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

Updating firearms laws to maximise public safety and clarify the law. 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.

Download the report

Download the summary

The problem

When we consulted on the content of the Law Commission’s 12th Programme of Law Reform, a number of respondents suggested that the law regulating firearms was deeply problematic and in need of reform.

This was both from recreational shooters and enforcement agencies.

The law regulating firearms was contained primarily within the Firearms Act 1968. Further provisions, however, were also found in an additional 33 Acts of Parliament.

This number does not include the numerous pieces of secondary legislation that regulate the acquisition and possession of firearms.

The law had been criticised because:

  • there was a lack of coherence between the 34 different sets of legislative provisions
  • loopholes could be being exploited by those with criminal intent – for example, there was no requirement that firearms be deactivated to an approved standard.
  • the law is difficult to find, given that it is scattered across numerous statutes
  • key terms within the legislation have been left undefined
  • the complexity of the laws meant those that dealt with it every day struggled to understand aspects of it.

The project

We undertook an open public consultation exercise between July and September 2015, although we continued to accept responses after this date. We received 205 responses to our scoping consultation paper.

We held a symposium at Westminster University in September 2015, to give stakeholders the opportunity to discuss our provisional proposals in detail.

We published our report in December 2015.

Recommendations

Our recommendations had two aims

  • to ensure that the law maximises public safety
  • to ensure that those who must both enforce and comply with the law know where they stand.

They included:

  • defining key terms “lethal”, “component part” and “antique firearm to improve the clarity and accessibility of the law for everyone who has to both enforce it and comply with it.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • proposed that the law regulating the possession and acquisition of firearms be codified.

Result

The Government has taken forward the majority of our recommendations in the Policing and Crime Act 2017.

Documents and downloads

Project details

Area of law

Criminal law

Commissioner

Professor David Ormerod QC