The ‘problem’ with what we all do in our leisure time is that we do it with guns; firearms and shotguns, antique and modern, de-acs and replicas, airsoft and paintball, prohibited weapons, film props and toys. This is a ‘problem’ in governmental minds because public policy toward arms is largely driven by what cops and robbers, terrorists and drugs dealers get up to; or more accurately, by the spin, knee jerks and political reactions of those who influence public policy to real or imagined scenarios involving the criminal use of firearms put to them by police interests. Mostly, it’s ‘office boy kicked the cat’ stuff; seemingly impotent when it comes to dealing with real crime, they have to make new laws up to entrap those who are already trying to act lawfully.
And it’s not just shooters on the receiving end. The more ancient aspects of living history are also visited by legislation. The word ‘Saxon’ is derived from the knife-carrying habits of those economic migrants (or possibly refugees) who came to our eastern shores in the fifth century, to whom their knife was so personal that most were buried with it.
The knife carrying habits of those of Anglo Saxon descent continue to this day, despite governmental frowns and knee-jerk legislation.
A knife was an integral part of the suitably trained Boy Scout’s uniform until the Advanced Party Report in 1966 took the wood smoke out of scouting. Knives were issued to national servicemen, with a marlinspike for the Navy and without for the army.
Post-war, the government seemingly lost control of the streets and set about restoring order with the Prevention of Crime Act 1953, which created crimes of erstwhile lawful occasions in hope of modifying Anglo Saxon tendency to carry knives; or to give the police something to do.
Periodically, the ‘bad’ list is added to, such as when ‘butterfly’ knives were legislated against in 1988.
Our current Prime Minister and Home Secretary have both been in post since 2010. There was a brief light at the end of the tunnel for pistol shooters when David Cameron formed his government that year; it was snuffed out a few weeks later by the Whitehaven murders, which meant that ‘our’ Olympic pistol shooters were unrepresentative of this country’s talent in that department.
No knee-jerk reaction to the Whitehaven murders then, but the Home Affairs Select Committee conducted yet another review targeting the 10% of firearms and shotguns that are already registered to legal owners with their ‘something must be done’ hats on.
What came up eventually was extending prohibition (under section 21 of the Firearms Act) to include suspended sentences, thus overturning R. v. Fordham (1969). This because the Whitehaven murderer had been handed down a suspended sentence many years before applying for a certificate.
The other change was to amend section 58 of the Act – which says that nothing in the Act applies to antiques – so that prohibition now does. More on this later, but we think that it came about because the men who murdered Lee Rigby in London with edged weapons had an old firearm with them at the time. It could not have been an antique, as to be an antique it has to be possessed solely as a curiosity or ornament.
Add to this the – frankly – weird amendments to Home Office guidance to the police and that’s the coalition government’s contribution to firearms controls summed up. All of it directed at making ownership and use of firearms by people who want to do things legally harder and nothing directed at criminals.
Following the 2015 general election David Cameron had a mandate to rule as a Conservative without all the distractions that balancing a coalition would have caused him. So we expected to see his real colours on firearms matters and this is what they are.
The police went to him and got the nod for a thorough trawl through the certificate records to revoke ‘by any means’ those certificates where there were any possible grounds for doing so.
This came out of the Atherton inquest, which looked at events surrounding that family massacre in 2012. The key one we noticed was the police admission that there was no training for firearms ‘licensing’ officers. You’d think that having had the job for ninety-five years they’d have come up with something. Even something basic, like reading the Home Office guidance would have helped. But that’s not what the police took from the inquest. They had ‘policed’ Mr Atherton by taking his guns away when there was a crisis and giving them back when the crisis was resolved.
That complied with a policy that the police made up, which is not now nor ever has been lawful. It’s a pragmatic solution to the fact that there is no middle ground in firearms ‘licensing’. A certificate is valid until revoked and if revoked it ceases to be until an appeal or a fresh application succeeds.
This policy solved the perceived need for a short-term interruption of a certificate holder’s lawful activities; such as when a divorce kicks off and the certificate holder is temporarily homeless.
It immediately became the ‘solution’ to all sorts of other perceived problems, such as when one of our members was spiked with an amphetamine on a fishing trip. It took him over a year to get his kit back after that.
The Atherton problem was his murdering his family with his guns. This focussed the Home Office review of their guidance on mental health issues and domestic strife, seemingly in ignorance of both the law and decided cases.
We concluded that the main problem was the lack of education in police departments and proposed a national agency in our book ‘does the trigger pull the finger’.
Then last year, the Law Commission published plans to review firearms legislation, describing the Firearms Act as a failure. Yes, it is, but its failure is to deliver to policing the destruction of the legitimate shooting interests that they have tried using it to achieve. Every perceived failure of the Act in the Law Commission’s report is a failure of the courts to let the police push the envelope against people who are trying to do things legally.
No surprise, then, when elements of the Law Commission’s intemperate rant appeared as intended clauses in the policing and crime bill 2015-6. We think a new law to address the levels of criminality in policing would be a good idea, but instead of sorting out the police, this law is going to criminalize yet more citizens who are trying to do things lawfully.
The Home Office want to put their cockamamie definition of ‘antique’ firearms into statute, thus putting into law a proposal that was rejected by the Court of Appeal in 1977 and many times since.
It has nothing to do with addressing criminals or terrorists; the need is to increase firearms conviction rates by staining the characters of voters is used as a means of justifying the ever-escalating police armouries.
Last year, Tony Long was acquitted of the murder of Ezelle Rodney and another officer has been charged with murder following a fatal shooting. The police went to see the PM to express the concerns of his officers about the way in which they might be treated if they use their weapons. Then they announced hundreds more firearms officers would be trained to pursue attackers in a Paris style outrage.
So the video games generation is going to use video games rules to tackle terrorists shooting our country to pieces. That’s not policing, at least according to the body of police literature on the subject; that’s a militia operation, so officers engaged in such an activity would be taking a militia role. Something that Parliament has consistently prohibited the police from doing.
Policemen have the same common law rights that you have to defend life, liberty and property and while they try to make a distinction between themselves and ‘civilians’, they are civilians in international law and not permitted to take up arms against enemy military forces.
Unless, as it seems, David Cameron gave them the nod to be the militia; which is your job under the common law except that your government doesn’t want you doing it. Spree shooters don’t get far in armed societies; in fact, they don’t start. Every spree shooting, whether by an unhinged loner or a terrorist cell that we have looked at, takes place where no return fire is likely.
The USA’s federal laws make schools gun free zones, so they are full of unarmed people. Britain is full of unarmed people and although we have common law rights to be prepared to resist that eventuality, we have a government determined to make us yet more vulnerable instead of learning the real lessons of history and acting on them. There has never been a better time or a stronger case for sorting out the firearms legislation so that we can all make our common law obligations to our country’s safety.
New EU Directive etc.
Much of last year went on Prime Minister David Cameron ‘renegotiating’ Britain’s deal with the EU to a background rumble of the discontents complaining about thin gruel and not enough jam on their bread. It has reached the point where we no longer wonder what’s best for our country and consider instead what’s in it for whom, as they complain about not having enough of it. Tony Blair’s target in negotiations was eventually to be president of the EU, which didn’t happen, as they saw him coming.
Britain’s unwillingness to integrate with Europe is based on it being an island, wanting to keep the pound and Roy Jenkins lying to us in the run up to the 1975 referendum. Actually, the British Isles is 6,000 islands, but only 140 are inhabited. Denmark is made up of 406 islands but only 80 are inhabited. We don’t hear much about their problems as an island nation, which could be because they are joined at the hip to Germany via Jutland, or they don’t have any problems (they kept their own currency) or the BBC don’t report from there.
Outside of renegotiations, ad hoc immigration to Europe was often a headline. We visited the Aegean coast last year and saw the build-up of displaced Syrians getting started. We were in Calais in July when wannabe immigrants to the UK rushed the Channel Tunnel and caused its closure and massive traffic jams. The rise of ISIS and government attempts to stop people going to Syria to join them also featured a lot. It seemed to us that if there was a plan, it wasn’t working. Displaced persons have to go somewhere and refusing them access to anywhere is not a solution. If they come in under the radar, that’s where they will stay, along with whatever weapons and diseases they brought along. In the opposite direction, it seemed to us that those who don’t want to be here should be able to leave; “…he which hath no stomach to this fight, let him depart; his passport shall be made and crowns for convoy put into his purse…”
Henry V was being a bit cynical; a French army blocked his road home. This sentiment was echoed by Enoch Powell in later years – once he was past being taken seriously as a politician. However, there is some logic to it. We would rather those who want to be bombed in Syria were able to get there without hindrance, as that reduces the risk here. Likewise, those who don’t want to be bombed in Syria should be able to leave.
The very first time any population voted it was with their feet to escape natural disaster. Government is pointless without someone to govern, which is why Antarctica has no parliament. Countries that nobody wants to live in cease to be – the Mayan kingdom as just one example.
The terrorists who attacked Parisians used military type rifles at crowded venues and it took the local armed police some while to get going. The engagement was still in progress when someone on the BBC speculated that they might be using reactivated deactivated rifles. So the wheels started spinning at once. There was a solution to reactivated deactivated rifles in the offing, waiting for a problem. Then the knee-jerk reaction started. The French attacked law-abiding taxpayers. A new EU directive that our country is apparently powerless to prevent becoming law here will significantly devalue most de-acs and makes it impossible to take them from one country to another. A new spec for de-acs is in the offing, to which all firearms deactivated to previous standards must be upgraded.
We are no longer surprised when politicians spout nonsense and expect to be taken seriously. The 30% of food we allegedly throw away includes the bits we can’t eat, like chicken bones, and what supermarkets dump on sell-by dates. And remember salmonella in eggs? Stakeholders, the Law Commission tells us, recognize a threat to public safety from deactivated firearms. They didn’t mention who these vampire hunters are or what threat these inanimate objects pose: they just assume that ‘firearms’ will send politicians into a panic.
And it’s working in the EU: the conglomerate Mr Cameron wants us to vote to stay in after he negotiated our sovereignty out of their clutches: except he didn’t. The EU’s knee jerk directive got the Commission’s blessing in December (EU 2015/2403) and at the time of writing, Home Secretary Theresa May is in Parliament adding the worst of the EU’s directive to the Policing and Crime Bill. At least we now know why she supports Britain staying in: she can take her new laws from Brussels and rubber-stamp them here, hand wringing instead of protecting us.
So much stuff is being shoehorned into the Policing and Crime Bill that the firearms clauses have backed down it from the 70s to numbers 102-107 – if you read this quickly. It may have changed again next week. At the time of writing, the Commons have yet to have the Report Stage, after which it goes to the Lords: the so-called revising chamber.
Meanwhile, back in Bruxelles, there are second thoughts and re-writes. Not that Theresa May is taking any notice. Maybe she’ll notice an ‘out’ vote in the referendum, but to get out of this mess we need both to be free of Europe and a government capable of making laws that suit the law-abiding in this country.
Essex Police issued 5,219 section 7 permits last year, according to research by the Countryside Alliance. Permits are supposed to be issued when a firearm or shotgun certificate expires before the police are ready to issue renewed ones. They are also issued to people handling deceased persons’ effects, as a temporary authority to get firearms etc. to a dealer or auctioneer.
That Essex is in enough of a muddle to top the league for issuing permits (bottom was jointly Cleveland and Derbyshire who issued none, but that may be a policy or a refusal to answer the question) comes as no surprise to those who know them. Read elsewhere to notice an Essex FEO being prosecuted for possession of antiques to guess why he hasn’t been doing his job for the last eighteen months or so.
Kent, Thames Valley and Hampshire all issued over 1,000 each; 12 forces issued hundreds, ranging from Gloucestershire at 105 to Dyfed Powys at 993. The rest were in double digits or failed to answer the question.
There is no application form for a permit. It should be issued if it appears to the chief officer of police that you require one. In practice, forces usually renew certificates from the expiry date of the old one, so you find out you were covered after all. Strictly, they should issue permits to cover the period you’re on their waiting list and then issue the new certificate from the date of the permit’s expiry.
Every so often a new face in police ‘licensing’ comes up with the idea that people whose certificates run out due to police negligence can be prosecuted unless they put their firearms into storage. That’s when we have to remind them about permits and which pages in the erroneous Home Office guidance they should be reading.
ONE HAS TO WONDER…
In the good old days, frequently revisited by battle re-enactment groups (excluding Europe now), Britain had a robust defence industry supported by a lot of engineering companies. The British army’s front line service rifle was made in Britain and had ‘Enfield’ stamped on it with the date. But, however many service rifles with ‘Enfield’ on them one looks at, from time to time another name is stamped there instead. W W Greener made Martini Henry rifles and so did Westley Richards, for example.
Long Lee Enfields were additionally made at Sparkbrook, Birmingham and – mostly for the commercial market – by other gunsmiths; we once had one made by Tippins, of Mistley, Manningtree in Essex. Alf J Parker had converted it to .22LR – between 1928 and 1932 —according to his Granddaughter. Short Lee Enfields, it is well known, were also made at Ishapore in India and Lithgow in Australia, but one might also encounter these rifles with commercial manufacturer’s names on; our one was made at BSA, Birmingham in 1940. The factory was bombed that year and some of the imported wood for furniture destroyed. Lighter coloured native beech was distinctively used instead for the top handguard.
During the Great War (1914-19), Britain bought in rifles from allies including Italy and Japan; one also encounters the 1910 Ross rifle from Canada. Lee Enfield production was supplemented by the Americans making the P14 rifle, long since a stalwart of the rifle lines at Bisley, and best remembered by everyone else as the Home Guard issue in WW2. American gun factories also made three million Mosin Nagant rifles for Tsarist Russia. When the USA entered the war (just before it ended), re-tooling P14 production to the .30”-06 cartridge was a simple enough affair and these rifles served US forces to supplement their 1903 Springfields. Second time around, the Home Guard painted red bands on the ones they got to distinguish that they didn’t take .303” ammunition.
In WW2 the Enfield factory made Boyes rifles, Bren Guns and revolvers. Numerous subcontractors made Stens and the later No4 rifles were all made abroad, such as by Longbranch in Canada and Savage-Stevens in America. Handguns enjoyed a broad manufacturing base: in WW1, the Royal Flying Corps had Colt M1911 pistols chambered for .455” Eley, at least to start with. The Webley mark VI revolver appears from time to time without the name ‘Webley’ on it. Some may have been made by Rigby in Dublin and before the war some ‘Webley’ revolvers, rumour has it, were made by Francotte in Belgium; pre-1914, of course.
After the war, Webley’s tooling went to Enfield, so one occasionally encounters MkVI revolvers stamped Enfield with dates 1919 to 1926. Enfield went on to make .38” revolvers for the second war and you will encounter other names on them too, such as Albion and (rarely) Singer – both Scottish companies.
Once there’s a war on, a country has to be self-sufficient, as erstwhile trading partners can be reluctant to supply arms to a belligerent, which is why we had Israeli ammunition in the Falklands. Belgium became an unreliable source of weapons and ammunition for Britain at the time, as they had become in 1914, due to German export controls and restrictions. Ireland had problems of its own as the Great War progressed, making America vital to the British war effort.
WW2 buffs will have come across John Inglis and Company. John Inglis never made a single firearm, as he died in 1898 and the company went into receivership when the last of his sons died in 1935. Throughout those two lifetimes, the company’s work was in heavy engineering, such as steam engines to power ships. During WW1 they made shell casings. It was a ‘you name and we’ll make it out of metal’ type of engineering company. Rescued from receivership, it became, with British and Canadian government funding, the subcontractor for making Bren Guns for Britain with production starting in 1940. They also made the Browning GP35A pistol from blueprints that a thoughtful employee of FN in Belgium took with him when running for his life ahead of the second (or was it the third) German invasion. These got to the war in Europe just before it ended and continued in service for many years after. After the war Inglis made washing machines and other domestic products.
So if you can’t be self sufficient, you need reliable allies, and some way of getting the stuff to our shores despite all those pesky U Boats. The apparent peace since 1945 has meant that Britain has usually been able to keep its army small, trained and ready, well equipped and up to date. Mostly. In the 1956 Suez crisis, the Parachute Regiment jumped with No4 rifles, as their semi-automatic L1A1 rifles had not at that time been passed for jumping with.
Slow development meant that the SLR’s replacement – the L85A1 – had not passed the sand test prior to its deployment in the first Gulf War in 1990 (did it ever?) and by 1993 there had been thirty-nine modifications to the rifle and thirteen of them were factory refits.
We pause for a moment to mention the way in which the army has selected its upgrades from time to time. The P53 rifle musket was a giant leap, switching to a rifled barrel and a bullet instead of a spherical ball in a smooth bore; this gave the infantry ten times the range of the earlier musket, but teething problems opened the door in military thinking to a breech-loaded development, of which many were considered and the Snider variant adopted.
Jacob Snider was one of four-dozen gunsmiths who submitted a design, one of nine to be tested. No government arsenal works in isolation; they all need independent expertise from time to time.
The Snider was a modification of the P53, a factory refit, so work continued to find an entirely new breech-loading design. What they settled on was a cobble-up of Von Martini’s improved Peabody underlever extraction and Alexander Henry’s rifling. The cartridge had to be redesigned to a short bottleneck so as to work with the extractor and the resultant rifle was made famous by the 1963 movie ‘Zulu’. The rifle itself went through four marks in fourteen years before William Metford’s rifling and James Paris Lee’s turning bolt combined (after a competition) to produce the Lee Metford in 1889.
That went to the Boer War via several marks and upgrades. One should never assume that the replacement date in a history book tells you anything about what was happening on the ground. James Langley Dalton VC used a snider rifle at Rorke’s Drift in 1879, seven years after the Martini Henry was adopted.
So back, or forwards, to the Long Lee Enfield: adopted in 1895 with changed rifling and a ten-shot magazine to accommodate nitro cartridges and thus replacing the earlier Lee Metford. We briefly had a Mk1 Lee Metford dated 1889 in original unmodified condition – black powder barrel, eight-shot magazine, clearing rod present. Marks on it suggest that it was on issue to an Inniskilling fusilier and captured by the Boers at Spion Kop. The Inniskilling’s weren’t at the summit being shot to pieces, but men from that regiment served as runners up and down the hill during the battle. A Boer carved his name and ‘Spion Kop’ on the stock, and later the names of other engagements. He carved his name off it again, crudely; probably just before surrendering in hope of his name not becoming attached to that massacre and thus reducing his risk of summary judgment under rule 303.
We suspect that every one of those 39 variations of the L85A1 was present in Kuwait during the first Gulf War and although imperfect – troops were told not to lubricate it until just before use and most had a spare firing pin taped to the furniture because firing pins broke so often – it got the job done.
The L85’s problems started at inception. The Royal Small Arms Factory had not designed a rifle from scratch before. The 1950s L1A1 design was bought from Belgium and earlier service arms came out of the commercial gun trade responding to a government competition. What Enfield did in every case was the development work after adopting the design in principle and then honing it with subsequent improvements, adding a star for a modification and changing the mark for a factory refit; the 1903 Short, Magazine, Lee Enfield Mk1 went to three stars before the Mk2 and reached Mk3* by 1918.
Other Enfield products were also redesigns; the Bren was developed from the Czech ZB26 and the Enfield revolver from a 1923 Webley design. The point is that Enfield did not foster the sort of in-house firearms development engineering teams that one would find in commercial manufacturing companies, although throughout its history numerous talented individuals have worked there.
Post WW2, Enfield developed a concept bull-pup rifle – the EN2. The chief problem with bull-pup designs is that they have lots more mechanical links between the trigger and the firing pin, making a smooth trigger pull hard to achieve in mass production. The design was not suited to the beefier 7.62x51mm NATO adopted as standard, so Britain bought in the Belgian FN FAL design.
The Soviets, by the by, went for a short 7.62x39mm cartridge and the AK47 rifle, both derived from WW2 German development.
Thirty years later, the Conservative Government under Mrs Thatcher wanted the Royal Small Arms Factory to have a product, so that they could privatise it. Time had moved on; the Americans had gone small to the .223” cartridge for infantry rifles and had de-bugged their M16 design in Vietnam. The Royal Small Arms Factory had another stab at a bull-pup in the 1970s – the 4.85mm Individual Weapon, which eventually morphed into the L85A1 chambered for the American .223” cartridge, giving British troops lighter ammunition to carry a generation after that idea first emerged.
Mrs Thatcher didn’t sell Royal Ordnance to the public along with the rest of the government’s silver; she sold it to the Germans. Heckler and Koch eventually sorted out the technical difficulties and manufactured the replacement L85A2 from scratch. Naturally, they also closed UK factories; the people who used to try stopping us importing arms by sinking our merchant fleet now make British rifles. Probably out of Chinese steel.
So we reach the point we were at before the L85: UK manufacturing of military grade rifles is conducted by a few small businesses. Guy Savage was proprietor of one such until closed down by the Metropolitan Police in 2010. James Edmiston (formerly of Sterling, Dagenham) acquired the factory, but ran into significant obstruction from the Met and eventually backed off to his Shropshire shotgun business. Chris Perkins applied in Sussex for a trading licence and at his appeal against refusal, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner’s representative explained the Met’s blockade of the proposal to reopen Sabre Defence Industries in London by saying that it was the Commissioner’s policy to prevent the manufacture and export of arms that might be used to kill people abroad.
The manufacture of military rifles – prohibited weapons – is none of the Commissioner’s business. The whole point of section 5 (prohibited weapons) is that the Home Office deal with such matters and the local police have no discretion to interfere. Except in London, it seems. The Home Office had approved the business – twice – and the Met have shut it down twice. One has to wonder who is running this country, but read on in this journal for more clues.
And we’re all getting older. Ian Clark announced his retirement from the post of director of the Scottish Association of Country Sports with effect from the end of June 2015, when his successor Alex Stoddart, erstwhile assistant director, took over.
At the opposite end of the British Isles, Mike Wells closed up his retail shop in Kingston and retired to Chichester, Sussex, with a new RFD and the best interests of the members of the Sportsman’s Association close to his heart.
FIREARMS LAW REVIEW
The Law Commission published a ‘scoping consultation paper’ on 21st July 2015 and expected replies from interested parties to reach them by 21st September; that meant the whole ‘consultation’ exercise slotted neatly into the Parliamentary summer recess. Events have moved on, as we report elsewhere, but it’s worth reading about the background first.
In a video introduction to the 108-page paper, David Ormerod QC stressed four areas of concern, viz: