Supplementary memorandum submitted by
The British Association for Shooting and Conservation
COMMENTS ON THE DRAFT FIREARMS (NORTHERN
IRELAND) ORDER 2002
Airguns should be removed from the certification
process if they fall under the muzzle energy limits set out in
the Firearms (Dangerous Air Weapons) Rules 1969 (12 and six ft
lbs for rifles and pistols respectively).
Shotguns should be licensed as a class. The
acquisition of a shotgun should not require prior individual authorisation.
Certificate holders should be authorised to acquire shotguns without
prior individual consent but required to notify the police immediately
of all acquisitions or disposals so as to create a viable audit
There should be no minimum age limit for the
properly supervised use of a firearm borrowed from the responsible
adult certificate holder. The minimum age limit for a Firearm
Certificate should be 14. Between 14 and 17, a certificate holder
should be prohibited from buying firearms and ammunition but authorised
to possess a firearm subject to conditions prescribed by the Chief
Constable following consultation with the young person's parent
or guardian. From 17 years, a certificate holder should be able
to buy firearms and ammunition as authorised by their certificate.
Prevention of Crime
BASC believes that Articles 52 and 62 are disproportionate
as they confer too much power on the Chief Constable and this
will lead to unfairness.
The Northern Ireland Office, not the Chief Constable,
should design application forms. The language of the Draft Order
as it relates to the issue of certificates should be changed from
"may" to "shall" so as to create a qualified
right to possess firearms. The term "good reason" should
be interpreted as per its natural meaning and not in an artificial
or restrictive manner. The requirement of a certificate holder
to demonstrate "competence" prior to the grant of a
certificate is disproportionate, problematic and fraught with
consequences that remain both un-addressed and unresolved. Conditions
on certificates should be the exception rather than the rule.
Certificates should be valid for five years rather than three.
The right of appeal to the courts is welcomed but the use of lay
advocates should also be considered.
BASC welcomes the retention of pistols for target
shooting. The entire article should be reviewed to see if prohibited
status remains applicable for all the firearms within it.
BASC believes that the Draft Order is needlessly
restrictive and that the improving political and security situations
in Northern Ireland do not justify it. The PSNI will still be
subjected to a heavy administrative burden that represents an
unjustified cost to taxpayers and certificate holders. No evidence
is advanced to show that public safety would be enhanced.
1. The Draft Order proposes to continue
the requirement for all air guns capable of lethal performance
(with muzzle energy levels over 1 joule (0.373 ft lb) to remain
within the certification system. BASC believes that this is disproportionate,
and that the NIO is missing the opportunity to reduce a costly
administrative burden for the PSNI and draw on the advantages
to safety and recreational opportunity that would flow from a
less restrictive regime that would, moreover, be consistent with
the rest of the UK.
2. To that end BASC suggests that the muzzle
energy levels as defined by the Firearms (Dangerous Air Weapons)
Regulations 1969 should be adopted in Northern Ireland. These
are 12 ft. lbs for air rifles and 6ft 1bs for pistols (16.66 and
8.33 J respectively). In the case of air rifles this level allows
for both humane pest control and competitive target shooting.
The limit for pistols also accommodates that which is required
for competitive target shooting. It is to be noted that the air
rifle limit is 10 times less than the muzzle energy of the smallest
commercially available powder-burning cartridge, the .22 LR. Treating
such air guns in the same way as more powerful firearms using
cartridges is unjustified and unjustifiable.
3. There is an acknowledged problem of air
weapon misuse in other parts of the UK caused mainly by a relatively
small number of young people in urban areas. Viewed against the
perspective of the four to six million air weapons in private
hands the level of abuse is tiny. This problem arises, moreover,
notwithstanding stringent legislation on the possession and use
of air weapons by young people. This has been the subject of considerable
media hyperbole and, being the product of local circumstances,
does not invalidate our view that young people, recreational opportunity
and wise use of police resources in Northern Ireland would all
be well served by the change we advocate.
4. If it is felt that the removal of air
weapons from the licensing system is too radical, then it would
be appropriate to consider a system of "notification after
acquisition" within the current certification system. This
would allow a certificate holder to acquire air weapons without
prior authorisation but would require him to account for them
by means of a statutory duty to notify the police immediately.
If this were to be implemented it would benefit the PSNI in terms
of reduced administration, the shooting community and the gun
trade by removal of a disproportionate restriction. Any such change
should be reviewed after a suitable period of time.
5. The proposal to remove air gun pellets
from the licensing regime is welcome and long overdue
6. BASC is disappointed that the Draft Order
does not propose a similar licensing regime for shotguns to that
which applies in the rest of the UK. This is a missed opportunity
to improve consistency.
7. The Great Britain system is acknowledged
as being remarkably efficient because it concentrates police enquiries
on the suitability or fittedness of the applicant. It ensures
that licensing does not become distracted by complicating factors
such as the different ballistic capabilities of individual firearmsas
happens with Section 1 firearms such as sporting rifles. If an
individual is judged to be suitable to possess a class of firearm
the only constraint should be that of ensuring proper security
at all times. Excessive acquisition such as might be judged to
represent a threat to public safety or the peace is prevented
by the requirement to notify all acquisitions immediately and
periodic review at renewal.
8. Inherent to the success of such a system
is the statutory duty to inform the police of every transactionacquisition
or disposalinvolving a shotgun. The only exception to this
would be a loan between certificate holders for a short period
9. The most recent report of the Firearms
Consultative Committee noted that, "Police members agreed
that there was no evidence of a significant problem of shotgun
misuse and accepted that any regulation must be proportional."
10. BASC is unaware of any evidence of misuse
of shotguns by certificate holders in Northern Ireland and suggests
that the same regime as prevails in Great Britain should replace
the current system. This would release the PSNI from a considerable
administrative burden and would be a welcome concession to the
shooting community. There would be no need to issue a separate
certificate for shotguns under this system, as is the case in
Great Britain. The form of the current certificate could be altered
to allow the acquisition of shotguns as a class rather than individually.
Again this would represent a reduction in administrative burden.
11. Shotgun ammunition should also be treated
in the same way as it is in Great Britain
ie not subject to limits for acquisition on the certificate. It
is impossible to run any meaningful check on the acquisition and
use of shotgun cartridges by means of a limit set on a certificate.
12. The principle of differentiating between
firearms subject to prior authorisation from those subject to
notification after acquisition is well established in British
law. It is also common in other countries and forms a major part
of the EC Weapons Directive.
13. Adoption of this system as it relates
to shotguns in Northern Ireland would bring benefit to the PSNI
and the shooting community without any adverse effects for the
wider public safety. It would improve consistency with the rest
of the UK and reduce inconsistency with single market rules.
14. Article 7(1) of the Draft Order precludes
the grant of an FAC to any person under 18. Thereafter, there
are a number of complicated and restrictive exemptions for young
people between 16-18 years.
15. The concept of a minimum "no touch"
age for firearms useeven under supervisionis not
widely supported and owes much to the scare tactics of anti-gun
lobby groups. The government in its response to the Home Affairs
Committee's Report rejected it.
The then Home Office Minister said "The Government's main
interest is to protect public safety and we do not believe that
a ban on supervised shooting by young people would improve this".
He continued, "We would wish to encourage the responsible
attitude of responsible parents and shooting organisations in
teaching young people a safe and responsible attitude to firearms
handling. As with many other issues, we believe that this is one
on which parents should decide the age at which their children
take up shooting sports."
16. The Home Office's view is that it is
sensible for young people who want to shoot to have properly supervised
access to firearms. "It is in the interests of safety that
a young person who is to handle firearms should be properly taught
at a relatively early age."
17. In the light of considerable experience
and careful consultation over many years BASC strongly advocates
a progressive and step-wise approach. This must both allow opportunity
and ensure supervision. We are of the view that the minimum age
for the grant of a certificate should be 14. Prior to this a young
person would only be able to use a gun belonging to a certificate
holder aged over 21, under the certificate holder's supervision,
and on land where the certificate holder has permission to bea
duty of care attaching itself to the supervisor of the young person.
Between 14 and 17, a young person should be
granted a certificate if he or she satisfies the usual criteria
for grant. The certificate should be tailored individually in
the light of the interview that is carried out by the police prior
to grant, to take account of the young person's needs and circumstances.
Conditions should be made on the certificate that specify special
requirements and underline the holder's responsibilities. The
general form and extent of the conditions should be agreed after
consulting shooting associations whilst the individual certificate
should be a matter for discussion between the PSNI and the young
person's parents or guardian. On attaining 17 years, BASC believes
that a person should be eligible to apply for a certificate that
authorises them to buy firearms and ammunition as may be authorised
on the certificate.
18. The proposal in the Draft Order denies
young people the opportunity to receive proper training in the
use of firearms until they are 16. No justification is offered
to sustain this age limit and it appears to be arbitrarily chosen.
The consequences of this militate against public safety. There
is a strong body of opinion that says that it is desirable for
young people to learn safe firearms use at an early age, rather
than later their teens. There is no evidence whatsoever that shows
that the supervised use of firearms by under 16s has any detrimental
affects on public safety.
19. By way of further emphasis, there are
a number of young people elsewhere in the UK who have reached
a high level in competitive shooting. Charlotte Kerwood (15) recently
won a Gold Medal in the Commonwealth Games for clay shooting.
In 2001, two members of the National Smallbore Rifle Association
GB Junior squad were 14. The Clay Pigeon Shooting Association
International Junior team has one boy of 14, two of 15 and some
of 16 and 17. These talented youngsters are the tip of a pyramid
of excellence and it is sad that narrow-mindedness in Northern
Ireland should continue to stand in the way of similarly inclined
20. Achievements such as this do not come
overnight and all of these talented young people will have started
to shoot at an early age. Northern Ireland would not be able to
produce such young stars as this if the provisions in the Draft
Order become law.
21. It seems entirely unreasonable that
young people in Northern Ireland should be so disadvantaged and
discriminated against particularly when no evidence has been advanced
by the NIO to show that young people shooting under proper supervision
constitutes a danger to public safety.
22. Article 52 of the Draft Order provides
for the Chief Constable to require an FAC holder to submit any
lawfully held firearm for ballistic testing. BASC believes that
as it stands, this confers too much power to the Chief Constable.
If a lawfully owned firearm is to be taken for testing, the period
for which the police may retain it should be defined by law, say
seven days. Equally, there should be the right for the FAC holder
to appeal to the courts against the Chief Constable's notice.
In such cases, the Chief Constable should be required to prove
to the court's satisfaction that he has good reason for conducting
the test. The Chief Constable must be liable for any damage caused
to the firearm during the test and should be responsible for returning
it to the FAC holder.
23. Article 59(2) creates the offence of
discharging a firearm on or near a road or on church premises
without lawful authority or reasonable excuse. This requires a
careful definition of "road" and persons who have or
might acquire lawful authority or reasonable excuse to shoot on
one. In view of the fact that many rural properties on which shooting
takes place are criss-crossed by roads, tracks and byways, we
believe that this is no small matter to be glossed over. It represents
a potential source of aggravation and uncertainty for legitimate
land users. For pressing reasons of practicality, the offence
should only arise in the event of dangerous or obstructive behaviour.
It should be an offence to shoot in the vicinity of a public road
if as the result a passer-by is injured, interrupted or endangered.
In any case, someone who shoots on a road is probably a trespasser
and would not only commit an offence under Article 60 but probably
be in breach of the conditions of their certificate.
24. Article 62 creates the offence of possession
of a firearm in suspicious circumstances: but suspicious in whose
opinion? The provisions of this Article are so broadly drafted
so as to be potentially dangerous for civil liberties. The burden
of proof falls on the person with the firearm to show that what
he or she was doing was not suspicious. We know that in other
parts of the UK the police receive a significant number of call-outs
as the result of members of the public seeing "a man with
a gun" in circumstances that strike them as "suspicious".
In the overwhelming majority of cases the call-out turns out to
be a false alarm. The police would only need to establish "reasonable
suspicion" to being a prosecution. Conversely, the defendant
is not afforded the normal defence of "lawful authority or
reasonable excuse". It would be possible for a person to
be convicted under this Article without having actually done anything
unlawful. The Draft Order contains a number of measures to preserve
public safety and the Chief Constable has wide ranging discretion
to revoke certificates. Article 62 is disproportionate to any
identified problem and could be used in an oppressive way.
25. Article 2
The definition of a component part of a firearm
is needlessly complicated and could be changed with advantage
to refer to any part of a firearm which bears the pressure of
the discharge. A magazine for a firearm is not a component part,
as the firearm will still function without a magazine. In Great
Britain magazines are freely sold and have never been regarded
as a component part.
26. Article 4
This deals with the application and allows the
Chief Constable to design his own forms. The application forms
and associated documents eg FACs etc should be officially prescribed
by the NIO. A working party should be set up composed of all interested
parties to produce a form that has a broad based ownership, including
input from the shooting community. The Order should state that
applications must be made "in the prescribed form".
The same principle applies to the forms for
referees. Particularly, (7)(b)(iv) affords the Chief Constable
too much discretion in the information that he might reasonably
require from a referee. The information provided by a referee
should be officially prescribed and not left up to the police
to decide upon.
It might be advantageous if the lessons learnt
from the impending review of referees in Great Britain were incorporated
into the Order.
27. Article 5(1)
The language here is significantly different
from Great Britain's Firearms Acts in that it says that the Chief
Constable "may" grant a certificate rather than "shall"
grant a certificate. This creates a qualified right to a certificate
providing that certain criteria are met. The word "may"
creates no such right and affords the Chief Constable a degree
of almost unfettered discretion. The difference between "shall"
and "may" is not mere semantics and needs to be viewed
in terms of burden of proof. Throughout the Draft Order there
is ample discretion afforded to the Chief Constable who "has
to be satisfied" about many criteria. BASC suggests that
the word "shall" should be used throughout the Order
in relation to the grant of FACs or other authorities.
28. Article 5(2)(b)
Guidance needs to be issued to the PSNI about
the interpretation of "good reason". In the past, this
has been interpreted in an overly restrictive manner and has been
equated with reasons that are acceptable to the Chief Constable.
BASC is aware of applications refused by the RUC on the grounds
that the applicant did not have "enough good reason".
The sensible comments about good reason in Chapter 13 of the Home
Office Guidance should be imported into the PSNI's standard operating
29. Article 5(2)(c)
BASC is pleased that the NIO has moved away
from its original position of requiring training/testing as a
pre-requisite for the grant of a certificate. However, the requirement
for an applicant to satisfy the Chief Constable as to his or her
competence raises a number of difficult issues.
By what mechanism could the Chief Constable
determine competence? If he was initially satisfied as to an individual's
competence and it was subsequently shown that his method of determining
competence was flawed would he then be liable in law in the event
that the certificate holder caused damage, injury or death?
30. The word competent is inappropriate
in any case. A better test would be that of whether the applicant
is safe with a firearm. The requirement for the Chief Constable
to be satisfied as to competence appears to be disproportionate
given the excellent safety record of certificate holders in Northern
Ireland. This is recognised at para seven in the Explanatory Document
issued with the Draft Order.
Shooting sports throughout the UK have an enviable
record of self-regulation. The incidence of accidents or injuries
is very small. It is very much better than many European countries
that have extensive and complex testing regimes in place. In any
case, the need for testing in other countries is the result of
the special kinds of shooting that takes place there, especially
driven big game shooting (wild boar for example). This does not
happen in Northern Ireland. For example, during the 1997-98 hunting
season in France there were 224 accidents where injury was caused.
Of these, 75 injuries were light, 104 serious and 45 were fatal.
France requires hunters to undergo a mandatory test prior to the
grant of a hunting licence.
31. Given that the UK's firearms safety
record is so good, it seems disproportionate to include anything
within the criteria for the grant of a certificate that would
inevitably lead to some form of de-factor testing. All areas within
the shooting community operate an informal but efficient regime
that ensures that certificate holders behave in a responsible
and safe manner. Article 5(1) already includes a requirement for
the Chief Constable to be satisfied that an applicant can be permitted
to possess a firearm without danger to public safety or to the
peace. This is sufficient to weed out those small numbers of individuals
who may present as being potentially dangerous when they are interviewed.
If the Chief Constable finds that an individual has no history
of firearms handling and is not a part of any community where
informal training can be giveneg a club or shooting syndicatethen
he might reasonably decline to be satisfied on the public safety
issue until some form of training has been undertaken.
32. Currently, there is no infrastructure
within Northern Ireland to provide firearms safety training in
the volume that would be necessary if the competence requirement
was to be included. However the provisions at para 12 in Schedule
1 whereby no certificate is needed to possess a firearm and ammunition
whilst undergoing instruction is useful.
33. There is no evidence to show that a
statutory requirement to satisfy the Chief Constable as to competence
would bring any improvement to public safety given the existing
high standards that have been achieved by informal means.
34. Article 6
One of the major areas of contention in Great
Britain is the imposition of non-statutory conditions on Firearm
Certificates. The language of the Firearms Act 1968 infers that
conditions should be the exception rather than the rule. However,
over the last 20 years a variety of conditions are routinely imposed.
Chief Officers may impose no conditions on Shotgun Certificate
holders. The language of the Draft Order should be modified to
state that condition should only be imposed in exceptional circumstances
and not routinely. Also, Guidance should be issues by the NIOafter
proper consultationto set out the circumstances when conditions
might be imposed.
35. As a general principle, conditions should
not prevent a certificate holder from pursuing any lawful activity
or from shooting any lawful quarry. It is difficult to envisage
circumstances where conditions should be imposed upon the use
of shotguns and air rifles. They should not modify that which
is lawful by mere administrative practice. Once good reason has
been satisfied for a particular firearm, any other lawful use
should not be restricted unless there are good reasons to do so.
The provision of the right of appeal against conditions is welcome.
36. Article 8
The increase in certificate life from three to five
years is welcome.
37. Article 68
The provision of a right of appeal to the county
court is welcome. However, the placing of Article 68 appeals outside
of the Legal Aid system may contravene Article 6 of the European
Convention of Human Rights. It is likely that the cost of an appeal
will be outside of the means of some certificate holders. However,
the Chief Constable will have many resources at his disposal and
will be represented by both solicitor and counsel. This denies
the appellant a "fair trial" in a matter concerning
his civil rights. Consideration should also be given to an intermediate
tribunal system to hear cases without the need to go to law. Such
a system operates in the State of Victoria in Australia and has
proven to be an effective form of alternative dispute resolution.
38. On the matter of costs, BASC believes
that the court should have no power to make orders for costs in
Section 68 appeals. Also, the possibility of either side being
represented by lay advocates should be explored. This would allow
cases to be heard using licensing staff and representatives from
shooting organisations. This would reduce legal costs across the
board and would give greater access to justice.
39. BASC is pleased to note that pistols
are not included in Article 46 and that target pistol shooting
will continue to be legal in Northern Ireland. The same comments
apply for expanding ammunition used for hunting.
Article 46 is based on Section 5 of the Firearms
Act 1968. This section has grown on an ad hoc basis, largely as
a result of hasty legislation brought in after an outrage. On
that basis, Article 46 ought to be reviewed to see if certain
categories of firearm should continue to remain within the prohibited
category. In particular self-loading rifles other than .22RF have
legitimate uses in sporting shooting.
40. The goal of the NIO's review of the
Firearms Order is set out in para 1 of the Explanatory Document.
It was to assess whether the Firearms Order was relevant, effective
and proportionate and whether it struck the correct balance between
the level of public safety demanded by modern society and the
reasonable expectations of the shooting community and firearms
trade. In BASC's opinion, the Draft Order fails the test of proportionality
and balance. There is no evidence to suggest that public safety
would be compromised if the provisions for air guns, shotguns
and age limits for shooting as outlined in this paper were adopted.
41. The Draft Order is needlessly restrictive
of peoples freedom, continues unnecessarily costly and inefficient
practices that have to be paid for by certificate holders and
tax payers, wastes police time, fails young people, and raises
more questions than it answers.
42. If the order proceeds in its current
form, ordinary people in Northern Ireland who wish to own firearms
for legitimate purposes will be subjected to firearms legislation
that is the most restrictive in Europe and makes little or no
effort to move towards consistency within the single market. It
lacks evidence that what it proposes will improve public safety.
ON that basis, the Draft Order appears to be a wasted opportunity
to make changes in firearms controls which recognise improvements
in Northern Ireland's political circumstances.
9 October 2002
4 Schedule 1, para 9(4). Back
Firearms Consultative Committee 11th Annual Report 19 March 2002.
Para 5.32. Back
No authority is required to possess shotgun cartridges which
contain five or more shot none of which exceeds .360" (9.1
mm) diameter. (Firearms Act 1968, Section 1(4)(a). Back
EC Directive 91/477/EEC. Back
The Government Reply to the Second Report from the Home Affairs
Committee Session 1999-2000 Cm 4864. Para (dd). Back
Firearms Law-Guidance to the Police 2002. The Stationery Office.
Para 7.7. Back
As per the provisions of Section 161(1) of the Highways Act 1980. Back