Review of outdated gun laws to put antique and converted weapons under the spotlight

The law on firearms is to come under scrutiny in a review announced today by the Law Commission, independent law reform adviser to the government.

In the war on gun crime, the police, forensics specialists and prosecutors are forced to rely on law that is out of date, complex and inadequate. They can struggle to take effective action when criminals carry antique weapons and convert replica guns into deadly firearms. Defendants caught with firearms that are potentially lethal but not prohibited by law are escaping conviction, and the weapons are in some instances being used to commit numerous offences.

At the same time, responsible owners, users and dealers of firearms are falling foul of unclear legislation, which can lead to unnecessary and expensive prosecutions.

The way the statutes have categorised weapons no longer reflects present-day reality. The law has failed to keep abreast of modern technology and, in particular, the ease with which people can convert articles such as starter pistols into dangerous firearms.  The legislation fails to provide definitions of essential matters such as “weapon” and “lethal”.

Professor David Ormerod QC, Law Commissioner for criminal law, said:

“Firearms law is confused and confusing, and this is having a huge impact on the criminal justice system. Experts are taking longer to classify weapons, and prosecutors are struggling to select appropriate charges. There are many examples of defendants escaping conviction by arguing that the weapon in their possession has been wrongly classified.

“Reform will make the law relating to firearms clearer and fairer. It will help to bring criminals to justice, reduce delays and costs in investigating and prosecuting gun crime, and increase public confidence in the criminal justice system.”

The Law Commission’s review aims to identify problems with the existing law, suggest ways in which firearms offences might be modified and simplified and provide clear definitions of relevant terms. It is one of nine projects the Law Commission is launching for its new 12th Programme of Law Reform.

Notes for editors
1. 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.
2. For more details on this project and other projects in the new 12th Programme, visit www.lawcom.gov.uk
3. For all press queries please contact:
Phil Hodgson, Head of External Relations:  020 3334 3305
Jackie Samuel:  020 3334 3648
Email:  communications@lawcommission.gsi.gov.uk