The law governing the ownership and use of firearms is complex and difficult to apply. It is spread across a number of pieces of overlapping legislation, creating significant practical difficulties for investigating authorities and prosecutors, and generating uncertainty for the licensed firearms community.
As part of its 12th Programme of Law Reform, the Law Commission was asked by the Home Office to conduct a scoping exercise to identify and produce solutions for the most pressing problems with firearms law.
Today the Law Commission is publishing a scoping consultation paper that identifies what those most pressing problems are. It also makes some provisional proposals as to how they could be remedied. We are asking consultees for their views on the suitability of these remedies.
The current law fails to define some of its key terms. Early consultation with stakeholders suggested that the failure to define “lethal” and “component part” causes considerable difficulties in practice for the police and CPS as well as the licensed firearms community. Our aim in provisionally proposing how these terms ought to be interpreted is to aid clarity, which will benefit everyone who has to deal with the law. It is also hoped that this will mean that enforcement becomes more efficient.
Some areas of the firearms law have failed to keep pace with technological developments. For example, the test for determining whether an imitation firearm can be converted into a live firearm originates from 1982. Stakeholders suggested that this test fails to reflect the increased availability via the internet of tools and equipment that can be used for conversion. In addressing this issue, our aim is to ensure the law reflects the ease with which firearms might be converted in the modern world.
In conducting this scoping consultation exercise, the Law Commission has sought to strike a balance between maximising public safety and ensuring our proposed solutions are proportionate and do not overburden members of the licensed firearms community. We have held extensive meetings with a broad range of stakeholders to ensure we understand the concerns of everyone who both enforces the law and has to comply with it.
It also became clear from meetings with stakeholders that the current law is unsatisfactory in a variety of different ways. We have come to the provisional view that there is need for a wholesale reform of firearms legislation. We are asking consultees whether they agree with us that a more fundamental review of firearms law is warranted.
Professor David Ormerod QC, Law Commissioner for criminal law, said today: “The law must strike the right balance between protecting the public from firearms misuse and the needs of licensed firearms users. In our scoping consultation we are seeking to identify opportunities in the law to maximise public safety and minimise the risk of potentially fatal weapons falling into the wrong hands.
“The present law on firearms is found in over 30 pieces of legislation. It is illogical and inconsistent, and difficult to use. The Law Commission believes there is a strong case for bringing all firearms legislation under a single Act, to clarify the law, make it easier to use and future-proof it against technological change. We are asking for evidence to support this case from all those who legitimately own and use firearms, and those who investigate and prosecute their criminal use.”
Responses to this consultation will inform a scoping report that will make recommendations for a full-scale law reform project. The report is due to be published early in 2016.
Notes for editors
- The Law Commission is a non-political independent body, set up by Parliament in 1965 to keep all the law of England and Wales under review, and to recommend reform where it is needed.
- The project is not reviewing the processes or conditions involved in firearms licensing.
- For more details on this project, visit lawcom.gov.uk
- For all press queries please contact:
Phil Hodgson, Head of External Relations: 020 3334 3305
Jackie Samuel: 020 3334 3648