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Penn to Paper December 2015

posted 14 Dec 2015, 06:44 by Tony Cattermole   [ updated 14 Dec 2015, 06:44 ]
Approved Clubs criteria: No further news.

Deactivated firearms: The EU has promulgated a new Regulation setting out rigorous standards for deactivation which it is understood will come into effect in February 2016. It is understood that existing British deactivation standards are largely, but not entirely, compliant. It is further understood that deactivations to older standards will not have to be brought up to the new EU standard until they are ‘placed on the market’, an action which would include ‘giving’ as well as ‘selling’, or taken into another EU state.

Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Lead in Ammunition Group:
No further news.

Devolution of legislative powers to Scotland to control air weapons: It is likely that a date for the commencement of the Air Weapons and Licensing (Scotland) Act 2015 will be set for 1st April 2016, although much preparatory work needs to be done.

EU Weapons Directive 91/477: As a result of terrorist atrocities in Paris and Brussels which have generated huge political pressure for action, the pace has quickened considerably with regard to revising the Weapons Directive, which is seen a part of a much wider programme to reduce illicit trafficking of small arms and prevent diversion of legal arms into the illegal market. The relatively positive mood towards the Directive within the Commission has been replaced by an intention to put in place as hastily as possible some severe additional restrictions. At the time of writing these measures were expected to go to the European Parliament in early January 2016. There has been much lobbying of MEPs who sit on the Internal Market and Consumer Protection Committee (IMCO), which first considers the proposals and discussions with the Home Office, which represents the Government in negotiations with the Commission. The main proposals are: The main proposals are: stricter controls on on-line acquisitions; prohibition of semi-automatic firearms that resemble weapons with automatic mechanisms; a ban on possession of deactivated fully automatic and semi-automatic firearms (which would be placed in Category A) by other than authorised museums (but museums would be required to have their prohibited weapons deactivated and would not be allowed to add to their collections); certificates would be restricted to a maximum five years duration; sound moderators would be controlled as an ‘essential component’ (Article 1 (a) 1b); storage standards would be harmonised; a 15 day ‘cooling off’ period introduced between purchase of a firearm and taking possession, even if the purchaser already has a firearm; introduction of registration for deactivated firearms; a standard medical test; keeping of records until the firearm is destroyed; an ‘agreed approach’ to the classification of hunting and sport firearms and more marking and tracing requirements. The proposals will probably also require that dealers’ registers be not only computerised but linked to NFLMS or its successor, and that deactivated firearms may be subject to some level of registration, again presumably on NFLMS. Also expected are restrictions on the acquisition of firearms by under-18s and competency checks for dealers.

FACE UK: A biannual meeting took place on the 13th October. Subjects included the re-opening of the EU Firearms Directive. Also discussed were the HMIC Report on the efficiency of firearms licensing offices, the Law Commission’s scoping project, the FACE Research Fund, the review of the Birds Directive, problems relating to alien species, the conservation of heather moorland, meetings with MEPs in Brussels and the possible referral of the use of lead shot to REACH (REACH is an EU body and has four processes: the registration, evaluation, authorisation and restriction of chemicals. Its role is to protect human health and the environment and it has the power to classify all or some uses of lead as a poison).

Firearms fees: A review is still anticipated around the end of the year.

Guide on Firearms Licensing Law 2013: At the time of writing the draft revisions expected in November or December have not yet appeared.

Health & Safety Executive: No further news on the drafting of ‘sub-sector guides’ to the revised explosives legislation.

Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary: Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary is an independent body representing the public. The recent Firearms Licensing Inspection was carried out at the request of ACPO. The inspection had gathered information from all 43 police forces in England and Wales, as well as looking in detail at the practices for firearms licensing in 11 representative forces. Inspectors looked at the policies and procedures in the management and provision of over 150,000 section 1 firearm certificates that are on issue, covering over half a million firearms and over half a million shotgun certificates that are on issue, covering almost 1.5 million shotguns.

The current arrangements to assess the medical suitability of a firearm certificate holder or applicant were found to be substantially less effective than procedures for applications for a public service vehicle licence. The report recommended that the Home Office should ensure that licensing did not take place without a current medical report from the applicant’s GP, and that the police are notified of any relevant changes of medical circumstances.

Inconsistency was a key theme in the report’s findings. The report found that of the 11 forces inspected:

Seven forces did not deal correctly with expired licences, leaving firearms holders in possession of their firearms without certification. One of these forces had over 1,200 temporary permits on issue as of May 2015;

In the 11 forces inspected, there were between one and 168 notifications outstanding regarding expired licences. Inspectors reviewed 55 of these records and found 22 which gave cause for concern, including poor record keeping and inaction;

Four forces did not have sufficient resources to handle current or anticipated future demand and a further force did not have a plan for its long-term resourcing;

The report also analysed data provided from all forces, which again demonstrated the inconsistency across England and Wales:

The overall time span taken by forces to grant both firearm and shotgun licensing applications ranged from an average of five days to 165 days;

The average time taken by forces to complete the application process varied: five forces took in excess of an average of 100 days to grant a section 1 firearm certificate whereas 13 forces took an average of 40 days or less;

For shotgun certificates 18 forces took in excess of an average of 60 days, whereas five took an average of less than half of this time;

Some certificate holders told HMIC that their referees had never been contacted. Of the 43 forces, only 28 contact referees for all new grant applications and only 14 of these contact all referees for renewals;

All forces undertake home visits when certificates are initially granted, but 11 forces did not visit applicants for the renewal of a section 1 firearms certificate and 20 did not visit all applicants for the renewal of a shotgun certificate;

Seven of the 43 forces had not undertaken a review of current certificate holders’ suitability, as advised by the national policing lead for firearms, based on revised guidance from the Home Office. Over 7000 cases were reviewed by 21 forces which led to 260 licenses being revoked.

The HMIC has recommended that clearer and more authoritative guidance must be put in place to protect the public properly. This includes definitive guidance on contacting referees and on the police’s obligations around visiting prospective and current licence holders to inspect how the firearms and ammunition are stored. Additionally it recommended that the police must be given a legal right of entry to an applicant’s premises.

Home Office legislation: On 21st August I had a meeting with Dan Greaves, Head of the Drugs & Alcohol and Firearms Licensing Unit. Topics discussed included the Law Commission’s scoping exercise, the criminal misuse of antique firearms, UK deactivation standards, medical evidence in licensing, the new police IT system, certificate renewals, domestic violence issues and conditions on firearm certificates.

Law Commission: The Law Commission held a symposium on firearms law on the 8th September 2015 as part of their scoping project on the reform of firearms legislation. About 87 people attended from shooting and collecting organisations, the Home Office, the police, forensic providers, re-enactors, the Gun Control Network and the legal profession. The agenda reflected the Law Commission’s concerns, and focused on the definitions of ‘lethality’, antique firearms and component parts, and on deactivation, readily convertible imitation firearms and the codification of firearms law. Also touched on were the definition of a ‘firearm’ and the regularising of the process for the surrender of unlicensed firearms to Registered Firearms Dealers, the loan of shotguns, exemptions to the 1968 Act for film and theatrical use, calls for the re-establishment of the Firearms Consultative Committee and matters pertaining to approved clubs. A further meeting, devoted entirely to antique firearms, was held on the 14th October.

Northern Ireland Justice Department: As part of the current round of consultations on the Justice No.2 Bill, which introduces changes to firearms controls, the BSSC has strongly reasserted its view that the proposed age of 12 at which young shooters could begin to use shotguns or air weapons under supervision was too high, and suggested that a starting age of 10 would improve the chances of success in the Olympic and Commonwealth Games. The BSSC also strongly supported the proposed ‘banding’ system (also known as licensing by category), which should significantly reduce the administrative burden for the police, make firearms acquisition more straightforward for the shooter and help the gun trade.

NPCC/BMA protocol: There has been progress. Home Office Ministers have considered the HMIC recommendations on the assessment and communication of medical evidence by GPs and police. They agree there is a need to improve the existing information sharing processes so that better safeguards are in place, and the likelihood of medically unfit persons gaining access to firearms is minimised. Ministers have noted that the working group has developed new arrangements that have the potential to bring real improvement by use of a targeted approach, and they consider that work should continue to implement this model by spring 2016. Monitoring will be built into the new arrangements so that the right outcomes are delivered. 18 months after implementation Ministers intend to evaluate the medical arrangements. At this stage Ministers do not consider it proportionate to introduce compulsory medical assessment for all applicants, or to bring in GP notification to police of medical concerns on a statutory basis. But they are supportive of HMIC’s proposal that applicants should be required to notify police of relevant changes in their medical fitness, and this will be taken forward by means of amendment to the application form.

NPCC (the National Police Chiefs’ Council) Firearms & Explosives Licensing Working Group and the Practitioners’ Group: The minutes of the August FELWG meeting have not yet been published. The Practitioners’ Group met on the 2nd December.

Besides the EU Directive, the HMIC inspection and the Law Commission, its agenda included risk management, the Home Office Firearms Security Guide and Police Scotland.

NPCC TAM ‘Solitaire’: Following the Paris shootings, the Solitaire programme to advise approved clubs and dealers about concerns relating to terrorists seeking access to firearms and training has been reactivated.

World Forum and the United Nations: A WFSA statement was made by Herbert Keusgen, WFSA President, at the United Nations General Assembly First Committee in New York on the 16th October 2015. The meeting was considering issues relating to the Arms Trade Treaty and the UN Programme of Action on the illicit trade in small arms. The WFSA statement requested that civilian firearms and ammunition should not be a part of the Arms Trade Treaty or the Programme of Action since their international movement was already well controlled. The BSSC had been involved in the drafting.

A Lead in Ammunition Symposium was held in Brussels on the 20th October, organised by the World Forum (WFSA) and the European Ammunition Manufacturers (AFEMS). Papers were presented on copper projectiles (which tend to foul barrels more than lead and might also be a risk to the environment), legal issues and the possibility of insurance claims in the event of changes to shot more liable to ricochet. Also raised was the aforementioned issue of the possible classification of metallic lead as a poison. The consensus of the Symposium was that, although lead is toxic and can present risks to young children, pregnant women and others who eat large quantities of lead shot game, it presented little risk to wildlife populations in the environment.

DJP 3/12/2015