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UK firearms law is “a mess”

Britain’s gun laws are overly complicated and little understood, MPs on the Home Affairs Committee investigating firearms control were told last week during evidence given in Westminster by BASC’s director of firearms, Bill Harriman.

In evidence to the Home Affairs Committee on 14 September, Mr Harriman said the state of firearms law in the UK is “complicated and a mess.”

During the evidence-giving session, BASC was supported in its call for greater clarity and simplicity in firearms legislation by representatives of the British Shooting Sports Council and the National Rifle Association.

At the evidence session, MPs also had the opportunity to inspect sporting firearms brought into Westminster — subject to strict security measures — by the Countryside Alliance’s head of media, Tim Bonner.

The committee is conducting an inquiry into firearms law after the murders in Cumbria carried out by taxi driver Derrick Bird.

Bill Harriman said: “Firearms law must do two things: it must protect public safety and the peace, and it must allow the continued lawful use of firearms without undue restrictions. At the moment the core of the legislation — the oversight of applicants and checks by the police — are tough and well understood. However, with more than 30 pieces of legislation in operation, the details around the edges are muddled, sometimes obscure, and problems are exacerbated because different constabularies interpret the law in different ways.”

Geoff Doe, firearms liaison officer at the National Rifle Association, agreed with Mr Harriman’s assertion that the laws surrounding firearms are confused.

He told MPs on the committee that the laws were “very difficult to interpret”, adding: “It would be useful to have a single document that we all understand. Joe Public doesn’t really understand [firearms law] and many police forces don’t really understand it.”

David Penn, secretary of the British Shooting Sports Council, argued that firearms licensing stands to lose out as a result of cuts in the police services’ budget as part of the Government’s spending review.

He told MPs: “If there are substantial cuts in police budgets, as we fear there will be, the consistency, efficacy and general speed of licensing will all suffer. A consolidated act would make life easier for everybody.”

MPs asked about the prevalence of shotgun certificates among young people.

They were told that around 1,000 children under 18 years old have certificates.

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