Richard Law - EDITORIAL
The SRA is an organisation of two halves: founded in 1984 as a legal interest group monitoring government interest in firearms controls, all our founder members were shooters. Dick Baxter suggested mentioning battle re-enactment in our PLI policy: he was and still is active in an American Civil War group and thus emerged the second half, collectively ‘living history’.
Re-enactment got off to a shaky start with administrative obstruction on all sides. Many police forces opted to require re-enactment firearms held on certificates to have barrel obstructions to ‘prevent’ live ammunition being used. This was part of a wider policy of restricting a firearm solely to the ‘good reason’ for which it had been granted. Live ammunition shooters fared no better at the hands of the so-called public servants in firearms administration. The Met, for example, decided that there was no legal way to take a gun to a shoot. The firearm certificate condition said it had to be locked away at all times except when in actual use, which meant any attempt to take a firearm to a range would only avoid prosecution if undetected.
All such difficulties placed in the way of our social activities by bureaucrats have been overcome – and then replaced by new ones, as the firearms managers used to get together under the auspices of the defunct Association of Chief Police Officers to think up new ways of not doing their jobs. They were all hired, after all, to issue certificates to applicants. No other branch of bureaucracy has invested so much time and public money in searching for ways of avoiding doing the work they were hired for.
And there’s more to come: fed up with the courts not treated every law-abiding taxpayer dragged through them as the villain Home Office policy thinks they should be, they are in the process of changing the law. It’s a case of tearing up the rule books as established by Parliament and the courts over the past quarter century and replacing them with the rules they tried and failed to bring in by prosecuting certificate holders and dealers. Antiques, de-acs and component parts are in the process of being re-defined, although of more interest in the policing and crime bill is a clause that expects everyone to ‘have regard’ for Home Office guidance on firearms matters. Since that guidance is at times vague, at others doesn’t articulate the issue and elsewhere is just plain wrong, it’s going to get interesting.
Also of passing interest should be the attitude of the shooting organisations to all this. Britain has never had a ‘gun lobby’ per se: the organisations that make up the British Shooting Sports Council are governing bodies. They each have a constitution and rules and are thus governed by their members’ wishes and their members generally want their sport administered, scores recorded, medals issued. That leaves shooting organisations rather in the position of Cowslip’s warren in Watership Down: tolerant of the occasional empty chair, closed business or a membership subscription not renewed as long as it’s not theirs.
Which is where the SRA came in – back in 1984 with an interest in matters legal. So we’ll get on with that while you all enjoy the season. Last year, re-enactors experienced police checks of their de-acs against certificates at some shows. At some point this year, the new law rendering all de-acs to date ‘defectively deactivated’ will kick in. Essentially they are retrospectively being deemed ‘out of proof’ and can’t be sold until re-worked to the new European spec. But this is going to be much harsher than selling a real gun out of proof, as that’s a matter for the proof master to prosecute and his primary interest is in getting the fee for re-proofing it. With the police involved, it could become difficult, or it may pass, as have so many other attempts to crack down on the law abiding in hope of finding fault; such as the kitemarks for gun cabinets farce in the 1990s.
If this year is much marred, we suspect it will be how the shows manage that will make the difference. The trend seems to be toward venues getting dearer, which translates into higher pitch fees for exhibitors and the latter saving their money by not attending. The Midland Game Fair seemed hard hit last year and the year before: attendance was up, but the stall count declined. That hasn’t stopped them and although some of the smaller events have been cancelled this year, it’s still the case that we have lost more shows to adverse weather than to costs or negative legislation.
The SRA doesn’t exhibit, costs issue, but that doesn’t stop us attending without portfolio, so we might meet some of you as the season progresses. That is, when we’re not tracking the progress of the law’s conflict with your rights and privileges, not to mention your peaceful enjoyment of your possessions in your chosen social pastime.
The Home Office launched a consultation in January 2017 about the fees it intends to charge for the authority to possess prohibited weapons, the approval of rifle and loose ammunition pistol clubs and museum collections in anticipation of the authority to charge fees being vested in them by the completion of the Policing and Crime Bill currently before Parliament.
They have taken to calling these authorities ‘licenses’, although there has been no change in the law either to make them into licenses or to call them such.
The Home Office has issued prohibited weapons authorities under section 5 of the Firearms Act 1968 since 1973, when they took over the role from the Defence Council. Since then the category has been swollen to include some forty types of firearms and ammunition, as well as some products that are not firearms at all. An applicant has to prove his need to possess prohibited weapons separately for each category applied for. Some prohibited weapons are in more than one sub-category of section 5.
Prohibited weapons that are firearms are also subject to section 1(firearm certificate) control, so one requires either such a certificate or registration as a dealer as well as a section 5 authority to possess them. The Home Office propose a fee of £1,860 for a dealer to trade in prohibited weapons, with a £200 discount if an RFD is applied for at the same time, since all the checks for a section 5 are carried out by the police in the context of issuing the RFD apart from confirming the business or other need that the applicant has.
APPROVAL of rifle and loose ammunition pistol clubs currently costs £84. The Home Office propose charging £1,050 to grant a six-year ‘licence’ and £900 to renew it. The proposal document refers to shooting clubs as businesses and proposes a fee of £690 to change the address at which club firearms are stored, £470 to change the name on the club firearm certificate and £110 to alter the name of the club on their records.
This is quite bizarre, given that an officer of the club usually holds club firearms on a certificate, so a change of address involves the police amending the firearm certificate (for free) and the Home Office doing nothing for their proposed fee. Changing the named certificate holder is likewise entirely a police matter.
Some clubs are either part of a firearms dealership or are registered as dealers, whereupon a change of personnel involves the new owner applying to the police for an RFD, as they aren’t transferable. So what the Home Office is going to do for its money is opaque.
At the back of these proposed fees is that the Home Office have a full time department dedicated to these firearms matters, which is not very busy, so the exorbitant cost of staffing that is, in effect, being shared out among the small number of clubs and businesses that have need of the ‘licenses’. These generate some 700 applications of all types per year (14 a week) and processing them is mainly a case of waiting for the police to confirm that the applicant is a firearm certificate holder, registered firearms dealer or museum curator as the case may be and has appropriate storage for the prohibited weapons.
The department seems powerless to act until the police have done their bit, which makes the Home Office involvement look rather pointless – a duplicate rubber stamp. There is no appeal mechanism for refusals, which violates EU law.
Our view of the section 5 issuing function of the Home Office is that it would be better vested in the DTi, since they have more to do with the day-to-day business of the prohibited weapons trade. Or back to the Ministry of Defence, from whence it came in 1973. Those two departments are both involved in the export of military weapons anyway and would thus have a better handle on an applicant’s ‘need’ than the Home Office, which is outside the loop.
The approval of clubs is not fit for purpose, as it does not cover all the firearms that might be used at clubs. We have this weird situation in which one has to belong to a Home Office approved club in order to possess firearms for target shooting on a firearm certificate, including types that Home Office approval does not extend to, such as long-barrel revolvers and section 1 shotguns. In every case we have had involving clubs in difficulties over their Home Office approval, the local police instigated all the decisions causing the difficulty. It seems to us that the club’s approval might as well be linked to the grant of the club’s firearm certificate. The Home Office is merely a rubber stamp and has been for years.
Our comments to the Home Office in this consultation will have been posted on our website by the time you read this journal. www.shootersrightsassociation.co.uk