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The semi-automatic pistol is no threat to public safety

There's something about the gun that results in the media focusing on it rather than on the criminal who misuses it. And neither are they interested, apparently, in how the low-life got hold of a prohibited weapon in the first place. I suppose the gun, along with wild tales of what it can do, makes for much more exciting copy.

Many police have their faces set firmly against the private possession of firearms. And as for pistols, any mention and they cry, “public safety”, which sounds commendable but I’m afraid it’s just a smokescreen. Parliament is responsible for public safety and they make laws to protect it. The job of the police is to implement those laws as they are written, rather than putting their own gloss or spin on them, or even inventing their own because they think they know better than our elected representatives.

Humane despatch of animals
But before you put this rant down to just another grumpy-old-man moment, let me tell you a story. One day a member of the National Gamekeepers’ Organisation (NGO) applied for authority to acquire a .45 semi-automatic pistol for the humane killing of sick and injured animals, as allowed by Section 3 of the 1997 Firearms (Amendment) Act. It is important to remember that there is no mention in this legislation of either calibre or magazine capacity. Any restrictions arise entirely from police and sometimes Home Office policies. They are not the law.

Quite reasonably, our chap wanted a .45 because he has some pretty tough animals to deal with, but the police said they would allow a revolver of this calibre on condition that the cylinder was butchered so that only two of the chambers would hold a cartridge. There are many reasons why such a thing is unfit for purpose, but suffice it to say that the NGO member didn’t want a revolver anyway, because of its bulk. He wanted a semi-auto.

Widespread police policy
At this stage, let me absolve the head of the firearms licensing department from any personal blame for what followed. What occurred was the result of widespread police policy, and the poor officer doubtless had a coven of senior policemen breathing down his neck, threatening eternal damnation, plagues of boils and slaughter of his first born if he dared grant the application.
In the end, our member offered to have the magazine of an automatic pistol restricted to two rounds but was not prepared to have the modification welded in because that makes the gun unfit for purpose. He was refused, and so ended up in Crown Court.

The appeal system is too expensive for most of us due to the cost of solicitors and barristers, but our man decided to represent himself, which takes both guts and determination. The Court took the view that the police should accept the applicant’s offer to restrict his magazine to two shots, with no requirement for the restriction to be welded in place, so I think we may regard that as a successful outcome. But what a lot of hassle and expense, only for the police to be told to accept an offer made to them months previously!

Reminder to follow the law
Though the judge stressed that his decision does not establish legal precedent, meaning it is not binding on another court, it did reinforce previous Crown Court decisions reminding police that they must follow the law as it is written, rather than how they might wish it had been written.

The semi-automatic pistol is an emotive item because it is so often used by armed criminals. However, the police argument that we shouldn’t have them for reasons of public safety is not supported by the legislation or by any investigation of the facts.

Police often suggest that the certificate holder might “lose” his pistol, but without producing any evidence that such things happen often enough to be a genuine concern. They certainly seem to lose their guns occasionally but there is little history of responsible certificate holders acting in so cavalier a fashion.

No threat to safety
Finally, from the safety point of view and in terms of the danger of criminals getting hold of it, a .45 automatic is a sensible gun to choose. It can be carried dismantled and should always be transported with the magazine removed so that it cannot be fired. You can’t do that with a revolver!

Further, there is the ammunition itself. I’ve been told that criminals have no problem getting hold of .45 calibre guns, but ammunition can be difficult to find. Since military and police mostly use the 9mm, there must be loads of it around, if you know where to look, but .45ACP is much less common, particularly here in the UK, so adding another level of security.