Firearms

Current project status

  • Initiation: Could include discussing scope and terms of reference with lead Government Department
  • Pre-consultation: Could include approaching interest groups and specialists, producing scoping and issues papers, finalising terms of project
  • Consultation: Likely to include consultation events and paper, making provisional proposals for comment
  • Policy development: Will include analysis of consultation responses. Could include further issues papers and consultation on draft Bill
  • Reported: Usually recommendations for law reform but can be advice to government, scoping report or other recommendations

The Policing and Crime Act 2017 has now received Royal Assent. Part 6 of the Act implements the recommendations of the Law Commission’s Firearms Report.

As we discussed in our earlier scoping consultation paper, a number of pressing problems undermine the effectiveness of the law regulating the possession and acquisition of firearms. The responses we received to our consultation confirmed that these problems are not theoretical, but cause real difficulty in practice. The aims of the recommendations contained within our final report are twofold. First, to ensure that the law maximises public safety and secondly, to ensure that those who must both enforce and comply with the law know where they stand.

The Government has taken forward the majority of our recommendations in the Policing and Crime Bill.

Currently, key terms within the Firearms Act 1968 have been left undefined. These key terms are “lethal”, “component part” and “antique firearm”. As we discussed in our scoping consultation paper, the failure to define these key terms causes difficulties for both the investigative and prosecuting authorities, in addition to members of the licensed firearms community. In recommending that these key terms be defined, we believe that this will improve the clarity and accessibility of the law for everyone who has to both enforce it and comply with it.

In relation to deactivated firearms we identified a significant problem: the law currently does not impose a legal requirement for firearms to be deactivated to an approved standard. As we explained in our scoping consultation paper, this is a gap in the law that has the potential to be exploited by those with criminal intent. To reduce this possibility, we have recommended that firearms must be deactivated in a manner that is approved by the Home Office or the European Union. If they are not deactivated to an approved standard, such weapons will continue to be classed as firearms.

In relation to imitation firearms we also identified a problem that arose from the failure of the law to keep pace with technology: the law does not take account of the increased availability of specialist tools and equipment. Such tools can be used to convert imitation firearms into real firearms. We have therefore recommended the test for whether an imitation firearm is readily convertible into a real firearm be amended to acknowledge the relative ease with which specialist equipment can now be purchased. We have also recommended the creation of an offence that criminalises someone who is in possession of an article with intent to use it unlawfully to convert an imitation firearm into a real firearm. Our aim is to ensure that individuals can no longer possess with impunity tools and equipment intending to use them unlawfully to convert firearms.

In our scoping consultation paper we provisionally proposed that the law regulating the possession and acquisition of firearms be codified. The response we received from consultees to this provisional proposal was overwhelmingly positive and for that reason we have made this recommendation. We believe such an exercise would provide the opportunity to ensure the law regulating the possession and acquisition of firearms is fit for purpose for all those who encounter it.

Documents and downloads

Project details

Area of law

Criminal law

Commissioner

Professor David Ormerod QC