Shooting groups praise response to firearms control.

The Government’s long-awaited response to the Home Affairs Committee (HAC) report on firearms control was released last Thursday, 29 September, and was immediately welcomed by the UK’s shooting organisations.

Fears that the coalition Government would consider major upheaval of firearms legislation following the Whitehaven shootings in Cumbria, in June last year, proved largely unfounded.

The response from the shooting community praised the sensible and considered approach the Government had taken.

The Home Affairs Select Committee’s report, published last December, had backed some far-reaching recommendations, including the proposal that shotguns should be given Section 1 firearms status, but the Government’s response largely supported the existing licensing system.

David Taylor, shooting campaigns manager at the Countryside Alliance, commented: “The Government’s response to the report is to be welcomed, not least because this is an evidence based response rather than a knee-jerk reaction. Overall, we are pleased that the Government has taken a sensible approach, and has clearly listened to the evidence. Too often there is a rush to legislate which penalises law-abiding shooters while doing nothing to address the real problem of gun crime.”

In its response (extracts from which are printed opposite) the Government stated that it supports young people shooting and has no proposal to change the minimum age at which youngsters can possess guns.

It also stated that existing distinctions between firearms and shotgun licensing should be maintained.

Proposals for tagging medical records were also dismissed.

BASC has been in discussion with the British Medical Association and the Association of Chief Police.

Officers (ACPO) about improving contact between the police, GPs and certificate holders.

The Government stated that further work is still required to ensure that Home Office guidance is followed with regard to medical checks.

Additionally, on airguns the Government rejected outright proposals to introduce either a ban or a licensing system.

The National Gamekeepers’ Organisation (NGO) expressed concern that the Government had not taken the opportunity to make Home Office guidance on licensing statutory.

The organisation highlighted the variability with which different police forces administer the Firearms Act, sometimes deliberately ignoring Home Office and ACPO guidance.

Nevertheless, NGO chairman Lindsay Waddell welcomed the overall response from the Government, saying: “It is people that kill people, not guns, and penalising legitimate gun users for the acts of one mentally unstable individual would have been the wrong response. The Government has not done that. Instead it has taken the opportunity to propose some timely and largely sensible improvements to the current licensing arrangements.”

– On the nature of gun crime: We accept that the vast majority of crimes involving firearms are carried out with illegally held guns and that the proportion of licence holders who use their guns in crime is tiny, albeit on rare occasions with tragic consequences.

– On introducing new laws: New law might inadvertently create further uncertainty by adding the opportunity for new legal arguments to be made. The Government believes that the best way forward in the short term is to update and revise Home Office guidance in a way which presents the legislation clearly and simply.

– On medical checks: A compulsory medical check with a specially appointed medical examiner is unlikely to be an effective or proportionate means of improving the licensing process. However, it is important, to ensure that any medical concerns about an applicant or certificate holder, particularly in relation to their mental health, are quickly highlighted to the police.

– On background checks: The Government has some concerns that involving partners and recent ex-partners in signing applications may put them in a position of vulnerability and increased risk of renewed violence and abuse.

– On Section 1 for shotguns: The Government will keep this issue under review but is not presently minded to change the law bearing in mind that the large number of shotguns currently owned (over 1.3million) would create a significant new workload for firearms licensing departments if they were to be licensed in the same way as Section 1 firearms. A Home Office working group including representatives of the police and shooting interests is working to devise a single application form and that group will look into the feasibility of a single certificate.

– On increasing age limits: The Government is not opposed to young people participating in sports shooting, and we note that the Committee did not recommend for the age limit to be increased. The Government will keep the current arrangements under review, and explore further whether there is a consensus in favour of simplification along particular lines before considering whether to bring forward specific proposals.

– On licensing airguns: The Government has no plans to ban or licence air weapons, the vast majority of which are used safely and responsibly, and prefers to tackle the minority who misuse air weapons.

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