Reply by the United Kingdom National Rifle Association to the Labour Party Document 'The Control of Guns'.

  1. A document issued by George Robertson MP and Jack Straw MP. sets out the Labour Party's "evidence" to the Cullen Inquiry into the Dunblane Incident. It offers very little evidence but makes a number of proposals. all of them qualified by the final paragraph (53) which claims that the submission sets out only "initial views" and indicates that the Labour Party will consider all the evidence given to the Inquiry and any recommendations before coming to final conclusions.
  2. Throughout the document there is nothing to suggest that Labour is aware the nature of an activity which is probably the second largest participatory sport in the country, with almost one million direct participants and many other participants, such as dog handlers, beaters and others in field sports, who do not actually shoot.
  3. More importantly, perhaps, it is clear that Labour has not investigated the economic and employment ramifications of their proposal. Cobham Resource Consultants reported in 1990 that sporting shooting alone had an economic value of £600 million per year. If that figure is updated and the value of other gun related activities (clay pigeon shooting. target rifle shooting, pistol shooting, gun collecting. etc) is added. the total economic value of the civilian use of firearms is no less than one billion pounds per year. Game shooting involves 13,500 directly related jobs and the employment created by all forms of shooting. direct and indirect must be at least double that. A Scottish Development Agency publication The Economic Impact of Sporting Shooting in Scotland prepared by Strathclyde University. shows that. In Scotland, sporting shooting alone involves the employment of over 12,000 people, full and part time, much of the latter being at times when no other employment is available. Sporting shooting alone brings £78 million into Scotland each year. If all the gun related activities set out above are added, both those figures can be increased by 60%. Labour's proposals will destroy almost all of that economic activity. It will also involve confiscating millions of legally held firearms with the subsequent payment of vast sums of money in compensation. It will not, of course, have any impact on the huge number of illegally held firearms, except perhaps to add to their number.
  4. Paragraph 1 of the submission asserts that Thomas Hamilton, the perpetrator of the Dunblane Massacre was "known to the police" and implies that defects in the licensing system prevented the police from taking action about him. Bearing in mind that police may refuse to grant a certificate, or revoke an existing certificate if the person concerned is "In any way unfitted to be entrusted with a firearm", then any questions about why a person who was known to be unfit was allowed to possess firearms should be addressed to police procedures and not to the law itself. Evidence that Hamilton had shown himself to be unfit prior to the event is. at this time, based on speculation which may be resolved at the Inquiry.
  5. The same paragraph asserts that there is disquiet about the ease with which a certificate can be obtained. If that were true it would be a reflection on the police administration of existing law rather than on the law itself. An applicant for a firearm certificate must prove that he is not prohibited from possessing firearms by reason of previous convictions. that he is not of intemperate habits or unsound mind. that he is not in any way unfitted to possess a firearm. If the police have any reason to believe (not prove) that any of these apply, they may not grant the certificate. Having met those criteria, the applicant must then satisfy the police that he has a good reason for possessing each firearm he seeks to acquire and that his possession of that firearm will not cause danger to public safety. In all cases, the burden rests on the applicant and not on the police.
  6. The Labour Party suggest, in their paragraph 2, that it is important that any new legislation will stand the test of time. If that is so, there must be proper consultation with all concerned, including the shooting community and the police. Such a process precludes any panic legislation which is invariably found to be flawed.
  7. In paragraph 3 it is claimed that there are no estimates of the number of firearms used in crime which have ever been licensed. It is certainly correct to say that there can be no accurate figure, but in oral evidence before the Home Affairs Select Committee, taken in public, the President of the Association of Chief Police Officers accepted as accurate, an estimate that 96% of the flrearms used in crime had never been licensed. The President of ACPO was, until recently, chairman of the ACPO group concerned with firearms and armed crime and spoke with very considerable knowledge about the sources of firearms used in crime and the impact of legally held firearms.
  8. Whilst he stressed the need for effective controls on legally held firearms, the ACPO representative made it clear that the real problem lay with illegally held firearms and that further restrictions on the legitimate shooter could not be expected to have any significant impact on the use of firearms in crime. He also made it clear that thefts of firearms usually take place in the course of thefts of other property and there is no evidence that firearms are targeted. The rate of thefts of firearms has remained remarkably constant in a period when theft generally is increasing enormously.
  9. The evidence given to the Home Affairs Select Committee had not been published when the Labour report was written, but it was given in public and both the ACPO report and accounts of the oral evidence were available to the Labour Party who could also have consulted ACPO.
  10. The use of firearms in crime has increased in recent years, but at the same time the level of legitimate firearms ownership has been drastically reduced and is today lower than it has ever been in the history of this country. The reduction of crime involving firearms depends almost exclusively on police tackling criminals. The use of firearms in robbery rose from just four cases in 1954 and remained in double figures only until well into the mid 60s. In 1969 there were 14,663 firearm certificates in London and the number of armed robberies was 345. In 1991 there were 9,975 firearm certificates in London, but armed robberies had risen to 1,618. By 1994, armed robbery had been reduced to 597 cases, but that was not achieved by action against those who hold firearms legally. A statement by Commander Roy Ramm of the Flying Squad in January 1996 made it perfectly clear that the reduction had been secured by targeting criminals and by "…the sheer hard work and detective skills of the Flying Squad". Further reductions in armed crime can only be achieved by targeting the criminals who almost invariably use firearms which have never formed part of the legal firearms pool.
  11. When Labour turns to international comparison it reveals the shallow nature of its research and a total lack of understandfng of the problem. Supposed comparative statistics are produced in Table 4 and great emphasis is placed in Paragraph 8 of the submission on the Swiss situation. It is said that all males "remain in the Swiss Army reserve up to the age of 32". In fact those are the first line soldiers of the regular army. From 33 to 48, the same men remain in second line units and from 48 for the rest of their lives they remain in a 'home guard'. They are issued with arms and ammunition on joining at 18 and keep these at home. When they formally transfer to the reserve at 48. their firearms are marked 'P' and become their personal property. Ammunition is sold at reduced prices on all ranges and is freely available in gun shops. In addition. private ownership of firearms is widespread and subject to few restrictions.
  12. According to Home Office estimates there are 376 legally held pistols per 100,000 people in Britain. In Switzerland, the comparable figure is 21,822 (R Munday Most Armed & Most Free, Piedmont. 1996). Legally held handguns alone are 58 times more readily available in Switzerland than they are in Britain. Rifles, including fully automatic rifles, are even more readily available, with ammunition.
  13. The Labour Party Report then goes on to claim that firearm murders are six times as common in Switzerland as in the UK. But they have not troubled to find out what the statistics mean. In Switzerland, the homicide figure includes all attempts. The Swiss figure would more properly be compared with the figures for homicide and attempts in Scotland, and homicide and other acts endangering life in England and Wales. That gives a total 1161 cases and a rate for Britain (not the UK which includes Northern Ireland) of 20.9 cases per 100,000. Munday indicates that the rate of robbery with firearms in Switzerland is 6.31 per 100,000 whilst in England and Wales it is 8.12. All other figures in Labour's table are similarly suspect and a great deal of refining would need to be done to produce a useful figure. What can be said is that with guns infinitely more readily available to everyone, the Swiss rate of armed crime is but a fraction of that in this country.
  14. International comparisons are extremely difficult because of the need to take account of social and legal difference. Criminal statistics on crimes of violence are not even comparable between Scotland, England and Wales - much less with other countries. Levels of firearms ownership are usually speculative. One fact is clear. There is no relationship between rates of armed crime in Britain and the level of legal firearms ownership.
  15. Under the heading "General Principles" the Labour document makes a series of incorrect statements claiming yet again that guns are readily available through the licensing system and that this availability is the cause of two major disasters. They presumably refer to Hungerford and Dunblane. There was no Inquiry after Hungerford and the Inquiry into Dunblane has yet to be started but in both cases there is evidence that any failure may be attributable to police inefficiency rather than to the system itself.
  16. It is asserted, quite falsely, that almost all pistols and rifles are designed and manufactured to kill humans. Most modern sporting firearms may derive from weapons, and weapons may be for offensive or defensive purposes. However, sporting firearms have many of the original features designed out of them so as to make them better suited for sport. The claim is akin to saying that all saloon cars are designed for formula one racing.
  17. Shooting sports cause less distress and cost to society than many other sports and the participants in shooting sports are unique in that every one of them has been vetted by the police. Football costs society millions of pounds each week in police resources, in damage and injury caused, and in inconvenience to the general public. In one incident 96 people were killed in a matter of minutes. Little control has been imposed other than to pour more millions of public money into that sport. To suggest that shooting sports should be banned because criminals use illegally held firearms is illogical. To say that the sport should be banned because deranged people cause disasters is to blame one million people for the acts of one madman.
  18. If effective measures can be taken to prevent such incidents in the future. they will be welcomed most of all by the shooting community. but simply banning legally held firearms will have no influence on the illegal market, nor will it prevent the ill disposed or deranged individual from obtaining a firearm or from using some other method to cause another disaster. The Labour Party document contains no reference to enquiring into police efficiency in administering the present system and no hint that there should be research into the long list of similar incidents to obtain information which might help prevent another such case.
  19. The idea that simulators can be a substitute for any sport shows a total lack of understanding of the skills required in shooting sports. It is akin to suggesting that all car racing can take place on computer simulators.
  20. Paragraph 16 claims that handguns are particularly dangerous, an assertion lifted from the Home Office submission. Reference to the same Home Office submission will show, at page 48, that in 1994, shotguns were used in 1,339 offences, causing fatal injury in 38 and other injuries in 103. Pistols were used in 3,053 offences, but caused death in only 28 cases and injury in 125. Pistols were used as a threat only in 2,654 cases whilst shotguns were used as a threat in only 969 cases. Whilst the pistol is the preferred weapon of the robbery, shotguns feature in more homicides.
  21. All the evidence shows that action against legally held pistols will have little or no influence on the use of firearms in crime, but if it had the effect of displacing firearms use to shotguns, or even worse, to rifles, the danger to the public would actually be increased.
  22. The Labour Party seems to believe that the Olympics is the only major international shooting event. In fact, Olympic shooting is one of the least popular disciplines. At least ten major lnternational events are held each year with 'larger calibre' (centre fire) pistols being used in all of them. No other country in Europe and no other western democracy has ever sought to impose such restrictions on its target shooting community and the proposal would mean that Britain, almost alone in the world, could no longer compete in a sport in which it excels.
  23. Of the two Olympic pistol disciplines, one requires a self loading pistol, so that international participation by British shooters would be limited to a single event in the Olympics. But the sport could not be sustained on that one event and the effect of Labour's proposal would be to eliminate target shooting from this country, reducing it to the status of a minor dictatorship in that regard.
  24. The single shot .22 pistols which the Labour Party suggests are the only firearms which should be possessed on licence in this country, are, in fact, free from control in many European countries, purchased without licence in supermarkets. Eventually, the purchasers will be under an obligation to declare their purchase to the police after the event, but even that measure has not yet been put into effect in a number of countries.
  25. In suggesting that .22 single shot pistols would be sufficient for the humane slaughter of animals, they again display an abysmal ignorance of the subject and, worse, an unwillingness even to seek advice on this small aspect of the proposals. one needs only to think of an injured horse writhing in agony, which no-one can guarantee to hit in the brain with a first shot, to see how inhumane their suggestions really are.
  26. This proposal would also eliminate the many private collections of important historical firearms in this country. Britain was in the forefront of handgun development in the l9th century, when there were no controls on firearms. Historical firearms can be valuable and represent an important study in the development of industry and civilisation, and of military history, as well as the development of firearms themselves.
  27. Similar comments must also be made about their suggestions for the use of rifles. The Universities Federation for Animal Welfare has condemned as inhumane the use of a .22 rimflre rifle for fox control and the use of such rifles against deer is not only inhumane but illegal.
  28. Target shooting with centre fire rifles is carried on at ranges out to 1200 yards. It has its roots in the Volunteer movement and has provided enormous assistance to the armed forces in time of national danger. A great deal of research has shown that the existence of this sport is a major asset to the defence of the realm. There is not the slightest evidence that centre fire magazine rifles used in game shooting, deer stalking, vermin control or target shooting have been a source of any danger to the public. The use of rifles in crime is very low indeed. This proposal can only be seen as a malicious attempt to destroy a sport about which the authors of the report know nothing and do not care to try to understand.
  29. In their use of the term 'gun culture' to describe the legitimate shooting community and their failure to distinguish that from the criminal gun culture which is growing up almost unchecked, the Labour Party once again displays not merely ignorance of the facts but an arrogant unwillingness to look at them.
  30. As with so many sports, the safest and the most competent practitioners are those who start young. Many young people shoot under supervision from an early age and there is no evidence that this causes any problems. These recommendations reflect a doctrinaire dismissal of all legitimate shooting sports.
  31. In paragraphs 29 to 31. the report contains a series of assertions about certification procedures, every single one of which is wrong in fact. It is quite wrong to suggest that anyone can easily obtain a .357 magnum revolver (note the careful use of that description in a pejorative fashion) and even more wrong to suggest that the dice are loaded in favour of the applicant. The fact is that the entire burden of proof falls on the applicant and, if the police have been negligent in some cases, that is the problem that needs to be addressed.
  32. The report makes the common mistake of assuming that the published statistics for refusals of certificates represent the only filtering process applied by the police. The "Refusal" is a legal process involving a formal statement of refusal which may give rise to a right of appeal. In general, few people will apply for a certificate unless they have a good chance of success. Where an applicant is, for example, a prohibited person, believed to be of unsound mind etc, or where the police have reservations, the enquiry process is geared to advising those people that it would be futile to pursue an application. In the case of members of clubs, an additional filter is provided by the probationary membership system described later.
  33. Crown Courts operate under precisely the same rules as the police and an appellant must satisfy the same burden of proof before the court as he does before the police. There is no evidence that the courts favour the appellant and, indeed, the evidence is to the contrary. The manner in which the Crown Court must behave is spelled out in the English case Kavanagh v Chief Constable of Devon & Cornwall [1973] 3A11 ER 657. The Scottish Courts have been even more restrictive, see Kaye v Hunter 1958 SC 208. It is impossible to believe that, with very little research, the authors of the report could not have discovered these simple facts.
  34. The idea that chief constables should have absolute power is normal in a dictatorship, but not in a democracy and it is simply not to the point to draw comparisons with the case of aliens seeking citizenship. There is a huge body of licensing law, in many cases the item to be licensed poses a much greater potential hazard than a firearm. but an appeals process is invariably provided. Throughout their comments in this field, the authors have yet again not troubled to take advice or to see what is currently under consideration. In fact a simplified appeals process in which the police themselves would play a full role is being considered by the Firearms Consultative Committee.
  35. In terms of the involvement of the medical profession. the report is ambiguous and, once again. does not seem to have been based on any consultation, even with professionals concerned. That matter is being properly investigated and the Labour Party Report adds nothing to it.
  36. The counter signature system has been under consideration for some time and the vague comments made in this document add nothing to a debate. It would be foolish to assume, however, that any referee can have the sort of knowledge,of an individual that the authors of this report seem to assume.
  37. Comment about mail order is another of those hoary chestnuts which is raked up on every occasion in which this topic is discussed and again shows a total absence of any knowledge. The nature of the gun trade is such that local gun shops cannot stock every type of firearm which might be required and the purchaser will shop around. Having decided that he wishes to buy a firearm by mall order, he must first apply to the police for authorisation to acquire that firearm. If his certificate is duly granted or varied it will specify the number and type of firearms authorised. The person must send his cerUficate with his order. The certificate will bear his name and address and the gun will only be sent to that address. The police are then notified of the transaction. Guns cannot be sent by ordinary post but must go by some secure system. The use of the mall order system has never caused a single identifiable problem.
  38. Comments about advertising show a woeful ignorance of the Report of the Advertising Standard Authority dated April 1996. Of the 259 advertisements for weapons of all types which were examined, 94% were found to be acceptable. Complaints about the remaining 6% were generally of a minor nature and ASA are dealing with those. That report makes it perfectly clear that the existing situation is very satisfactory and there are few other areas where advertising conforms to arbitrary standards so fully. One wonders why the authors made their comments without troubling to enquire into the matter.
  39. Paragraph 49 suggests that members of approved rifle and pistol clubs should not be able to use a firearm without a personal certificate. Once again, the authors entirely fall to understand the system. The example provided applies only to those clubs approved by the Secretary of State and allows probationary members to receive instruction, and particularly safety training under specified levels of supervision. During that period the police will not issue a firearm certificate. If the person does not satisfactorily complete his training period, and is accepted by the club as a member, his application for a certificate will be rejected out of hand. The system provides an additional safeguard under carefully controlled conditions, not a risk to the public. It eliminates applications to the police from those who are not thought suitable.
  40. When the Labour report was produced, evidence about the storage of firearms was already available. The matter had been considered in depth in 1988 and was dealt with in a White Paper. Both the Home Office and ACPO had presented written evidence on this point, yet the submission raises the subject again as if it was an open question.
  41. The submission quotes the Police Federation magazine as authority for indicating that the police service is under-represented on the Firearms Consultative Committee. The Police Federation seeks representation on almost every body which exists. The police are represented by two chief constables who are supported by their own staff and by their respective associations. They are also supported by representatives of the Forensic Science Service, the Home Office, Scottish Office, Crown Prosecutions Service and so on. Police representatives on the FCC have never sought greater representation and it is doubtful if officers of the Police Federation would qualify under the terms of the 1988 Act as persons with special expertise in this field.

Posted: May 1996