Keith Vaz, says:
"The terrible murders perpetrated by Derrick Bird in June highlighted gaps in the current licensing regime, notably around the ease with which convicted criminals can gain access to firearms.
We have heard evidence of further cases in which individuals applying to obtain a licence for firearms have lied about their mental health problems and have subsequently gone on to misuse their weapons.
Our report has made a number of recommendations to minimise further the risks posed by legally-held firearms and calls for a review of the minimum age limits on the use of firearms.
Current gun law is a mess — it needs to be simplified, clear and consistent to be properly understood by both those using firearms for legitimate purposes and those in charge of enforcing the law."