Statutory controls on firearms

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					                   Statutory controls on firearms
                   Standard Note:    SN/HA/3639
                   Last updated:     16 December 2010
                   Author:           Philip Ward
                   Section           Home Affairs

This note summarises the legislation restricting the possession and use of firearms in
England and Wales. It also describes moves to amend the law and measures taken to
introduce a central firearms register, known as the National Firearms Licensing Management
System. Following the shootings in Cumbria on 2 June 2010, an expert report was compiled
by the Association of Chief Police Officers, which published its findings and
recommendations in November. A separate inquiry into firearms control by the Home Affairs
Committee is expected to report before Christmas.

Related Library Standard Notes:

   • Imitation and replica firearms (SN/HA/3640)

   • Air guns (SN/HA/3641)

   • Air guns in Scotland (SN/HA/5796)

   • Firearm crime statistics (SN/SG/1940)

This information is provided to Members of Parliament in support of their parliamentary duties
and is not intended to address the specific circumstances of any particular individual. It should
not be relied upon as being up to date; the law or policies may have changed since it was last
updated; and it should not be relied upon as legal or professional advice or as a substitute for
it. A suitably qualified professional should be consulted if specific advice or information is

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online or may be provided on request in hard copy. Authors are available to discuss the
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1        Firearms licensing                                                               2 
         1.1  Prohibited weapons                                                          3 
         1.2  Firearms held on firearms certificates - “Section 1 firearms”               5 
         1.3  Shotguns                                                                    5 

2        The grant and renewal of firearm and shotgun certificates                        5 
         2.1  Firearm certificates                                                        5 
         2.2  Shotgun certificates                                                        6 
         2.3  Exemptions from the certification requirement                               7 
         2.4  Medical history                                                             8 

3        Air guns and other weapons not requiring certificates                            9 

4        Imitation or replica firearms                                                    9 

5        Rifle clubs                                                                     11 

6        Proposals for change since 2000                                                 11 

7        The National Firearms Licensing Management System                               14 

8        Policy of the Coalition Government, 2010                                        15 

1         Firearms licensing
The underlying purpose of firearms legislation has generally been to control the supply and
possession of all rifles, guns and pistols which could be used for criminal or subversive
purposes, while recognising that individuals may own and use firearms for legitimate
purposes. The possession of pistols, revolvers, rifles and ammunition for these weapons has
required a police firearm certificate since the implementation of the Firearms Act 1920.
Shotguns have required a police certificate since 1967. Machine guns have been prohibited
weapons since 1937.

The principal Act concerning controls on firearms in England and Wales and Scotland is the
Firearms Act 1968, as amended by a number of subsequent Firearms (Amendment) Acts
and other legislation. These Acts are often cited together as the Firearms Acts. For the
purposes of these Acts "firearm" means "a lethal barrelled weapon of any description from
which any shot, bullet or missile can be discharged..." 1 The Firearms Act 1982 extended the
definition of "firearm" to include some imitation firearms.

Controls of varying degrees are placed on a number of different categories of weapons under
the Firearms Acts. Low-powered airguns, deactivated firearms, antiques and imitation
firearms are not subject to licensing, although the possession and use of air guns and
imitation firearms may involve the commission of criminal offences in a number of different
circumstances. Firearms which are considered particularly dangerous are prohibited under

    Firearms Act 1968 s57(i)

section 5 of the Firearms Act 1968 and cannot generally be held without the authority of the
Secretary of State. All “firearms”, other than those which are not subject to licensing, must be
held on a certificate issued by the local chief officer of police or, in the case of prohibited
weapons, by the Secretary of State. 2

The Home Office publishes guidance to the police on the operation of firearms legislation
and a number of other issues concerning the use of firearms. The most recent edition of the
complete guidance (dated 2002 and therefore not fully up-to-date) is available on the
(archived version of the) Home Office website.

1.1       Prohibited weapons
Some types of weapon and ammunition are prohibited altogether and may only lawfully be
held in someone’s possession, purchased, acquired, manufactured, sold or transferred with
the authority of the Secretary of State. The Home Secretary only grants this authority to
people who have what he considers is a legitimate need. 3 It is an offence punishable by up to
ten years’ imprisonment following conviction on indictment for a person to possess or
distribute prohibited weapons or ammunition for prohibited weapons. The list of prohibited
weapons is set out in section 5(1) of the Firearms Act 1968.

          (a) any firearm which is so designed or adapted that two or more missiles can be
          successively discharged without repeated pressure on the trigger;

          (ab) any self-loading or pump-action rifled gun other than one which is chambered for
          .22 rim-fire cartridges;

          (aba) any firearm which either has a barrel less than 30 centimetres in length or is less
          than 60 centimetres in length overall, other than an air weapon, a muzzle-loading gun
          or a firearm designed as signalling apparatus;

          (ac) any self-loading or pump-action smooth-bore gun which is not an air weapon or
          chambered for .22 rim-fire cartridges and either has a barrel less than 24 inches in
          length or… is less than 40 inches in length overall;

          (ad) any smooth-bore revolver gun other than one which is chambered for 9mm rim-fire
          cartridges or a muzzle-loading gun;

          (ae) any rocket launcher, or any mortar, for projecting a stabilised missile, other than a
          launcher or mortar designed for line-throwing or pyrotechnic purposes or as signalling

          (af) any air rifle, air gun or air pistol which uses, or is designed or adapted for use with,
          a self-contained gas cartridge system;

          (b) any weapon of whatever description designed or adapted for the discharge of any
          noxious liquid, gas or other thing; and

          (c) any cartridge with a bullet designed to explode on or immediately before impact,
          any ammunition containing or designed or adapted to contain any such noxious thing
          as is mentioned in paragraph (b) above and, if capable of being used with a firearm of
          any description, any grenade, bomb (or other like missile), or rocket or shell designed
          to explode as aforesaid].

    Firearms Law: Guidance to the Police Home Office 2002 paras 3.23-3.24
    Controls on Firearms: A Consultation Paper Home Office May 2004 p6

Paragraph (aba) of this subsection, which added small firearms such as handguns to the list
of prohibited weapons, was added by the Firearms (Amendment) Act 1997 and amended by
the Firearms (Amendment) (No.2) Act 1997. Paragraph (af), which prohibited air weapons
with self-contained gas cartridges, was added was added by the Anti-Social Behaviour Act

The Firearms (Amendment) Act 1997 provided special exemptions from the prohibition on
handguns for slaughtering instruments, firearms used for the humane killing of animals, shot
pistols used for shooting vermin, races at athletic meetings, trophies of war, firearms of
historic interest and weapons used for tranquillising or otherwise treating animals.

Section 287 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003 introduced a minimum sentence of 5 years’
imprisonment (3 years’ detention in the case of offenders aged over 16 and under 18 at the
time of the offence) for the offence of possessing, purchasing, acquiring, selling or
transferring prohibited weapons without the authority of the Secretary of State. The maximum
sentence for this offence is 10 years’ imprisonment. This is also the maximum sentence for
the possession, purchase, acquisition, sale or transfer of prohibited ammunition and other
items listed in section 5A of the 1968 Act by a person who does not possess a certificate
issued under that section authorising them to do so.

Under Section 5A of the 1968 Act the Secretary of State may issue certificates allowing
certain individuals to possess, purchase, acquire, sell or transfer certain items which would
otherwise be considered prohibited weapons and ammunition. Such certificates are only
available to certain categories of people, including recognised collectors, authorised dealers
and people authorised to possess slaughtering instruments. The weapons and ammunition in
respect of which certificates may be issued under this provision are set out on Section 5(1A)
of the 1968 Act. The list includes various types of ammunition, rockets and missiles for
military use, as well as any firearm which is disguised as another object.

In a written answer of 20th April 2000 about the number of prohibited weapons held by private
individuals Charles Clarke, who was then a Home Office minister, said:

          The Secretary of State’s authority to possess prohibited weapons is only granted to
          those people who can show they have a genuine need to possess them, almost always
          to allow them to follow their trade or profession. Authorities are conditioned to limit
          holdings of prohibited firearms to the minimum number required and specify stringent
          security conditions under which the weapons are to be kept. The vast majority of
          authorities are held by companies who either manufacture, sell or transport such
          weapons or who need them for research, development or testing purposes. 4

In a subsequent written answer of 12 May 2000 Mr Clarke added that:

          There are only eight private individuals in England authorised by the Secretary of State
          to possess a total of 1,337 prohibited weapons. The vast majority of these are held by
          one person in one of the most comprehensive private collections of historic firearms in
          the world. The remaining firearms are held by two people who provide highly
          specialised firearms training to units of the United Kingdom armed forces; a forensic
          firearms expert; a lecturer and technical consultant; the owner of a private museum; a
          professional trapper of dangerous animals who is called in by the police to deal with
          such animals as escaped big cats; and a researcher into ballistics. 5

    HC Deb 20 April 2000 c595W
    HC Deb 12 May 2000 c524W

1.2     Firearms held on firearms certificates - “Section 1 firearms”
These are lethal barrelled weapons of any description from which any shot, bullet or missile
can be discharged, 6 other than those which come within the other categories of weapon.
Rifles are now the principal weapons coming within this category. It is an offence under
section 1 of the Firearms Act 1968, punishable by up to five years’ imprisonment and a fine
following conviction on indictment, 7 for a person to possess, purchase or acquire such a
firearm, or ammunition for one, except within the terms of a firearm certificate issued by the
chief officer of police for the area in which the person resides. The police must be satisfied
that a person applying for a certificate is fit to possess the firearm to which the certificate
relates without being a danger to the public, has a “good reason” for possessing the firearm
and is not subject to a statutory prohibition.

1.3      Shotguns
Under Section 2 of the Firearms Act 1968 it is an offence, punishable by up to five years'
imprisonment and a fine, for a person to possess, purchase or acquire shotguns or
ammunition for shotguns, except within the terms of a shotgun certificate issued by the chief
officer of police for the area in which the person resides. The police may refuse to issue a
certificate if they believe that the individual would be a danger to the public, that he or she
does not have a “good reason” for having the guns or that he or she is subject to a statutory

Section 1(3) of the 1968 Act, defines a shotgun as:

        a smooth-bore gun (not being an air gun) which-

        (i) has a barrel not less than 24 inches in length and does not have any barrel with a
        bore exceeding 2 inches in diameter;

        (ii) either has no magazine or has a non-detachable magazine incapable of holding
        more than two cartridges; and

        (iii) is not a revolver gun

2       The grant and renewal of firearm and shotgun certificates
2.1     Firearm certificates
A firearm certificate or shotgun certificate will continue in force for five years from the date on
which it was granted. The certificate must then be renewed every five years. 8

Section 27(1) of the Firearms Act 1968 provides that before granting or renewing a firearm
certificate the chief officer of police to whom the application for a certificate is made must be

        a) that the applicant is fit to be entrusted with a firearm to which section 1 of this Act
        applies and is not a person prohibited by this Act from possessing such a firearm;

  Firearms Act 1968 s57(i)
  Seven years’ imprisonment where the offence is committed in the aggravated form involving converted firearms,
as described in s4(4) of the 1968 Act
  Firearms Act 1968 s28A

          b) that he has a good reason for having in his possession, or for purchasing or
          acquiring, the firearm or ammunition in respect of which the application is made; and

          c) that in all the circumstances the applicant can be permitted to have the firearm or
          ammunition in his possession without danger to the public safety or to the peace.

The certificate specifies each weapon which the applicant is entitled to purchase or possess,
and further conditions, such as conditions concerning how the weapon should be stored, or
specification of the land on which the firearm must be used, may be added at the issuing
force’s discretion The conditions of the certificate, such as the number or type of firearms, or
specific conditions of use, may be varied on application and on payment of a fee. The
authority of a firearm certificate is also required for the purchase or possession of
ammunition and component parts of firearms.

A firearm certificate may be wholly or partially revoked, under section 30A of the Firearms
Act 1968, if the chief officer of police for the area in which the holder resides has reason to
believe either:

          a) that the certificate holder "is of intemperate habits or unsound mind or otherwise
          unfitted to be entrusted with a firearm"; or

          b) that the certificate holder can no longer be permitted to hold the firearms or
          ammunition to which the certificate relates without danger to public safety or the peace;

          c) that the certificate holder is prohibited from possessing a firearm;

          d) that the certificate holder no longer has good reason to possess the firearm or

In its report on Controls over Firearms, published in April 2000, the Home Affairs Committee
expressed the view that the controls applied to” section 1 firearms” were stringent, and that
they made adequate and justifiable provision for their safe use, if fairly and consistently

2.2       Shotgun certificates
The conditions that apply to the grant of a shotgun certificate are less stringent than those
that apply to the grant of firearm certificates. Section 28 of the Firearms Act 1968 provides

          1) Subject to subsection (1A) below, a shot gun certificate shall be granted or, as the
          case may be, renewed by the chief officer of police if he is satisfied that the applicant
          can be permitted to possess a shot gun without danger to the public safety or to the

          (1A) No such certificate shall be granted or renewed if the chief officer of police—

          a) has reason to believe that the applicant is prohibited by this Act from possessing a
          shot gun; or

          b) is satisfied that the applicant does not have a good reason for possessing,
          purchasing or acquiring one.

    Controls over firearms Home Affairs Committee second report session 1999-2000 HC 95-I paragraph 63

Section 28(1B) adds that:

       For the purposes of paragraph (b) of subsection (1A) above an applicant shall, in
       particular, be regarded as having a good reason if the gun is intended to be used for
       sporting or competition purposes or for shooting vermin; and an application shall not be
       refused by virtue of that paragraph merely because the applicant intends neither to use
       the gun himself nor to lend it for anyone else to use.

An applicant for a shotgun certificate is required to state, rather than to demonstrate, the
reason for which the certificate is required. It is for the chief constable to demonstrate that
the applicant has no good reason. In addition, the chief constable may not refuse a shotgun
certificate application or renewal merely because he has reason to believe that the applicant
has not used, or will not use, the shotgun or shotguns in question. Successful applicants are
required to notify the police upon the acquisition of further shotguns, but they are not obliged
to obtain permission, as any number of shotguns may be held on a single certificate. The
certificate covers only the shotgun, as components and ammunition may be held without a
certificate. Chief constables do not have the power to specify the conditions under which the
shotgun may be used or impose territorial restrictions on where the shotgun owner may

The grounds on which a shotgun certificate may be revoked are also different from those for
the revocation of a firearm certificate. Section 30C of the Firearms Act 1968 provides that

       A shot gun certificate may be revoked by the chief officer of police for the area in which
       the holder resides if he is satisfied that the holder is prohibited by this Act from
       possessing a shot gun or cannot be permitted to possess a shot gun without danger to
       the public safety or to the peace.

2.3    Exemptions from the certification requirement
The Firearms Act 1968 provides exemptions from the need to hold a firearm or shotgun
certificate in some circumstances. These tend to exempt a person in particular circumstances
in respect of firearms held, purchased or acquired for some particular and specified purpose.

Exemptions in these sorts of terms include those for:

           •   people who have obtained permits for a specified purpose from the chief officer
               of police for the area in which they reside (Section 7);

           •   authorised firearms dealers and people in business as carriers, auctioneers or
               warehousemen for the possession of firearms or ammunition in the ordinary
               course of their businesses (Sections 8 and 9);

           •   people licensed to slaughter animals, for the possession of firearms in the
               slaughterhouses or knacker’s yards in which they are employed, and the
               proprietors of such establishments, or people appointed by them to take
               charge of slaughtering instruments, for the purpose of keeping them in safe
               storage for the possession of firearms for that purpose (Section 10);

           •   firearms used in theatrical performances and film production (Section 12);

           •   firearms used in certain specified circumstances on board ships and aircraft,
                (Section 13);

             •   firearms used in sports, athletics and other approved activities, in
                  circumstances set out in Section 11 of the 1968 Act :

Section 16 of the Firearms (Amendment) Act 1988 permits a person without firearm
certificate to use a borrowed rifle, on private premises, in certain prescribed circumstances.
"Private premises" in this context includes land. Section 17 of the Firearms (Amendment) Act
1988 also allows a visitor to Great Britain who has obtained a visitors’ permit from a chief
officer of police in this country to possess a firearm and purchase or acquire ammunition, or
possess a shotgun and purchase or acquire shotguns without the need for a firearm or
shotgun certificate.

2.4      Medical history
The application forms for firearm and shotgun certificates require the applicant to give
permission for the police to approach the applicant’s general practitioner in order to obtain
factual details of the applicant’s medical history. Home Office guidance explains: 10

         10.20 This authority is to assist the police in dealing with cases where there are
         genuine doubts or concerns about the applicant’s medical history that may have a
         bearing on the applicant’s suitability to possess firearms. The authority should be used
         only where the doubts or concerns about the applicant’s medical history appear to
         require more detailed information to enable the final assessment of the application to
         be conducted. Such doubts or concerns might be prompted by the applicant’s answers
         to the medical questions on the application form, or they may arise from other
         information available to the police. [...]

         10.24 The applicant’s consent is not limited by time. It is therefore open to the police to
         approach the applicant’s GP at any time during the life of the certificate if there are
         concerns about the applicant’s continued fitness to possess firearms.

         10.25 It is also open to a GP to approach the police at any time in order to pass on
         information of possible concern about an individual, whether a patient or not, who
         possesses firearms or is applying to do so. Clearly, the GP would have to be satisfied
         that their public duty to express their concerns outweighed the normal requirements of
         patient confidentiality. [...]

This issue was brought into sharp relief in August 2008 when Christopher Foster shot his
wife and daughter before setting fire to the family home and dying in the resultant blaze.
Foster had previously told his GP that he felt suicidal. Following talks between the
Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) and the British Medical Association (BMA), in
2010 the BMA’s ethics committee approved the principle that patient confidentiality can be
overridden in the interests of public safety. The BMA was reported as saying:

         "While there is a clear public interest in a confidential health service, where there are
         serious threats to individuals, confidentiality can be breached. Where doctors know
         that a patient has a firearm and, in their view, as a result, presents a risk of harm to
         themselves or others, both legally and ethically, this information can be disclosed
         without consent.

         "The BMA would be concerned if doctors were being asked to police the risk posed by
         individuals possessing firearms. In the BMA's view, this is the responsibility of the chief

     Firearms Law: Guidance to the Police Home Office 2002

Simon Clarke of the British Association for Shooting and Conservation recognised merit in
the principle but expressed reservations about how this will work in practice. He said:

         "We don't want to discourage gun owners from going to their doctors if they need help,
         fearing their licence will be revoked. If it became a default position that any mental
         health issue causes your licence to be revoked, that would be a potential danger." 11

3        Air guns and other weapons not requiring certificates
Some types of firearm do not require a certificate at all. These include air guns, other than
those designed or adapted for use with, a self-contained gas cartridge system; or those types
of air gun which have been declared by rules made by the Secretary of State under Section
53 of the 1968 Act to be particularly dangerous. The possession and use of air guns and
transactions involving air guns are subject to some controls, particularly where minors are
concerned. This subject is covered in more detail in Library Standard Note SN/HA/3641 on
Air Guns.

4        Imitation or replica firearms
An “imitation firearm” is defined in the Firearms Act 1968, section 57(4), as “any thing which
has the appearance of being a firearm […] whether or not it is capable of discharging any
shot, bullet or other missile”.

Imitation, or replica firearms, generally fall into two categories: (a) those that can be readily
converted into a firearm to which section 1 of the Firearms Act 1968, (firearms requiring a
firearm certificate) applies, and (b) those that cannot. The latter are not required to be
licensed and therefore, are not subject to most of the regulations regarding firearms. To all
intents and purposes they are treated as toys or collectibles:

         Replicas which fire small plastic pellets or, in some cases, steel ball bearings with
         insufficient energy to penetrate the skin are not regarded as lethal barrelled weapons.
         Nor are blank firing replicas which cannot readily be converted to fire a live round, and
         realistic non-firing replicas. Such guns do not fall under the controls of the Firearms Act
         1968 as amended and may freely be bought by anyone.

         Under the Toys (Safety) Regulations 1989 any toy gun which discharges a hard
         projectile must not have an energy level in excess of 0.08 joule. 12

Following the implementation of section 37 of the Anti-social Behaviour Act 2003 13 it is now
an arrestable offence, punishable by up to 6 months’ imprisonment, for a person to have an
imitation firearms with him in a public place without lawful authority of reasonable excuse (the
proof of which lies on him). Imitation firearms also count as firearms for the purposes of a
number of criminal offences involving the use of firearms in the commission or furtherance of

Sections 36 to 41 of the Violent Crime Reduction Act 2006 amend the law concerning
imitation firearms and create a number of new offences, with a view to curbing the misuse of
imitation and replica weapons. These sections came into force on 1 October 2007.

     “GPs agree to waive privacy of mentally ill gun owners”, Guardian, 14 June 2010
     HC Deb 27 March 2001 cc591-2W
     effective from 20 January 2004

Section 36 makes it an offence for a person to manufacture, sell or import a realistic imitation
firearm or to modify a firearm or imitation firearm so that it becomes a realistic imitation
firearm. The Secretary of State is given powers under paragraphs (2) to (6) of section 36 to
make regulations providing exceptions, exemptions and defences in respect of this offence.
The regulations are subject to annulment under the negative resolution procedure.

Section 36 of the Act is designed to apply where imitation firearms are still permitted to be
manufactured, imported or sold and is intended to require them to be constructed according
to specifications laid down in regulations made by the Secretary of State. The Explanatory
Notes published to accompany the Act say:

           For example this will enable the imposition of a requirement that all blank-firing
           imitations be constructed in such a way that it is impossible to attempt to convert them
           into firearms firing live ammunition.

The regulations may either set out the specifications or provide for specifications to be
approved. It will be an offence for a person to manufacture or import imitation firearms which
do not conform to the required specifications, to modify an imitation firearm so that it ceases
to conform to these specifications, or to modify a firearm to create an imitation firearm that
does not conform to the specifications. Regulations have now been laid and came into force
on 1 October 2007. The regulations provide for two new defences. The first is for the
organisation and holding of “airsoft” skirmishing. This is defined by reference to “permitted
activities" and the defence applies only where third party liability insurance is held in respect
of the activities. The second new defence is for the purpose of display at arms fairs, defined
in the regulations by reference to "permitted events". The regulations also specify the
persons who can claim the defence for historical re-enactment. This is restricted to those
organising or taking part in re-enactment activities for which third party liability insurance is

Section 37 makes it a defence (to the offence under section 36) to show that the sale etc was
for the purposes of a museum or gallery; for theatre, film or TV productions; for historical re-
enactment; or for Crown service. There is also a defence for businesses who import realistic
imitation firearms for the purpose of modifying them so that they are no longer realistic.
Section 39 makes it an offence to manufacture, modify or import an imitation firearm which
does not conform to specifications set out in regulations to be made by the Secretary of

Section 40 of the Act makes it an offence for a person under the age of 18 to purchase a
firearm and for a person to sell an imitation firearm to a person under the age of 18. In
proceedings for the offence of selling an imitation firearm it will be a defence to show that the
person charged with the offence believed the other person to be aged 18 or over and had
reasonable grounds for that belief.

The offences created by sections 36, 39 and 40 are punishable by a maximum of 6 months’
imprisonment and a fine of up to £5,000. The maximum term of imprisonment for these
offences will increase to 51 weeks in England and Wales after the commencement of the
sentencing provisions in section 281(5) of the Criminal Justice Act 2003.

Section 41 of the Act makes the existing offence of possessing an imitation firearm in a
public place triable either way and punishable by up to 12 months’ imprisonment and a fine

     Violent Crime Reduction Act 2006 (Realistic Imitation Firearms) Regulations 2007 SI 2007/2606

following conviction on indictment. The maximum custodial sentence for the offence following
conviction on indictment will be 12 months. When section 282(3) of the Criminal Justice Act
2003 comes into force in England and Wales, the maximum custodial sentence for this
offence following summary conviction will increase from 6 months to 12 months.

More information about imitation firearms and the debates in Parliament during the passage
of the Violent Crime Reduction Bill can be found in Library Standard Note SN/HA/3640 on
Imitation and Replica Weapons.

5      Rifle clubs
Arrangements for the approval of rifle and muzzle-loading pistol clubs by the Secretary of
State (the Home Secretary or the Secretary of State for Scotland) are set out in section 15 of
the Firearms (Amendment) Act 1988. Section 45 of the Firearms (Amendment) Act 1997
substituted with amendments a new section 15 of the 1988 Act.

A member of an approved rifle or muzzle-loading pistol club may, without holding a firearm
certificate, have in his possession a rifle or muzzle-loading pistol and ammunition when
engaged as a member of the club in, or in connection with, target shooting. Any rifle or
muzzle-loading pistol club may apply for approval, whether or not it intends to have members
who take advantage of the exemption. The Secretary of State has powers to publish
guidance on the criteria which must be met by clubs before approval will be considered. An
approval may state that the club is to have no non-certificated members or may be limited to
target shooting with particular types of rifle or muzzle-loading pistol. An approval may be
granted subject to any conditions which the Secretary of State thinks fit. The approval may
be varied or withdrawn by the Secretary of State at any time and will be valid for six years
from the date on which it was granted or last renewed. Chapter 18 of the Home Office
document Firearms Law: Guidance to the Police, which was published in 2002, gives
guidance on the approval of rifle and muzzle-loading pistol clubs.

Section 15 of the 1988 Act gives authorised civilian officers equivalent powers to those of
police constables to enter premises occupied or used by approved clubs to inspect them for
the purpose of determining compliance with the provisions of the section and any limitations
or conditions in the approval. Constables and civilian officers may also demand to see a
club’s computer records.

6      Proposals for change since 2000
Following the enactment by the 1997 Firearms Acts of the ban on handguns the Government
said on several occasions that at some future date it would take a wider look at what other
firearms controls might be needed to safeguard the public. 15

On 6 April 2000 the Home Affairs Committee published the report of its inquiry on Controls
over Firearms. 16 The Committee recommended a number of changes in the system of
controls on firearms, particularly where the possession and use of shotguns and air weapons
was concerned. The Government published its reply to the Home Affairs Committee’s report
on 4th October 2000. 17 The Government accepted a number of the Committee’s

   see e.g. “Straw to tighten gun laws despite Olympic success” – Times 5 October 2000
   Controls over Firearms Home Affairs Committee second report session 1999-2000 HC 95-I
   The Government reply to the second report from the Home Affairs Committee Session 1999-2000 HC 95
    Controls over Firearms Cm 4864 October 2000

recommendations, including some of those concerned with tightening controls on airguns
and shotguns. A Home Office press notice quoted Charles Clarke, who was then a Home
Office minister, as saying:

        It is right in principle that anyone who wants to own a shotgun should be able to
        demonstrate that they have a good reason to do so. The way in which shotguns and
        other firearms are treated differently at present is not acceptable. We propose to
        rationalise the situation, while not restricting the present range of lawful shooting

        We recognise that air guns can be misused, sometimes through carelessness,
        sometimes through malice. While we do not believe that a licensing scheme is
        warranted, we are determined to ensure that these weapons are handled safely and
        responsibly and that the current range of outlets for their sale is restricted.

        We are also aware - as the Committee has pointed out - that illegally held firearms and
        their use in crime is a very significant threat to public safety. We are currently
        examining a range of measures to support the police in dealing with this problem. 18

The Home Office press notice said the Government would consult interested bodies on the

As mentioned elsewhere in this note, possession of an air gun or an imitation weapon in a
public place without lawful authority was made an arrestable offence under the Anti-social
Behaviour Act 2003. The 2003 Act also increased the age limits for possession of air guns
and banned self-contained gas cartridge system guns. The Criminal Justice Act 2003
introduced a minimum sentence of 5 years’ imprisonment for various offences involving
prohibited weapons, including unauthorised possession of such weapons.

In May 2004 the Home Office published a consultation paper entitled Controls on Firearms,
which sought views on a number of possible further changes in the law on firearms. The
Home Office website made the following comments about the consultation exercise:

        Controls on Firearms: A Consultation paper, issued on 12 May, is the first step in a
        comprehensive review of firearms controls in Great Britain. We want an open and
        wide-ranging debate, in advance of deciding what action might need to be taken.

        The aim of the review is to produce a modern and readily enforceable regulatory
        framework focused on public safety, balancing the needs of the wider community with
        those that both enforce the law and possess and use guns legally. We already have
        some of the toughest firearms controls in the world and the review is also an
        opportunity to ensure that our regulatory system does not allow guns to get into the
        wrong hands. 19

The summary chapter of the consultation paper described the issues in respect of which
views were being sought as follows:

        Part 1: “Firearms” describes the     three categories on which gun licensing is currently
        based. It asks whether types of      gun are subject to the right levels of control and if
        licensing should continue to be      based on these categories. The section also asks
        whether the certification process    can be improved, if any changes are needed to the

   Tighter Controls on Firearms: Government response to the Home Affairs Committee – Home Office press
    notice 4 October 2000
   Accessed 12 November 2007. This is allegedly “archived” but I have been unable to locate it as of June 2010.

          regulation of component parts and whether responsibilities for administering controls
          on firearms should continue as at present;

          Part 2: “Unlicensed Guns” discusses those types of guns, principally imitations, low-
          powered air guns and deactivated firearms, which are not subject to licensing. We do
          not believe that licensing of low-powered air guns and imitations, or restrictions on their
          sale, is proportionate or enforceable. Part 2 invites consultees to say whether they
          agree with this. It also invites views on whether further controls on deactivated firearms
          are needed;

          Part 3: “Young People and Guns” refers to growing concern about the attractiveness of
          guns to some young people. It asks how the complex age limit provisions might be
          simplified and invites comments on the principle of young people and legal shooting;

          Part 4: “Trade” discusses the means by which guns, their parts and ammunition are
          bought and sold. It asks whether the regulation of Registered Firearms Dealers can be
          improved, and whether action is needed in connection with internet, newspaper and
          telephone sales and mail order deliveries;

          Part 5: “Ammunition” seeks views on whether shot gun cartridges and component parts
          of ammunition should be licensed and whether the existing controls on expanding
          ammunition should be maintained;

          Part 6: “Other Issues” asks for views on topics not covered elsewhere in the paper. For
          example, if exemptions from the need to have a firearms certificate should continue in
          their present form and whether changes are needed to the existing procedures for
          appeals against licensing decisions.

The deadline for responses to the consultation paper was 31st August 2004. In a Written
Answer to a Question from David Drew in April 2005 about the Government’s policy on gun
control, the then Home Office minister, Caroline Flint, said:

          We are determined to have a regulatory framework controlling the possession of
          firearms which is robust, preventing guns getting into the wrong hands and allowing
          legitimate shooters to pursue their sport without danger to public safety. We already
          have some of the toughest gun controls in the world and we are currently considering
          the large number of responses we received to the consultation paper we issued last
          year to ensure that the framework remains appropriate for modern circumstances. 20

The summary of responses to the consultation was still in preparation a year later:

          Lord Mancroft asked Her Majesty's Government:

          Why the publication of the response to the Home Office 2004 consultation paper,
          Controls on Firearms, has been delayed. [HL5041]

          The Minister of State, Home Office (Baroness Scotland of Asthal): We received a
          very large response to the consultation—around 4,500 submissions. They have all
          been read and analysed and a summary is being prepared which will be published in
          due course. We will consider how and when to establish the firearms advisory
          committee once we have determined how we want to proceed with the review of
          firearms controls. 21

     HC Deb Vol 432 7 April 2005 cc1810-1W
     HL Deb 10 May 2006 cc135-6WA

It seems that the 2004 consultation was overtaken by events, specifically the decision to
legislate in what became the Violent Crime Reduction Act 2006. Background is provided in
Library research paper 05/49 on The Violent Crime Reduction Bill [Bill 10 of 2005-6], which is
available on the intranet and the internet. Details of the measures in the Act affecting
imitation and replica weapons and air guns are given in the Library standard notes cited

7      The National Firearms Licensing Management System
Section 39 of the Firearms (Amendment) Act 1997 provides that:

       1) There shall be established a central register of all persons who have applied for a
       firearm or shot gun certificate or to whom a firearm or shot gun certificate has been
       granted or whose certificate has been renewed.

       2) The register shall—

       a) record a suitable identifying number for each person to whom a certificate is issued;

       b) be kept by means of a computer which provides access on-line to all police forces.

In a written answer to a question from James Paice on 22 July 2004 the then Home Office
minister, Caroline Flint, made the following comments about proposals to develop a national
firearms database:

       Mr. Paice: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department when the project to
       develop a National Firearms Database was first initiated; when the system was
       completed and in operation; and what the total cost was of the project.

       Caroline Flint: The requirement under section 39 of the Firearms (Amendment) Act
       1997 for a central register of all persons who have applied for and been granted or
       refused a firearm or shot gun certificate is now being taken forward as part of a
       National Firearms Licensing Management System (NFLMS). I understand from the
       Police Information Technology Organisation that this project was initiated in September
       2002. It is scheduled to be ready for service at the end of August 2004. The migration
       of individual force records from their local systems to NFLMS will take about six
       months to include all forces. The final cost of the project will not be available before
       then. 22

Some technical difficulties arose with the nationwide implementation of the National Firearms
Licensing Management System. These were discussed in a series of questions from peers to
the then minister of state at the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, Lord Rooker, on 27th
January 2005. 23 Lord Rooker noted that the Home Office expected the system to be ready for
roll-out in July 2005 but he emphasised that this was an expectation, not a commitment. 24 In
the event, the implementation timetable slipped into 2007, as recorded in this PQ:

       Lord Marlesford asked Her Majesty's Government:

       Further to the Written Answer by Baroness Scotland of Asthal on 18 December 2006
       (WA 241), whether the rollout process for the national firearms management system,

   HC Deb Vol 424 22 July 2004 cc599-600W
   HL Deb Vol 668 27 January 2005 cc1388-9
   ibid c1389

          required under Section 39 of the Firearms (Amendment) Act 1997, is complete; if not,
          what has been the cause of the delay; and what is the new target date for completion;
          and [HL3362]

          What progress is being made in Scotland to comply with the requirements of Section
          39 of the Firearms (Amendment) Act 1997 to establish a national firearms
          management system; and [HL3363]

          Whether the data cleansing exercise of the national firearms management system is
          still on track for completion by June 2007; and how long thereafter it will be before the
          interface is made with the police national computer. [HL3364]

          The Minister of State, Home Office (Baroness Scotland of Asthal): The roll-out of
          the national firearms licensing management system (NFLMS) to all 43 forces in
          England and Wales was completed on 26 March 2006. Forces are continuing to work
          on the data cleansing exercise, and the implementation process will commence with a
          trial migration for each force starting at the end of April. The trial will provide a further
          report detailing any errors that will require correction before the live interface with the
          police national computer (PNC) commences. The migration will now be undertaken on
          a regional basis and is currently scheduled for 25 to 27 August and the two subsequent
          weekends. 25

The key features of the NFLMS are summarised on the website of the National Policing
Improvement Agency. The System

              •   Maintains information of people, companies and dealers that have requested
                  firearms and/or shotgun certificates

              •   Maintains information on weapons and their history

              •   Records details of places where people can shoot

              •   Provides system to manage firearms clubs

              •   Provides a register of individuals who have had their certificates revoked or had
                  their application for a certificate rejected.

8         Policy of the Coalition Government, 2010
In Cumbria on 2 June 2010, Derrick Bird killed twelve people and injured eleven others with
two weapons which he held legally. In a statement to the House the following day the Home
Secretary, Theresa May, said:

          Undoubtedly, yesterday's killings will prompt a debate about our country's gun laws.
          That is understandable and, indeed, right and proper, but it would be wrong to react
          before we know the full facts. Today we must remember the innocent people who were
          taken from us as they went about their lives. Then we must allow the police time to
          complete their investigations. When the police have reported, the Government will
          enter into, and lead, that debate. We will engage with all interested parties and
          consider all the options, and we will make sure that hon. Members have the
          opportunity to contribute. I will talk to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House
          about the best way to ensure that Members have such an opportunity before the
          summer recess. 26

     HL Deb 22 May 2007 cc91-2WA
      HC Deb 3 June 2010 c593

At a press conference on the same day the Prime Minister, David Cameron, said that there
was not always "an instant legislative or regulatory answer". He stressed that firearm
licences had to be regularly reviewed and the procedures for doing so were strict:

         "Of course we should look at this issue but we should not leap to knee-jerk conclusions
         on what should be done on the regulatory front. We do have some of the toughest
         legislation in the world. You can't legislate to stop a switch flicking in someone's head
         and this sort of dreadful action taking place." 27

Asked in Prime Minister’s Questions the following week whether the Government planned to
reconsider the regulation of guns, Mr Cameron replied:

         Specifically on gun laws, we need to be clear first about the full facts of the case. We
         also need to determine the type and scope of reviews that will take place after this
         tragedy. Of course the Home Office will look again at the gun laws in the light of the
         tragedy, and I can also announce today that the chief constable of Cumbria has
         already written to the president of the Association of Chief Police Officers [ACPO]
         asking him to support a peer review, to be conducted by national police experts on
         firearms licensing and police firearms response and tactics. Those reviews will become
         publicly available documents. We should not leap to conclusions, and I do not believe
         in knee-jerk legislation. We have in this country some of the tightest gun laws, but of
         course we should look again at them. 28

Later in the same Question Time he amplified this:

         The hon. Gentleman is right that everything has to be considered, including the mental
         health of people and police visits to their homes, but we have, because of previous
         tragedies, very strict rules on what people who keep guns at home have to do in terms
         of very strict security. I remember sitting on the Home Affairs Committee and asking
         the ACPO representative responsible for the issue how much leakage there was from
         legally held guns into the illegal, black market. The answer was virtually none, so if we
         are looking for what the problem is, it is clearly that in our society we have a huge
         number of guns that we need to get rid of. Clearly, there was an appalling problem in
         this case, where, as I have said, a switch flicked in someone's head. We cannot
         legislate against that, but let us look at every aspect and ensure that we have the
         robust laws that we need. 29

The report by Adrian Whiting, ACPO’s chairman for firearms licensing, was published in
November 2010. It found that Cumbria Police acted properly according to statutory
requirements and Home Office guidance in issuing Bird’s firearms certificates. “No
reasonable opportunities” could have prevented the mass killing and only greater restrictions
on the private possession of firearms could prevent a similar occurrence in future. The report
called for a tightening of national laws, creating better links between family doctors, mental
health services and police, so that medical professionals could alert authorities if they had
concerns about certificate holders. The report recommended reviewing the categories of
people prohibited from holding a certificate, with a view to including those on suspended

     “David Cameron opposes ‘knee-jerk reaction’ on gun laws”, BBC News, 3 June 2010
     HC Deb 9 June 2010 c324
     HC Deb 9 June 2010 c332

sentences. It also proposed introducing a single certificate type covering both “section 1
firearms” and shotguns. 30

In July 2010 the Home Affairs Committee announced an inquiry into firearms control. The
inquiry was to focus in particular on:

              •   The extent to which legally-held guns are used in criminal activity and the
                  relationship between gun control and gun crime, including the impact of the
                  Firearms (Amendment) Acts 1997;

              •   Whether or not the current laws governing firearms licensing are fit for purpose,
                  including progress on implementing the Committee’s recommendations set out
                  in its Second Report of the 1999-2000 session;

              •   Proposals to improve information-sharing between medics and the police in
                  respect of gun licensing;

              •   Information-sharing between police and prisons in assessing the risk of
                   offenders who may have access to firearms; and

              •   The danger presented by, and legislation regulating, airguns. 31

The Committee took written submissions from interested parties and conducted oral
evidence sessions in the autumn.

In November the Government was asked about progress:

          Jim Shannon: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what progress
          her Department has made in its review of the statutory regime affecting firearm
          ownership; what representations she has received as part of that review from
          representatives of the gun manufacturing industry; and if she will make a statement.

          James Brokenshire: The Government have submitted evidence to the Home Affairs
          Select Committee which is conducting an inquiry into firearms controls. Their findings
          will be taken into account and a written response made. The Government will also be
          taking into account the results of the peer reviews commissioned by the chief
          constable into the force's handling of the shootings in Cumbria. A meeting has been
          held to discuss a range of issues with the British Shooting Sports Council which has
          associate representatives from a number of shooting organisations including the Gun
          Trade Association. Representations from other organisations both for and against
          further controls will be fully considered. 32

     Association of Chief Police Officers, A report (Part 1) concerning the grant of a firearm certificate and a
     shotgun certificate to Derrick Bird by Cumbria Constabulary and (Part 2) observations regarding potential
     changes to the system of granting such certificates and related provisions in law, November 2010
     Home Affairs Committee press release, 15 July 2010
     HC Deb 15 November 2010 cc549-50W