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‘Legal guns are not used in gun crime’ HAC is told

The Home Affairs Select Committee had its final evidence session last week in which it examined the need for changes to the way in which firearm and shotgun certificates are issued, monitored or reviewed as a means of preventing gun violence.

The committee heard first from the National Ballistics Intelligence Service (NABIS).

Matt Lewis, acting head of knowledge and communications, confirmed that the ?vast majority? of crimes involving firearms are carried out with illegally held guns.

?We don?t suspect there are many legally held weapons that are being crossed over and used in crime and then going back into legal possession,? he said.

?We think it is much more likely that a shotgun, for example, is stolen, then maybe shortened and used in crime.?

Mr Lewis referred to a ?small number of weapons? that were used repeatedly.

?They are put through a middleman, a person within a community, who will loan or lease them to others,? he said.

?The impact on the community is great, but actually the number of firearms available to criminals is very low.?

Next to face the committee was Assistant Chief Constable Adrian Whiting of Dorset Police, representing the Association of Chief Police Officers.

He agreed that there were concerns that police budget cuts would bring pressure on the firearms licensing process, particularly regarding home visits on grant and renewal.

He said: ?I don?t foresee a wholesale collapse in relation to this, but I do see that there is a risk of erosion around some of the practices that we currently recommend.?

Though the committee had been told previously that allowing young people to shoot posed no danger to the public, committee members, including chairman Keith Vaz, pressed hard about the minimum age for holding a shotgun certificate.

?The evidence in relation to young people and shooting does not give any cause for concern,? responded Mr Whiting.

?Because children as young as 10 have been able to shoot perfectly safely with a shotgun certificate, there is no reason to interrupt that.?

Witnesses from the British Medical Association (BMA) were also called to give evidence, and seemed cautious about doctors being too heavily involved in the decision-making processes of firearms licensing.

?As a GP, I can give no judgement on someone?s fitness to hold a weapon,? said Dr John Canning, chair of the BMA?s Professional Fees Committee.

?What I can do is provide factual evidence about the past ? it is impossible to predict the future.?

When asked if GPs were prejudiced against shooters, Dr Vivienne Nathanson, director of the BMA?s Professional Activities, said: ?Doctors see the health consequences of the misuse of weapons, and they recognise how difficult it is to treat gunshot wounds. There is a feeling that, in terms of primary prevention, the world would be a better place if there were fewer guns around.?

Bill Harriman, BASC?s director of firearms, attended the evidence session.

He said: ?NABIS witnesses made the sensible point that there was a balance to be struck between the rights of the citizen and the protection of society. ?One of the most welcome aspects of this enquiry is that the committee was repeatedly told that young people and shooting sports pose no risk to society. This has not been to some committee members? taste, but it?s now in the public record.?