SHOOTERS' RIGHTS ASSOCIATION
Published by TSRA Ltd
PO Box 3, Cardigan SA43 1BN
CONTENTS, listed in order: page numbers don't work in this format
EU’s a’Poppin’ New regulations, latest misery
Postcode Lottery Chief constables’ waiting lists
One has to wonder… British rifles made in Germany!
Firearms Law Review Commission’s rant taken seriously
Policing and Crime Bill Kiss antiques and de-acs goodbye
Air Weapons & Licensing (Scotland) Act 2015 Is it legal?
A Guide to firearms usage In the UK Which political party banned what?
Notes for SRA group leaders Help keep admin down
BOOK REVIEWS The law relating to firearms, Titanic and other ships, Guide to firearms licensing law
Dog attacks and weed What FOI requests revealed
ISSN 2398-3329 (on line edition)
Richard Law - EDITORIAL
The ‘problem’ with what we all do in our leisure time is that we do it with guns; firearms and shotguns, antique and modern, de-acs and replicas, airsoft and paintball, prohibited weapons, film props and toys. This is a ‘problem’ in governmental minds because public policy toward arms is largely driven by what cops and robbers, terrorists and drugs dealers get up to; or more accurately, by the spin, knee jerks and political reactions of those who influence public policy to real or imagined scenarios involving the criminal use of firearms put to them by police interests. Mostly, it’s ‘office boy kicked the cat’ stuff; seemingly impotent when it comes to dealing with real crime, they have to make new laws up to entrap those who are already trying to act lawfully.
And it’s not just shooters on the receiving end. The more ancient aspects of living history are also visited by legislation. The word ‘Saxon’ is derived from the knife-carrying habits of those economic migrants (or possibly refugees) who came to our eastern shores in the fifth century, to whom their knife was so personal that most were buried with it.
The knife carrying habits of those of Anglo Saxon descent continue to this day, despite governmental frowns and knee-jerk legislation.
A knife was an integral part of the suitably trained Boy Scout’s uniform until the Advanced Party Report in 1966 took the wood smoke out of scouting. Knives were issued to national servicemen, with a marlinspike for the Navy and without for the army.
Post-war, the government seemingly lost control of the streets and set about restoring order with the Prevention of Crime Act 1953, which created crimes of erstwhile lawful occasions in hope of modifying Anglo Saxon tendency to carry knives; or to give the police something to do.
Periodically, the ‘bad’ list is added to, such as when ‘butterfly’ knives were legislated against in 1988.
Our current Prime Minister and Home Secretary have both been in post since 2010. There was a brief light at the end of the tunnel for pistol shooters when David Cameron formed his government that year; it was snuffed out a few weeks later by the Whitehaven murders, which meant that ‘our’ Olympic pistol shooters were unrepresentative of this country’s talent in that department.
No knee-jerk reaction to the Whitehaven murders then, but the Home Affairs Select Committee conducted yet another review targeting the 10% of firearms and shotguns that are already registered to legal owners with their ‘something must be done’ hats on.
What came up eventually was extending prohibition (under section 21 of the Firearms Act) to include suspended sentences, thus overturning R. v. Fordham (1969). This because the Whitehaven murderer had been handed down a suspended sentence many years before applying for a certificate.
The other change was to amend section 58 of the Act – which says that nothing in the Act applies to antiques – so that prohibition now does. More on this later, but we think that it came about because the men who murdered Lee Rigby in London with edged weapons had an old firearm with them at the time. It could not have been an antique, as to be an antique it has to be possessed solely as a curiosity or ornament.
Add to this the – frankly – weird amendments to Home Office guidance to the police and that’s the coalition government’s contribution to firearms controls summed up. All of it directed at making ownership and use of firearms by people who want to do things legally harder and nothing directed at criminals.
Following the 2015 general election David Cameron had a mandate to rule as a Conservative without all the distractions that balancing a coalition would have caused him. So we expected to see his real colours on firearms matters and this is what they are.
The police went to him and got the nod for a thorough trawl through the certificate records to revoke ‘by any means’ those certificates where there were any possible grounds for doing so.
This came out of the Atherton inquest, which looked at events surrounding that family massacre in 2012. The key one we noticed was the police admission that there was no training for firearms ‘licensing’ officers. You’d think that having had the job for ninety-five years they’d have come up with something. Even something basic, like reading the Home Office guidance would have helped. But that’s not what the police took from the inquest. They had ‘policed’ Mr Atherton by taking his guns away when there was a crisis and giving them back when the crisis was resolved.
That complied with a policy that the police made up, which is not now nor ever has been lawful. It’s a pragmatic solution to the fact that there is no middle ground in firearms ‘licensing’. A certificate is valid until revoked and if revoked it ceases to be until an appeal or a fresh application succeeds.
This policy solved the perceived need for a short-term interruption of a certificate holder’s lawful activities; such as when a divorce kicks off and the certificate holder is temporarily homeless.
It immediately became the ‘solution’ to all sorts of other perceived problems, such as when one of our members was spiked with an amphetamine on a fishing trip. It took him over a year to get his kit back after that.
The Atherton problem was his murdering his family with his guns. This focussed the Home Office review of their guidance on mental health issues and domestic strife, seemingly in ignorance of both the law and decided cases.
We concluded that the main problem was the lack of education in police departments and proposed a national agency in our book ‘does the trigger pull the finger’.
Then last year, the Law Commission published plans to review firearms legislation, describing the Firearms Act as a failure. Yes, it is, but its failure is to deliver to policing the destruction of the legitimate shooting interests that they have tried using it to achieve. Every perceived failure of the Act in the Law Commission’s report is a failure of the courts to let the police push the envelope against people who are trying to do things legally.
No surprise, then, when elements of the Law Commission’s intemperate rant appeared as intended clauses in the policing and crime bill 2015-6. We think a new law to address the levels of criminality in policing would be a good idea, but instead of sorting out the police, this law is going to criminalize yet more citizens who are trying to do things lawfully.
The Home Office want to put their cockamamie definition of ‘antique’ firearms into statute, thus putting into law a proposal that was rejected by the Court of Appeal in 1977 and many times since.
It has nothing to do with addressing criminals or terrorists; the need is to increase firearms conviction rates by staining the characters of voters is used as a means of justifying the ever-escalating police armouries.
Last year, Tony Long was acquitted of the murder of Ezelle Rodney and another officer has been charged with murder following a fatal shooting. The police went to see the PM to express the concerns of his officers about the way in which they might be treated if they use their weapons. Then they announced hundreds more firearms officers would be trained to pursue attackers in a Paris style outrage.
So the video games generation is going to use video games rules to tackle terrorists shooting our country to pieces. That’s not policing, at least according to the body of police literature on the subject; that’s a militia operation, so officers engaged in such an activity would be taking a militia role. Something that Parliament has consistently prohibited the police from doing.
Policemen have the same common law rights that you have to defend life, liberty and property and while they try to make a distinction between themselves and ‘civilians’, they are civilians in international law and not permitted to take up arms against enemy military forces.
Unless, as it seems, David Cameron gave them the nod to be the militia; which is your job under the common law except that your government doesn’t want you doing it. Spree shooters don’t get far in armed societies; in fact, they don’t start. Every spree shooting, whether by an unhinged loner or a terrorist cell that we have looked at, takes place where no return fire is likely.
The USA’s federal laws make schools gun free zones, so they are full of unarmed people. Britain is full of unarmed people and although we have common law rights to be prepared to resist that eventuality, we have a government determined to make us yet more vulnerable instead of learning the real lessons of history and acting on them. There has never been a better time or a stronger case for sorting out the firearms legislation so that we can all make our common law obligations to our country’s safety.
New EU Directive etc.
Much of last year went on Prime Minister David Cameron ‘renegotiating’ Britain’s deal with the EU to a background rumble of the discontents complaining about thin gruel and not enough jam on their bread. It has reached the point where we no longer wonder what’s best for our country and consider instead what’s in it for whom, as they complain about not having enough of it. Tony Blair’s target in negotiations was eventually to be president of the EU, which didn’t happen, as they saw him coming.
Britain’s unwillingness to integrate with Europe is based on it being an island, wanting to keep the pound and Roy Jenkins lying to us in the run up to the 1975 referendum. Actually, the British Isles is 6,000 islands, but only 140 are inhabited. Denmark is made up of 406 islands but only 80 are inhabited. We don’t hear much about their problems as an island nation, which could be because they are joined at the hip to Germany via Jutland, or they don’t have any problems (they kept their own currency) or the BBC don’t report from there.
Outside of renegotiations, ad hoc immigration to Europe was often a headline. We visited the Aegean coast last year and saw the build-up of displaced Syrians getting started. We were in Calais in July when wannabe immigrants to the UK rushed the Channel Tunnel and caused its closure and massive traffic jams. The rise of ISIS and government attempts to stop people going to Syria to join them also featured a lot. It seemed to us that if there was a plan, it wasn’t working. Displaced persons have to go somewhere and refusing them access to anywhere is not a solution. If they come in under the radar, that’s where they will stay, along with whatever weapons and diseases they brought along. In the opposite direction, it seemed to us that those who don’t want to be here should be able to leave; “…he which hath no stomach to this fight, let him depart; his passport shall be made and crowns for convoy put into his purse…”
Henry V was being a bit cynical; a French army blocked his road home. This sentiment was echoed by Enoch Powell in later years – once he was past being taken seriously as a politician. However, there is some logic to it. We would rather those who want to be bombed in Syria were able to get there without hindrance, as that reduces the risk here. Likewise, those who don’t want to be bombed in Syria should be able to leave.
The very first time any population voted it was with their feet to escape natural disaster. Government is pointless without someone to govern, which is why Antarctica has no parliament. Countries that nobody wants to live in cease to be – the Mayan kingdom as just one example.
The terrorists who attacked Parisians used military type rifles at crowded venues and it took the local armed police some while to get going. The engagement was still in progress when someone on the BBC speculated that they might be using reactivated deactivated rifles. So the wheels started spinning at once. There was a solution to reactivated deactivated rifles in the offing, waiting for a problem. Then the knee-jerk reaction started. The French attacked law-abiding taxpayers. A new EU directive that our country is apparently powerless to prevent becoming law here will significantly devalue most de-acs and makes it impossible to take them from one country to another. A new spec for de-acs is in the offing, to which all firearms deactivated to previous standards must be upgraded.
We are no longer surprised when politicians spout nonsense and expect to be taken seriously. The 30% of food we allegedly throw away includes the bits we can’t eat, like chicken bones, and what supermarkets dump on sell-by dates. And remember salmonella in eggs? Stakeholders, the Law Commission tells us, recognize a threat to public safety from deactivated firearms. They didn’t mention who these vampire hunters are or what threat these inanimate objects pose: they just assume that ‘firearms’ will send politicians into a panic.
And it’s working in the EU: the conglomerate Mr Cameron wants us to vote to stay in after he negotiated our sovereignty out of their clutches: except he didn’t. The EU’s knee jerk directive got the Commission’s blessing in December (EU 2015/2403) and at the time of writing, Home Secretary Theresa May is in Parliament adding the worst of the EU’s directive to the Policing and Crime Bill. At least we now know why she supports Britain staying in: she can take her new laws from Brussels and rubber-stamp them here, hand wringing instead of protecting us.
So much stuff is being shoehorned into the Policing and Crime Bill that the firearms clauses have backed down it from the 70s to numbers 102-107 – if you read this quickly. It may have changed again next week. At the time of writing, the Commons have yet to have the Report Stage, after which it goes to the Lords: the so-called revising chamber.
Meanwhile, back in Bruxelles, there are second thoughts and re-writes. Not that Theresa May is taking any notice. Maybe she’ll notice an ‘out’ vote in the referendum, but to get out of this mess we need both to be free of Europe and a government capable of making laws that suit the law-abiding in this country.
Essex Police issued 5,219 section 7 permits last year, according to research by the Countryside Alliance. Permits are supposed to be issued when a firearm or shotgun certificate expires before the police are ready to issue renewed ones. They are also issued to people handling deceased persons’ effects, as a temporary authority to get firearms etc. to a dealer or auctioneer.
That Essex is in enough of a muddle to top the league for issuing permits (bottom was jointly Cleveland and Derbyshire who issued none, but that may be a policy or a refusal to answer the question) comes as no surprise to those who know them. Read elsewhere to notice an Essex FEO being prosecuted for possession of antiques to guess why he hasn’t been doing his job for the last eighteen months or so.
Kent, Thames Valley and Hampshire all issued over 1,000 each; 12 forces issued hundreds, ranging from Gloucestershire at 105 to Dyfed Powys at 993. The rest were in double digits or failed to answer the question.
There is no application form for a permit. It should be issued if it appears to the chief officer of police that you require one. In practice, forces usually renew certificates from the expiry date of the old one, so you find out you were covered after all. Strictly, they should issue permits to cover the period you’re on their waiting list and then issue the new certificate from the date of the permit’s expiry.
Every so often a new face in police ‘licensing’ comes up with the idea that people whose certificates run out due to police negligence can be prosecuted unless they put their firearms into storage. That’s when we have to remind them about permits and which pages in the erroneous Home Office guidance they should be reading.
ONE HAS TO WONDER…
In the good old days, frequently revisited by battle re-enactment groups (excluding Europe now), Britain had a robust defence industry supported by a lot of engineering companies. The British army’s front line service rifle was made in Britain and had ‘Enfield’ stamped on it with the date. But, however many service rifles with ‘Enfield’ on them one looks at, from time to time another name is stamped there instead. W W Greener made Martini Henry rifles and so did Westley Richards, for example.
Long Lee Enfields were additionally made at Sparkbrook, Birmingham and – mostly for the commercial market – by other gunsmiths; we once had one made by Tippins, of Mistley, Manningtree in Essex. Alf J Parker had converted it to .22LR – between 1928 and 1932 —according to his Granddaughter. Short Lee Enfields, it is well known, were also made at Ishapore in India and Lithgow in Australia, but one might also encounter these rifles with commercial manufacturer’s names on; our one was made at BSA, Birmingham in 1940. The factory was bombed that year and some of the imported wood for furniture destroyed. Lighter coloured native beech was distinctively used instead for the top handguard.
During the Great War (1914-19), Britain bought in rifles from allies including Italy and Japan; one also encounters the 1910 Ross rifle from Canada. Lee Enfield production was supplemented by the Americans making the P14 rifle, long since a stalwart of the rifle lines at Bisley, and best remembered by everyone else as the Home Guard issue in WW2. American gun factories also made three million Mosin Nagant rifles for Tsarist Russia. When the USA entered the war (just before it ended), re-tooling P14 production to the .30”-06 cartridge was a simple enough affair and these rifles served US forces to supplement their 1903 Springfields. Second time around, the Home Guard painted red bands on the ones they got to distinguish that they didn’t take .303” ammunition.
In WW2 the Enfield factory made Boyes rifles, Bren Guns and revolvers. Numerous subcontractors made Stens and the later No4 rifles were all made abroad, such as by Longbranch in Canada and Savage-Stevens in America. Handguns enjoyed a broad manufacturing base: in WW1, the Royal Flying Corps had Colt M1911 pistols chambered for .455” Eley, at least to start with. The Webley mark VI revolver appears from time to time without the name ‘Webley’ on it. Some may have been made by Rigby in Dublin and before the war some ‘Webley’ revolvers, rumour has it, were made by Francotte in Belgium; pre-1914, of course.
After the war, Webley’s tooling went to Enfield, so one occasionally encounters MkVI revolvers stamped Enfield with dates 1919 to 1926. Enfield went on to make .38” revolvers for the second war and you will encounter other names on them too, such as Albion and (rarely) Singer – both Scottish companies.
Once there’s a war on, a country has to be self-sufficient, as erstwhile trading partners can be reluctant to supply arms to a belligerent, which is why we had Israeli ammunition in the Falklands. Belgium became an unreliable source of weapons and ammunition for Britain at the time, as they had become in 1914, due to German export controls and restrictions. Ireland had problems of its own as the Great War progressed, making America vital to the British war effort.
WW2 buffs will have come across John Inglis and Company. John Inglis never made a single firearm, as he died in 1898 and the company went into receivership when the last of his sons died in 1935. Throughout those two lifetimes, the company’s work was in heavy engineering, such as steam engines to power ships. During WW1 they made shell casings. It was a ‘you name and we’ll make it out of metal’ type of engineering company. Rescued from receivership, it became, with British and Canadian government funding, the subcontractor for making Bren Guns for Britain with production starting in 1940. They also made the Browning GP35A pistol from blueprints that a thoughtful employee of FN in Belgium took with him when running for his life ahead of the second (or was it the third) German invasion. These got to the war in Europe just before it ended and continued in service for many years after. After the war Inglis made washing machines and other domestic products.
So if you can’t be self sufficient, you need reliable allies, and some way of getting the stuff to our shores despite all those pesky U Boats. The apparent peace since 1945 has meant that Britain has usually been able to keep its army small, trained and ready, well equipped and up to date. Mostly. In the 1956 Suez crisis, the Parachute Regiment jumped with No4 rifles, as their semi-automatic L1A1 rifles had not at that time been passed for jumping with.
Slow development meant that the SLR’s replacement – the L85A1 – had not passed the sand test prior to its deployment in the first Gulf War in 1990 (did it ever?) and by 1993 there had been thirty-nine modifications to the rifle and thirteen of them were factory refits.
We pause for a moment to mention the way in which the army has selected its upgrades from time to time. The P53 rifle musket was a giant leap, switching to a rifled barrel and a bullet instead of a spherical ball in a smooth bore; this gave the infantry ten times the range of the earlier musket, but teething problems opened the door in military thinking to a breech-loaded development, of which many were considered and the Snider variant adopted.
Jacob Snider was one of four-dozen gunsmiths who submitted a design, one of nine to be tested. No government arsenal works in isolation; they all need independent expertise from time to time.
The Snider was a modification of the P53, a factory refit, so work continued to find an entirely new breech-loading design. What they settled on was a cobble-up of Von Martini’s improved Peabody underlever extraction and Alexander Henry’s rifling. The cartridge had to be redesigned to a short bottleneck so as to work with the extractor and the resultant rifle was made famous by the 1963 movie ‘Zulu’. The rifle itself went through four marks in fourteen years before William Metford’s rifling and James Paris Lee’s turning bolt combined (after a competition) to produce the Lee Metford in 1889.
That went to the Boer War via several marks and upgrades. One should never assume that the replacement date in a history book tells you anything about what was happening on the ground. James Langley Dalton VC used a snider rifle at Rorke’s Drift in 1879, seven years after the Martini Henry was adopted.
So back, or forwards, to the Long Lee Enfield: adopted in 1895 with changed rifling and a ten-shot magazine to accommodate nitro cartridges and thus replacing the earlier Lee Metford. We briefly had a Mk1 Lee Metford dated 1889 in original unmodified condition – black powder barrel, eight-shot magazine, clearing rod present. Marks on it suggest that it was on issue to an Inniskilling fusilier and captured by the Boers at Spion Kop. The Inniskilling’s weren’t at the summit being shot to pieces, but men from that regiment served as runners up and down the hill during the battle. A Boer carved his name and ‘Spion Kop’ on the stock, and later the names of other engagements. He carved his name off it again, crudely; probably just before surrendering in hope of his name not becoming attached to that massacre and thus reducing his risk of summary judgment under rule 303.
We suspect that every one of those 39 variations of the L85A1 was present in Kuwait during the first Gulf War and although imperfect – troops were told not to lubricate it until just before use and most had a spare firing pin taped to the furniture because firing pins broke so often – it got the job done.
The L85’s problems started at inception. The Royal Small Arms Factory had not designed a rifle from scratch before. The 1950s L1A1 design was bought from Belgium and earlier service arms came out of the commercial gun trade responding to a government competition. What Enfield did in every case was the development work after adopting the design in principle and then honing it with subsequent improvements, adding a star for a modification and changing the mark for a factory refit; the 1903 Short, Magazine, Lee Enfield Mk1 went to three stars before the Mk2 and reached Mk3* by 1918.
Other Enfield products were also redesigns; the Bren was developed from the Czech ZB26 and the Enfield revolver from a 1923 Webley design. The point is that Enfield did not foster the sort of in-house firearms development engineering teams that one would find in commercial manufacturing companies, although throughout its history numerous talented individuals have worked there.
Post WW2, Enfield developed a concept bull-pup rifle – the EN2. The chief problem with bull-pup designs is that they have lots more mechanical links between the trigger and the firing pin, making a smooth trigger pull hard to achieve in mass production. The design was not suited to the beefier 7.62x51mm NATO adopted as standard, so Britain bought in the Belgian FN FAL design.
The Soviets, by the by, went for a short 7.62x39mm cartridge and the AK47 rifle, both derived from WW2 German development.
Thirty years later, the Conservative Government under Mrs Thatcher wanted the Royal Small Arms Factory to have a product, so that they could privatise it. Time had moved on; the Americans had gone small to the .223” cartridge for infantry rifles and had de-bugged their M16 design in Vietnam. The Royal Small Arms Factory had another stab at a bull-pup in the 1970s – the 4.85mm Individual Weapon, which eventually morphed into the L85A1 chambered for the American .223” cartridge, giving British troops lighter ammunition to carry a generation after that idea first emerged.
Mrs Thatcher didn’t sell Royal Ordnance to the public along with the rest of the government’s silver; she sold it to the Germans. Heckler and Koch eventually sorted out the technical difficulties and manufactured the replacement L85A2 from scratch. Naturally, they also closed UK factories; the people who used to try stopping us importing arms by sinking our merchant fleet now make British rifles. Probably out of Chinese steel.
So we reach the point we were at before the L85: UK manufacturing of military grade rifles is conducted by a few small businesses. Guy Savage was proprietor of one such until closed down by the Metropolitan Police in 2010. James Edmiston (formerly of Sterling, Dagenham) acquired the factory, but ran into significant obstruction from the Met and eventually backed off to his Shropshire shotgun business. Chris Perkins applied in Sussex for a trading licence and at his appeal against refusal, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner’s representative explained the Met’s blockade of the proposal to reopen Sabre Defence Industries in London by saying that it was the Commissioner’s policy to prevent the manufacture and export of arms that might be used to kill people abroad.
The manufacture of military rifles – prohibited weapons – is none of the Commissioner’s business. The whole point of section 5 (prohibited weapons) is that the Home Office deal with such matters and the local police have no discretion to interfere. Except in London, it seems. The Home Office had approved the business – twice – and the Met have shut it down twice. One has to wonder who is running this country, but read on in this journal for more clues.
And we’re all getting older. Ian Clark announced his retirement from the post of director of the Scottish Association of Country Sports with effect from the end of June 2015, when his successor Alex Stoddart, erstwhile assistant director, took over.
At the opposite end of the British Isles, Mike Wells closed up his retail shop in Kingston and retired to Chichester, Sussex, with a new RFD and the best interests of the members of the Sportsman’s Association close to his heart.
FIREARMS LAW REVIEW
The Law Commission published a ‘scoping consultation paper’ on 21st July 2015 and expected replies from interested parties to reach them by 21st September; that meant the whole ‘consultation’ exercise slotted neatly into the Parliamentary summer recess. Events have moved on, as we report elsewhere, but it’s worth reading about the background first.
In a video introduction to the 108-page paper, David Ormerod QC stressed four areas of concern, viz:
- Lack of definition; terms used in firearms legislation are not defined in the legislation itself.
- Ambiguity – the word antique is not defined.
- Not keeping pace with developments – the 1982 Act definition of when an imitation firearm becomes readily convertible does not take account of professional engineering tools now available on the Internet.
- Firearms legislation is to be found in 34 Acts of Parliament and uncounted bits of secondary legislation, some of it dating back to the nineteenth century; which makes it difficult for everyone involved to follow and understand it.
None of these points is a valid argument for change, as we explain below:
Lack of Definition
Where a term is not explicitly defined in a piece of legislation, the ordinary dictionary definition pertains. In the video, the term used as an example was ‘lethal’. OK, it’s not defined in the Firearms Act, but it is to be found in English dictionaries and has received careful judicial scrutiny. In Read v Donovan (1947) ‘lethal’ meant ‘capable of causing injury’ to the three judges. In Moore v Gooderham (1960) the judge tightened the definition somewhat to ‘causing more than a trivial injury’.
The issue in 1947 was a flare pistol with an adapter to fire shotgun cartridges (although the case was used to take un-adapted flare guns into section 1 controls) and in 1960 a shopkeeper had sold the air pistol to a juvenile, which was OK if it was a toy but not OK if it was a firearm. Both were cases in which the police were trying to push the boundaries of definition, rather than dealing with an actual crime.
Those definitions make the supposedly non-lethal TASER ‘lethal’, as the barbs cause more than a trivial injury and death (usually from a pre-existing medical condition) may result. It only matters if one is trying to prosecute possession of a worn-out air gun, a paintball or airsoft gun, trying to ‘make a difference’ by criminalizing a taxpayer. For everything else, the law is clear, having been carefully honed by the courts.
Other terms used in the Act which are not defined include ‘stock’ (in the context of dealers’ registers) and ‘danger to public safety or the peace’ in the context of revoking shot gun certificates. These, the Law Commission prefer to leave hazy, as that gives the police more scope for screwing taxpayers around.
Antique is not defined, he says. Well, that’s neither the truth nor the whole truth. It’s anything but the truth. Various law-abiding types have been dragged through the courts by policemen intent on pushing the envelope with the result that we have a clear definition of ‘antique’ and a practical test to apply to any circumstances in which the question might arise. The problem is the Home Office don’t like the playing field thus created and want to take the ball away altogether.
In 1977, the Court of Appeal ruled (Richards v Curwen) that two 1890s .455” revolvers were antiques after rejecting the Crown’s argument about the availability of ammunition. The court said that they could not envisage firearms made in this (the 20th) century as being antiques. In 1994, (R. v. Brown) the judge said that time had moved on and so must the definition. She was allowing an appeal in respect of possession of a 1906-dated .22” War Office pattern rifle. And guess what! We’re passing through the centenary of the Great War at the time of writing. Every design of firearm used in that war is now over a hundred years old. And most are chambered for obsolete cartridges, although the Home Office have conspicuously failed to recognize this fact.
In R v Burke, the appeal court said that the onus was on the prosecution to prove that the antiques exemption did not apply and in R v Howells the prosecution proved precisely that in a case where the ‘antique’ cap and ball revolver proved to be of current manufacture, at which point the defendant’s honest belief that it was an antique went out the window because the Firearms Act creates offences of strict liability.
So we have a working definition of what an antique firearm is; it doesn’t matter what ammunition it takes, but it has to be a bygone (i.e. superseded) and possessed solely as a curiosity or ornament. The trouble is, the Home Office don’t like that definition and still remain wedded to the failed ‘availability of ammunition’ idea that the Court of Appeal rejected nearly forty years ago. The actual problem is to be found by looking at The Crown Prosecution Service guidelines about firearms cases, to which prosecutors refer when deciding on what charges to bring. What a mess! And centred on the complexities of ammunition types forty years after that approach was decisively rejected by the Court of Appeal.
The Law Commission’s beef is that occasionally ‘antique’ firearms turn up in crimes, including homicide. Except they don’t. An antique firearm is possessed solely as a curiosity or ornament. When loaded and carried in the furtherance of crime, it’s a firearm or a prohibited weapon, not an antique. It depends on the circumstances.
No blanket definition works; the Americans use 1898 – a date they are going to have to revisit soon. The Home Office set 1939 as its cut-off date, which actually works quite well, but they want to exclude firearms for which ‘modern’ self-contained ammunition is ‘available’. Ammunition is not available, of course, except to authorized persons and that also applies to the active ingredients in a round of ammunition.
What we currently have is a ‘fact and degree’ test, which works well enough. The defence has to satisfy the court that the exhibit was possessed solely as a curiosity or ornament – and that can be tricky – then the onus is on the prosecution to prove that it’s not an antique. That’s a fair test. Last year, a retired Essex police officer was charged with several counts of possessing prohibited small firearms, and was acquitted at Ipswich Crown Court earlier this year because – on a fact and degree basis – his firearms collection met the definition of antique.
But if you adopt the Home Office idea that firearms chambered for certain cartridges can never be antiques, two things happen; one is that the very meaning of the word ‘antique’ has been redefined, which will have all sorts of unintended consequences and the other is that since the Firearms Act creates offences of strict liability, people like the retired policeman mentioned above would be convicted on a strict liability basis, which in the case of handguns means a mandatory five years in prison.
What seems to have to have set the Law Commission’s sphincter twitching was an acquittal of the owner of a Lanchester submachine gun.
The design dates from the 1930s, as does most production. It’s definitely a bygone, but, to the prosecution’s horror, it fires 9x19mm cartridges, so it never could be an antique. And as it only has an 8-inch barrel, the jury had to decide whether it was an antique or five years in gaol for the owner. No contest really, as one only has to see it to recognize it’s an obsolete piece of military history.
The advantage of re-writing the CPS guidelines to take account of all the Court of Appeal’s wisdom on the subject would be that the borderline stuff that currently might get you five years would cease to be a prosecution target and the effect of that would be that they would rise in value to beyond the reach of the bottom feeders whose obtaining firearms the Home Office should really worry about. Re-writing CPS guidelines to prevent stupid prosecutions like the Lanchester owner and the retired policeman would solve the problem. Wet paint on the barn door to over-rule half a century of Court of Appeal decisions is not a solution.
Pushing the envelope one way can have unintended consequences elsewhere. The Theft Act, 1968, regards the area behind a shop counter as private, so a person entering it was liable to be considered trespassing with intent to steal. Until a 1973 case relating to a registered firearms dealer keeping a loaded revolver to hand under the counter came to court. On appeal, the court decided that the area behind the shop counter was a public place after all, thus creating a defence to a Theft Act charge for those who snuck behind the counter to get to the cash till but got stopped before grabbing the loot.
Not Keeping Up
Following an incident in 1981 when blank shots were fired near Her Majesty the Queen during the ‘Trooping the Colour’ ceremony, the Home Office introduced what became the 1982 Firearms Act. They’d had this waiting in the pending tray for a suitable legislative opportunity and the police federations tame MP ranting to TV cameras on the day was it. The problem they sought to address was that of Spanish-made flintlock and percussion guns that were imported as replicas. These were fully functional rifled-barrel weapons made of suitable materials on which the touchhole was not bored through, thus sparing the Spanish manufacturer the cost of proof. Converting one to live firing was thus a simple matter of combining guilty knowledge with a hand-drill.
The video argument was that advances in the sophistication of tools that one can acquire for use at home means that more replicas – hitherto not readily convertible – should be caught in this trap. The problem with that argument is that the 1982 Act provides a statutory defence, which is that one is deemed not to have guilty knowledge – and acquitted – if no conversion has been attempted.
So it seems to us that it does not matter if you buy a CNC machine shop for your garage, as long as you don’t program it to try boring the blockage out of your replica revolver. For those who do come before the courts for trying, it’s a straightforward case of fact and degree. Did they succeed in making the replica into a lethal barrelled weapon from which a shot, bullet or missile can be discharged? If successful, the jury will convict them; if they failed their guilty knowledge takes them down and if they haven’t tried, they weren’t caught in possession of a firearm after all. It’s not a crime to try to convert something which doesn’t look like a firearm into one – car aerial, flat iron, scaffolding pipe – it’s only an offence to succeed without a certificate.
The actual panic here is 3D printers, which are capable of producing, as the name suggests, a three-dimensional object by ‘printing’ it in thin layers of plastic. To understand the problem, one first has to understand the M16 rifle.
And through this half a century old product, the whole component parts issue. The M16 has a steel barrel and bolt; these are the only pressure-bearing parts when the cartridge is fired. The bolt is locked into the barrel at that moment: one can fire a .223”/5.56mm cartridge with just those two parts. All the rest of what you see is furniture. There are some other steel parts on it, such as catches and levers, springs etc. for durability. The upper and lower are typically metal and the furniture is plastic.
In the USA, regulation of firearms is confined to the receiver; the lower in the M16’s case (which is where the serial number is stamped), and since it’s not a pressure-bearing part, it can be hogged out of a block of monkey metal, wood, hard cheese, soap or glass by a CNC machine or printed on a 3D printer. The mischief this causes in the USA is tax evasion. The naughty owner of a 3D printer is avoiding paying the federal tax by making his own lower receiver. The essential parts – the bolt and barrel – are uncontrolled and can be bought at any participating hardware store.
In the UK, the definition of a firearm has included any ‘component part’ since 1920. Of course, everybody knew what a component part was at the time – the parts in contact with the ammunition when it’s fired. Simples. The definition was clouded in later years by policemen pushing the envelope, trying to capture in the legislation (so they could stop you having one) all sorts of accoutrements, such as bayonets, telescopic sights, a bolt carrier, lower receiver etc., but in case by case, failed prosecution by failed prosecution, the difference between a component part and an accessory was defined.
The 1988 Firearms Act set up a Firearms Consultative Committee to advise the Home Secretary and they took on the question and answered it with the 1920 position – the parts that contain the explosion. So for 3D printers to be a problem in the UK, the Home Office would first have to paint out the definition of ‘component part’ as it has stood for nearly 100 years and replace it with a new and presumably wider definition to supposedly catch stuff that has never been within the ambit of firearms controls before. And that’s what they are trying to do in the Policing and Crime Bill now before Parliament.
The obvious question is why? The 1988 Act gave the government powers to control firearms not substantially made of metal, so if someone prints a 3D gun it’s already prohibited; if he gets halfway it’s a realistic imitation firearm – manufacture of which is also prohibited, so this whole problem is already well covered by our legislation.
Our best guess for answering our own question is that someone out there is doing something legal that they don’t like, so they need to move the goalposts in order to criminalize something currently legal to stop him, while being reckless themselves as to the unintended consequences.
There’s more to firearms legislation than the 1968 Act
Yes. Most of the rest is various knee-jerk governments dicking around with definitions, largely without knowing what they are doing or caring about the unintended consequences. If one goes back to basics, the possession of arms for the defence of life, liberty or property is a common law right and obligation. The use of arms for sporting purposes is not a right, as such, and has been legislatively controlled or taxed over the centuries. Robin Hood was obliged to keep a longbow and to practice with it on Sundays, but was not allowed to poach the King’s deer with it.
Successive governments put limitations on the possession of arms; Charles II limited the use of crossbows to people of sufficient wealth to entertain him. The Pistols Act, 1903, imposed a tax on the possession of handguns to drain money from people who – to that point – hadn’t had to buy a game licence or a gun licence. You only needed any one of the three.
The 1920 Act was intended to restrict the possession of arms to friends of the government; so it seems the government has few friends these days. It’s constitutionally OK to have a tax on something, or a qualifying threshold such as a test, but firearms legislation has gone way beyond that in becoming an arbitrary barrier to the citizen owning and keeping his private property. Which is unconstitutional, as explained in the 2008 case of District of Columbia v Heller in the US Supreme Court. The second amendment right to keep and bear arms was defined as an individual right in that judgment mainly by reference to English common law and statutes.
Successive bits of knee-jerk legislation have had unintended consequences. There are some twenty million firearms in the UK and barely ten per cent of them are registered on firearm and shot gun certificates. We thought it weird when the Home Affairs Select Committee concentrated their review (in 2010-11) on that 10% instead of looking at the bigger picture.
Passing retrospective legislation about who can continue to own what does not reduce the pool of arms in the UK. The 1920 Act wasn’t retrospective, so one only had to get a certificate to acquire a firearm after its introduction: later amendments, such as the retrospective inclusion of shot pistols and the introduction of shot gun certificates in 1968 only attracted support from a minority of owners. Much of the ‘increase’ in shot gun certificate numbers between 1968 and 1988 was owners taking up the requirement belatedly, as they found out about it.
Each time something in the legitimate market is legislated against, it simply transfers stuff from the legal pool to the illegal or unregistered pool. Logic suggests that a proper government would seek to reverse this trend. Better to have firearms trading in the open between taxable collectors and dealers than in pub toilets.
We proposed a national licensing agency in our book ‘does the trigger pull the finger’ in 2011. We deal, day in and day out, with the administrative problems caused in police firearms departments. These are caused by staff being inadequately legally trained for the job and the all-pervading objective of those departments to avoid doing their jobs whenever possible, causing long waiting lists while they ask medical practitioners irrelevant questions they don’t understand the answers to.
The 1966 case of Joy v chief constable of Dumfries and Galloway made it clear that those dealing with certificate applications should do so from the point of view of the applicant and not from the perspective of a possible objector. You will struggle to find that anywhere in current practice.
As an example, consider magazine restrictions. The powers that be were ‘concerned’ about repeating shotguns in the 1950s. The problem was that they were affordable. By 1988 they’d changed horses and set about demonising magazine capacity, but as they couldn’t afford to buy them all in, the compromise position was permanently restricting the magazine to two shots (temporarily doing so for game shooting became law in the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981) with higher capacity guns moving to section 1 (firearm certificate) controls and shorter barrel ones moving to section 5 (prohibited weapons) controls.
Wind forwards to 1997 and ‘small firearms’ were prohibited, with exemptions for various purposes; basically everything they were already used for, except target shooting. There’s nothing in the Act about restricting small firearm cylinders or magazines – that’s a police invention – with all sorts of ramifications. It’s imposed as a condition on some firearm certificates, so Mike Wells was prosecuted for restricting magazines to two-shot, as when the police said two-shot on the condition they meant one shot in the magazine and one in the chamber (so how does the one in the chamber get there?)
One chap was convicted for the obstructions in his chambers being inadequate, which for some reason means he possessed it without a certificate and got the mandatory five year gaol term, while in Scotland Mr Lomax convinced a sheriff that the police were wrong in law to require any obstruction to the capacity of his revolver. The usual postcode lottery then, of each police force doing its own thing in hope of criminalising people who were trying to be legal.
The function of the handguns mentioned above is as humane killers when hunting large mammals – deer, wild boar etc. The Metropolitan Police have proved empirically that one needs more than two shots to put a large mammal down, so for safety’s sake – and if this limited capacity business takes hold – one would have to carry three or four modified pistols instead of one.
None of this would be happening if a national agency with clear rules and properly trained staff processed certificate applications. That would also solve the problem of chief constables having longer waiting lists than hospitals. The trouble is that would increase the number of certificates on issue, which is inevitable if the government wants more of the guns already out there registered.
Older readers may remember wild fluctuations in the number of shot gun certificates disclosed by the Metropolitan Police – the number jumped by 5,000 one year. The reason is that certificates which had expired and were, on the data date, sitting in a New Scotland Yard in-tray, didn’t get counted at all; so an ‘increase’ showed that the staff were catching up and a ‘decrease’ showed that they were falling behind.
Last year, Essex Police revoked a re-enactor’s certificate on the grounds that he had no GP. Obviously, there was no alternative for the protection of the public. He got a GP and re-applied, only to be told that now his card was marked it was unlikely that he would get a certificate again and in any event, it would be twenty-eight weeks before his application reached the top of the pile. Whatever’s going on there doesn’t sound like a public service to us and their track record of issuing 5,000+ permits in a year is quite staggering.
This is the ‘white noise’ that policing generates when dealing with people who want to have guns legally. As the only tool for preventing the legitimate possession of arms is the criminal law, that’s what they use to try to diminish certificate numbers, without being particularly scrupulous about what they are doing. And when they run out of ideas, moving the goalposts to give them access to fresh meat is what they ask for.
This ‘hunt-sab’ approach to people trying act lawfully causes most of the problems that the Law Commission want to make worse with more legislation.
POLICING AND CRIME BILL 2015-16
Report stage was in April. If you have the urge to lobby on any of the points in this Bill, your MP may be able to suggest someone in the House of Lords to discuss things with.
Clause 102 proposes to extend the definition of a firearm to define ‘lethal’ as more than one joule of striking energy and to catch accessories intended to diminish the noise or flash caused by firing the weapon.
Editor’s comment: there is an exemption from the one-joule limit for airsoft, but not for paintball guns. Slightly higher power outputs are permitted for some airsofts, probably in line with the current market.
Clause 103 proposes to amend the definition of antique firearms such that (currently) antique firearms that chamber cartridges NOT on the Home Office antiques list shall cease to be antiques. There is a provision for owners of antiques that cease to be antiques to apply for a firearm or shot gun certificate for them.
Editor’s comment: so some firearms that have been antiques since 1920 are coming out of retirement and owners will be expected to apply for certificates for them. It would have been easier to amend the CPS guidelines. No list is ever complete, so this will generate a lot of work for lawyers, criminal records for taxpayers and add to the mess police ‘licensing’ departments are already in.
Clause 104 makes it an offence to possess anything that can be used by itself (i.e. a drill bit), or in connection with something else (i.e. a drill) to convert an imitation firearm into a firearm IF you intend to use it for that purpose.
Editor’s comment: so your pillar drill might make you a suspect if you also own a replica gun. The Law Commission’s rant was about the 1982 Act limiting the definition of ‘readily convertible’ to conversion work that could be undertaken by household tools. They think that CNC machines and 3D printers being readily available to consumers should…and then they lost the plot. This clause doesn’t address what tools are available – it prohibits thinking about it.
Clause 105 makes it an offence to transfer a ‘defectively deactivated firearm’ to another person, except outside the European Union, without it first being adapted to current EU technical specifications for deactivated firearms.
Editor’s comment: the EU wanted to introduce a knee-jerk smack in the face for law abiding people who own firearms legitimately as revenge for the Paris terrorist outrage last year, but at the time of writing much of this has been rejected by an EU committee, leaving the Home Office with dumb proposals that will probably force the whole gun lobby into the Brexit camp.
Clause 106 proposes fees for section 5 authorities.
Editor’s comment: free hitherto because they are a public safety measure.
Clause 107 proposes requiring chief officers of police and the courts to have regard for Home Office guidance to the police.
Editor’s comment: the current guidance is so full of errors, ‘having regard’ for it will mean pointing out those defects and then ignoring them.
AIR WEAPONS AND LICENSING
The catalyst for the air weapons part of this Scottish legislation (the licensing part is to do with alcohol and mini-cabs) was the death of two-year-old Andrew Morton on 2nd March 2005; shot with an air gun pellet by Mark Bonini (27) in Craigend, Easterhouse. The shooter, described as a drug addict in BBC reports, claimed his intended target was Brian McMillan (13) who was carrying toddler Andrew at the time. Bonini was shooting from his apartment; Brian McMillan was on the street carrying Andrew to a fish and chip shop, but had stopped to watch fire engines.
There was some question as to whether the firemen were on Bonini’s hit list, but his cousin said in evidence that Brian McMillan was the intended target. Fifteen other charges relating, inter alia, to assaults with an air rifle had been brought against Bonini and dropped earlier in proceedings, so presumably relating to fifteen missed opportunities to fit Mr Bonini with a straitjacket. What is apparent is that the shooter knew his intended victim and there’s a lot of background build up to this incident that the powers that be want to keep from the public domain.
The toddler’s mum Sharon McMillan called for an ‘Andrew’s law’ ban on air guns in the wake of Bonini’s conviction and sentence to life with a minimum of 13 years. Revenge is a Scottish thing, as we found out after the Dunblane murders. Political response was mixed. The Home Office were already in the process of creating new restrictions on the air gun trade in what became the Violent Crime Reduction Act, 2006. That brought in a minimum age of 18 for buyers (up from 17) and restricted the sale of air guns and component parts of air guns, by way of trade or business, to registered firearms dealers: who also had to conduct the transaction face to face with the buyer.
Given the lack of enthusiasm from Whitehall for more pointless legislation (just for a change), Scottish politicians quickly latched on to the idea that they should have powers devolved to them to change air gun laws in Scotland and a Scottish police spokesman indicated their support for more police powers. The subject then became the shuttlecock in megaphone diplomacy between the Scottish Parliament and the Home Office. The latter were waiting for some clue from Scotland as to what problem was so peculiar to the area north of Hadrian’s Wall that it needed Scottish-only legislation to solve.
The answer was ‘face’. Having started shouting for new powers, they had to win some or lose all. SNP politicians made public commitments to seize control of air gun ‘licensing’ for Scotland from Westminster as part of a wide-ranging power grab that Westminster eventually agreed to as part of their effort to damp down demands for a Scottish independence referendum. We know where that went: the damping down failed to head off the requirement for yet another referendum in Scotland on the subject, which, like the first one in 1979, said no to shaking off membership of the United Kingdom.
Meanwhile, Holyrood had various new toys to play with and got stuck into preparing Scotland for an air gun law. Early indications were that local authority licenses were the way they intended to go. Scotland has an extensive system of raising local authority funds by selling licences to everything from a second-hand bookshop to a sports stadium and thus the infrastructure in place to sell licences, but as the planning gathered pace it became apparent that what the Scottish government wanted the new controls to do was to set a bar that would prevent most people qualifying for it, and that’s difficult.
The basic rule of common law is that you can do anything that does not adversely affect anyone else. That forms the basis of our laws and from that base, governments regulate such standards of behaviour, as they require of us all to maintain our civilised equilibrium. There are various ways in which governments regulate who does what outside the basic rule above. They are an age barrier, a qualification requirement, a tax or a ban.
The Firearms Act uses the qualification requirement in places and the age barrier as well. The Home Office have been trying to make the fees into a tax, although the Act is clear that the fee is only payable on grant and thus has nothing to do with defraying what the police say is the cost of processing an application; that comes from another budget and costs £200 per certificate, according to evidence the Scottish police gave their Parliament.
The Victorians started a trend of taxing firearms ownership, hence the gun licence (1870-1966), game licence (abolished 2007) and the pistol licence (1903-20). The last mentioned was abolished in favour of a firearm certificate, which was essentially a registration process to record who had what. The government’s objective was to restrict firearms to ‘friends of the government’, which means everyone in Britain except a few traitors and anarchists. The latter brought their guns with them and the former got theirs from the governments they actually worked for, so the whole exercise was bureaucracy for its own sake from the outset and remains so to this day.
The police have had responsibility for issuing firearm certificates for nearly a century and have spent most of that time trying to find ways of not doing so. What they have been trying to create is a series of thresholds, bars and hoops that will prevent most people who require a firearm certificate from obtaining one. The likely reason for the way this thinking developed is the rarity (pre-Dunblane) for a police refusal of a certificate. The reason for that is that most applicants don’t apply until their club/mentor/trainer has them ready and once they are ready, they meet the good reason requirement. It’s not like a driving test where half those who try it fail, due to inadequate training, nerves on the day, bad luck or clearly can’t be entrusted with a motor vehicle.
Applicants have required a ‘good reason’ for possessing arms other than under common law since 1920 and as that phrase is not defined in the Act, what it means has changed often. There’s a lot of wet paint on the barn door and both politicians and policemen redefining what words in the Act mean to what they say they mean in the history of firearms legislation. The central point has been somewhere acceptable to the government to use your firearm and something acceptable to the government to shoot at. A later shift in attitude progressively reduced what was acceptable to your government for you to shoot with. So under the current regime you can have a pistol to shoot wounded deer, but not paper targets.
The latest wheeze in all this is the obsessive checking of medical records in search of a reason to refuse the applicant. This is being carried out by people who have no medical qualifications and who work for the police service, which has record numbers of staff on sick leave for psychological reasons. The people who apply for certificates want them so as to be lawful for their recreational and social occasions. Any medical bar to joining in such activities is usually self-imposed. One only needs to be well enough to drive to the venue to enjoy shooting, and if it’s not going to be enjoyable, we don’t go.
It came as no surprise to us to find that the Scottish government was in search of that magic bullet that would exclude most of its citizens from attaining whatever bureaucratic threshold their government would set. Of the three basic tools of an age barrier, a qualification and a tax, the latter is not open to them, so that leaves age and qualifications.
We are all used to the minimum age restrictions. We are also used to them fluctuating. The minimum age for driving an articulated lorry was 21 until 2009 when it was reduced to 18 and then increased to 21 again in 2013, with certain savings. Adulthood dropped from 21 to 18 in the 1960s and the Scottish government dropped the voting age in Scotland to 16 for the referendum. Over age 21, one encounters some preferential (non-statutory) lower age limits, and then nothing until upper age limits start to appear.
That leaves qualifications: as a rule of thumb, the owner of private property can set the qualification levels he requires of users to whom he gives permission. Common limitations imposed in the field sports include having appropriate public liability insurance and/or membership of an organisation, club or syndicate. In the target-shooting world, typical requirements are membership of the club operating the range facilities. Over time, many of our sports best practice limitations were adopted by the government and reflected back to us as regulations.
Qualifications being the obvious way to put a brake on air gun ownership, one of the first restrictions the Scottish government signalled was that ‘plinking’ would not qualify, without defining what plinking is.
We currently have the Law Commission wailing about lack of definition in the Firearms Act, although the bits they picked on as lacking definition have been thoroughly defined by the courts. The lack of definition in the Act that the Law Commission don’t complain about, because it suits them to be able to change the meaning without telling anyone is ‘danger to public safety or the peace’; then there’s ‘stock’, ‘good reason’ and more.
Public discussion in Scotland threw up some numbers to consider; 500,000 air guns became an agreed guesstimate and the recently amalgamated Scottish police force said it cost them £200 to issue a firearm certificate. Holyrood set about drafting its air gun law by cloning the 1968 firearms act. Except, they changed some of it.
The Firearms Act uses the words ‘purchase, possess or acquire’ and once in possession, you can use the firearm for any lawful purpose, subject to any restrictions imposed by conditions on your certificate or by the wording of the exemption you rely on. The word ‘use’ only appears five times, in relation to a person without a certificate using a rifle or shotgun under supervision and in section 11(1), which nicely sets out the limitation on possession it its case.
It says “A person carrying a firearm or ammunition belonging to another person holding a certificate under this Act may, without himself holding such a certificate, have in his possession that firearm or ammunition under instructions from, and for the use of, that other person for sporting purposes only.”
In other clauses, ‘possession’ is sometimes qualified: as where firearms dealers are limited to possession in the ordinary course of their business and policemen to their duties. Where possession is not so qualified, the person in lawful possession can use the firearm for any lawful purpose. The point is that ‘possession’ is usually an independent act, while ‘use’ is a supervised one. The gun bearer can set off to the shooting venue the day before the shooter, thus is in possession because he is not under immediate supervision. He can’t fire the gun until the certificate holder turns up, then he can use the gun under supervision by way of section 16 of the 1988 Act.
If you have fired a rifle or an air gun at a fairground, game fair, seaside pier etc., you were using it under supervision without holding a certificate.
So the first mystery in the Scottish draft is the inclusion of the word ‘use’ in conjunction with ‘purchase, possess and acquire’ every time those words appear, particularly as all the exemptions one enjoys under the Firearms Act are extended to people in Scotland by way of schedule 1 of this Act. Except for one; fairground etc. gallery ranges need to have an air weapon certificate holder officiating and his certificate on display, so they will have to design the certificate carefully, otherwise the proprietor’s name and home address will be clearly visible to all and sundry.
The special conditions for under-18s, suggest that the acceptable good reasons will be ‘sporting purposes’ and ‘target shooting’ on private land; participating in events and competitions, membership of an ‘approved’ air weapons club, the protection of livestock in connection with agriculture and pest control.
What’s weird about this is that the Firearms Act uses the term ‘premises’ and says in the interpretations section 57 that premises includes any land: that leaves us with the impression that Scotland only recognizes ‘sporting purposes’ and ‘target shooting’ as taking place outdoors. Unless, of course it’s at an event, competition or a club where this Act is silent about location. You can also have an air gun for the protection of livestock in connection with agriculture – but not fisheries! Pest control is not limited by any such poor wording, so as long as you have an attic, roof space or cellar, you’ve a pest control issue to solve if a rat/squirrel, etc. gets into it: but will they let you have a certificate for an air gun on the off-chance of that happening?
It won’t matter anyway, because the protection of property is a common law right, which people in Scotland have through the Act of Union and since this air gun act does not state on its face that it is amending the constitution, your common law rights remain inviolate, although probably ignored.
All the mysteries relating to these changes to well-established wording and what mischief they might be intending by abusing our common language pale into insignificance when one starts considering whether this Act is actually lawful.
England and Scotland have different legal systems; England is a common law country and Scotland is Roman law. Much of this is evened out by the Treaty of Union, which in practice means that all the rights and privileges of being English are given to Scotsmen in equal measure. Our one government at Westminster deals with matters national, while local authorities deal with matters local.
One of the powers retained at Westminster is that of taxation, so the Scottish government couldn’t tax air gun owners for having air guns. So the cunningly altered wording relating to fees in section 35 falls foul of that. In the Firearms Act, fees are payable on grant and as such are only intended to defray the additional costs the chief constable incurs when he decides to grant a certificate: that’s the certificate itself, the typist’s time, the envelope and the stamp. Applicants who are refused get their money back.
Section 35 of this Act says that payment of the fee validates the application and is silent about what happens to the money if an application does not succeed: that makes it a tax, as it will be used to fund policing rather than just postage costs. To comply with the Scotland Act, the fee will have to be nil.
Concerning the lawfulness of the Act; bear in mind that it restricts the ownership of air guns to people in Scotland who have the certificate. UK law currently restricts the sale of air guns by way of trade or business to registered firearms dealers, whose trade is thus restrained north of the border in a way that it is not in England and Wales.
Article 6 of the Treaty of Union ensures that there are to be equal encouragements and impediments to trade throughout the United Kingdom, so limiting firearms dealers in Scotland to selling to certificate holders, while dealers in England and Wales can serve anyone over 18 who is not prohibited under section 21 of the 1968 Act and attends the premises in person falls foul of the treaty.
The 1998 Scotland Act obligates the Scottish Parliament to ensure that legislation it passes is compatible with EU legislation and the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union. We think it fails this simple test, as the rest of us are entitled to the peaceful possession of our property, while people in Scotland are expected to pay an illegal tax for a permit to keep what they already own or forfeit it without compensation.
We wrote to the Presiding Officer of the Scottish Parliament – the Rt Hon Tricia Marwick MSP – to ask whether the air gun legislation was legislatively competent and this is an extract from her reply:
“You ask whether the bill has been assessed for compatibility with section 29(2)(c) of the Scotland Act 1998. Under section 31(2) of that Act, I am required to state my view on the competence of each bill at the time it is introduced into the Parliament. (My italics) Having done so I have no further role to play in that process…. When issuing a statement on the legislative competence of any bill, I ensure that my decision is based on comprehensive and robust advice regarding the limits on the legislative competence of the Scottish Parliament. This includes compatibility with section 29(2)(c) of the Scotland Act 1998.”
What she goes to some trouble to avoid saying is whether the air gun bill met that test of legislative competence or not. Reading between the lines, it can’t have, for if it did she would surely have said so.
She went on to say that the Presiding Officer does not publish advice received in relation to questions of legislative competence. Keeping that from the public breaches article 42 of the EU Charter, thus causing another set of legal problems. One does not need a particularly long memory to recall the mess Tony Blair got in over the legal advice he received prior to putting Britain into a war.
Her letter also states that the legislative competence of a bill after it has been passed is a matter for the law officers – the Lord Advocate, the Advocate General and the Attorney General. The Advocate General said, in a letter dated 12 November 2014, so admittedly before the bill passed into law, that his office provides legal advice to the UK government on matters of Scots law and was unable to provide comment or advice on legal issues raised by members of the public: thus admitting he’s a chocolate fireguard when it comes to the role the Presiding Officer attributes to him as a guardian of Scotland’s legislative integrity.
The chief constable of Scotland devolved answering our question to a police inspector, who took the view that the police have no role in constitutional affairs, so if their Parliament acts unlawfully, it’s no business of the police. Which makes it interesting if or when they find someone in possession of an air gun and no certificate. But that’s for later; the problem right now is that the Scottish Parliament claim that their law complies with everything it’s supposed to, but cannot explain how and refuse to show their working out.
With July forecast as the start date it becomes a police problem as to whether they can implement the air weapon certificate without acting unlawfully themselves. What is annoying about all this is that it’ll probably take a court outside Scotland to sort it and the sacrifice on that altar of a Scottish taxpayer’s good character, reputation, career, marriage etc. to get there, and all because the Scottish government have a school playground approach to their responsibilities as a government.
A GUIDE TO FIREARMS USAGE IN THE UK- WHICH GOVERNMENT ALLOWS WHAT!
The Labour Party’s contortions before Jeremy Corbin emerged as its new leader and now the Conservative Government dancing to tunes played by our paranoid Law Commission and knee-jerk EU set us thinking about the relevance of politicians to our various sports and pastimes. Then we thought about it some more in the context of the silly amendments to Home Office guidance, Jack Straw’s sound bites and the Home Affairs Select Committee repeatedly ignoring the majority of firearms in this country in favour of trying to ‘do something’ about the ones that are legal and registered.
Generally, the government agenda relating to the law-abiding gets propelled by knee-jerk reactions to what third parties – who are usually beyond governmental control anyway – get up to.
The 1920 Firearms Act came about under the wartime government of Lloyd George. Then the Firearms (Amendment) Act, 1936 was passed by the Conservative/Liberal coalition government acting on the report of the Bodkin Committee set up under Ramsay Macdonald’s Labour government in 1934. A Labour Home Secretary introduced shot gun certificates in 1967 and then the 1968 Consolidation Act, but it was the Conservatives who banned self-loading rifles after the Hungerford murders in 1987; Labour said they weren’t going far enough. The Conservatives went further in 1997 by banning pistols; Labour said they weren’t going far enough and then went further after the general election that year to ban most of what the Conservatives left before going on to ban air cartridge revolvers in 2003 and to restrict airsoft imitation firearms to insured users.
So they all seem politically far removed from the Marquis of Salisbury, who said in 1900 (when he was Prime Minister) that he would laud the day when there was a rifle in every cottage in England. He died in 1903, the year that the Royal Small Arms Factory launched the Short, Magazine, Lee Enfield (SMLE) and Parliament passed the Pistols Act. So what changed? We thought we’d try unpicking that by looking at firearms and their usage by type, to see what clues emerge; but here’s your starter for ten – 1916!
Before the Great War, London experienced two famous handgun incidents: the ‘Tottenham Outrage’ in 1909 and the siege of Sydney Street in 1911. The latter was preceded by other incidents in which two policemen were killed and others wounded. The Tottenham Outrage was an armed robbery that went wrong. Shots were fired and the police leapt into action: they borrowed firearms from passers-by with which to conduct a hue and cry type hot pursuit. In those days constables only carried their revolvers routinely at night. The fleeing robbers hijacked a tram; the posse of police and citizens hijacked the next tram and a Keystone Cops style chase led from Tottenham to Chingford with over 1,000 shots fired.
The cornered robbers committed suicide. The only other casualty of all that airborne lead was a bystander, and probably both trams. The robbers, it turns out, fled empty-handed and the money was half-inched by a person or persons unknown from where the robbers dropped it during all the excitement. In both incidents, the suspected perpetrators were Eastern European anarchists and none survived to be prosecuted. In Sydney Street, the anarchists’ house caught fire during an exchange of bullets with the army. Home Secretary Winston Churchill got close enough to the action to have been shot at.
‘Malcontents’ with handguns in their pockets became the bogeymen of Lloyd George’s tenure as Prime Minister. In 1916, Irishmen who wanted their country to become a republic captured various buildings, the iconic one being the Post Office in Dublin. Battles ensued in which the lightly armed uniformed republicans could not fight off British artillery and surrendered. Most were then executed, leading Michael Collins to declare that the IRA’s uniform would henceforth be that of the man in the street, uniforms not having protected the IRA’s soldiers from being shot as civilians violating the Geneva Convention – also the justification for Germany executing so many Belgians just two years earlier when they invaded that country.
In London, the government commissioned Sir Ernley Blackwell, the Under-Secretary of State at the Home Office, to report on what should be done to prevent, once the Great War ended, the anticipated abundant surplus of military small arms being flogged off by bankrupt participants to the world’s emerging hotspots, such as Afghanistan and Ireland. Blackwell was fresh from dealing with the Roger Casement debacle. The latter was an Irish Republican who had been to Germany trying to recruit Irishmen held there as prisoners of war to the Republican cause.
Sir Ernley Blackwell leaked extracts from Casement’s diaries to the media as part of a dirty op aimed at reducing support for Irish independence in America, three of his diaries having reached New Scotland Yard shortly before the Easter Uprising in 1916. Casement was prosecuted for treason and hanged in August that year.
Before becoming Under-Secretary in 1913, Blackwell was Assistant Secretary from 1906 and thus a senior law officer in the Home Department at the time of the Tottenham Outrage and the siege of Sydney Street. So he came to the firearms brief with a personal agenda to prevent firearms - handguns in particular - from getting into the hands of would-be anarchists and terrorists. He dabbled with the official brief before giving up on it and diverting his committee to his original plan – tight controls of firearms in the UK.
In doing that he missed the point; the pre-war anarchists had brought their firearms with them from whence they came. As they still do. The IRA supplies came in large part from Germany, as did the Protestant firearms in the north; later supplies came from America (and later still from Libya.) This was the traffic that Blackwell was supposed to address. The possession of pistols was already regulated in Britain; one had to buy a game, gun or pistol licence to carry it in public, where its usage was regulated by the terms of those licenses and the common law.
‘Firearm’ is a generic term; the different types have widely differing histories and applications, through which we can look at who uses them and who might object to that; as to why, harder question, but the answers are there to be found.
Rifles have grooved spiralling inside the barrel to twist the bullet around its longitudinal axis as it’s projected through the bore. Their introduction and use in the UK had three major boosts; the Americans using them against British land forces in the War of Independence in the 1770s; Prince Albert bringing his deerstalking hobby to the UK in the 1840s and the threat of invasion by France in 1859.
The idea of rifling was German in origin and got to the American colonies with economic migrants (or possibly refugees) from central Europe in the 17th century. American rifles had smaller bores than muskets – a bit less than half an inch as opposed to the musket at just over three quarters of an inch. All projectiles were spherical, so the diameter of the bore dictated the weight of the lead projectile. American rifles tended to have barrels up to five feet long, while British muskets were typically shorter. The rifling gave them long-range accuracy, such that they could pick off individual soldiers while the latter could not respond.
The British reactively experimented with rifles, using a larger bore projectile than the American colonists (whose weapons had been designed primarily for hunting) and utilized them in the Napoleonic wars: the 95th Rifles were formed in 1800; the principal infantry weapon for Britain’s land forces remained the smooth-bored musket for another half a century.
Queen Victoria married a German deerstalker in 1840; he brought rifles and popularised rifle hunting in the UK and added Balmoral to the list of royal estates to have somewhere to use them. During the long peace from Waterloo in 1815 until we invaded the Crimea in 1854, British development of a military rifle-musket proceeded at a leisurely pace, accelerating somewhat in time for Prince Albert’s ‘Great Exhibition’ of 1851. The period 1851-64 saw rapid development from muzzle-loaded muskets to machineguns, driven in the latter period by the Indian Mutiny and the American Civil War.
The Enfield P53 rifle musket had ten times the range of the smoothbore it replaced; it had battlefield teething troubles, literally, in the Indian Mutiny (1857) and the quest was on as a result for a breech-loading system. Meanwhile, the availability of rifled muskets and the threat of invasion by France in 1859 sparked off the spontaneous formation of middle-class volunteer rifle regiments – a new militia. The idea was that people who could afford to buy rifles all had full time jobs or lots of money, were too old or too fat or both to be bayonet soldiers, but by training with the rifles, they could turn out when necessary to pick our nation’s enemies off at distance.
These volunteer rifle regiments became a significant part of the middle and upper class social structure of Queen Victoria’s reign. Their early activity spawned numerous breech-loading actions and their competitions tested said designs. They founded the National Rifle Association in 1860 and some of these units mobilized for the Boer War (1899-1902). Others gradually became lawn tennis, cricket or croquet clubs. Rifle shooting was thus a social activity and the summer imperial and army meetings formed part of the season - on Wimbledon Common until the 1890s and thereafter at Bisley.
The prosperity of Victorian times percolated down to the working classes, whose increasing disposable income, particularly among middle-aged men who had decades of paid work behind them, derived from employers who thought the country worth defending gave rise to the Society of Working Men’s Rifle Clubs, which became the National Small Bore Rifle Association via being the Society of Miniature Rifle Clubs, at which point (1900) the Prime Minister said that he would laud the day when there was a rifle in every cottage in England.
In 1908, the liberal government formed the Territorial Army of volunteer battalions appended to regular regiments. The reason for this was quite simple; rifle shooting was still very much the middle class’s turf, so forming territorial battalions and issuing rifles and uniforms tapped into the availability of so many men of working class backgrounds who were young enough and skinny enough to supplement the army, but did not have the means (or ‘condition’ in the word used in the Bill of Rights) to equip themselves as volunteer riflemen and which the government could not afford to keep as full time soldiers.
Our territorial battalions fought the Great War alongside regular regiments, the 1914 volunteers and later the conscripts. At the war’s end, there might not have been a rifle in every cottage in England, but there was a trained rifleman: or a widow.
Rifle shooting as a peacetime sporting activity was encouraged; preparing men for war should it visit us again: which it did in 1939. In Essex, the Legion of Frontiersmen formed up as militia months before Churchill became Prime Minister and called the Local Defence Volunteers into being. They went on to be the Home Guard, demobilising in 1944. Many of our newer rifle clubs are the rump of those units.
The post war era saw two rifle camps; deer stalking and long range pest control in the field and target shooting on ranges. Deer stalking et al is what scoped rifles were developed for; the Germans pressed them into military service for sniping in 1914. This sporting activity is wealth-related and participants have money in common. The National Rifle Association continued as the centrepiece of target shooting competitions. Its appeal widened after the Boer War, and again after each of the world wars. One encountered rifle clubs at universities, grammar and public schools, places of work etc.
The NSRA and its predecessors promoted the use of .22 rifles, as the cheap way to practice. Ranges developed in places as diverse as the House of Commons basement, the Natural History Museum, Walthamstow Bus Garage, Baker Street Underground Station and numerous other locations where voluntary training took place.
There was a schism in target shooting, which started before the Great War and came to a head in the late 1950s when the military went to semi-automatic rifles. The earliest NRA competitions took place when various breech-loading designs were competing to replace P53. Thereafter, the NRA clubs used the service rifle of the day, but also widely road-tested new developments and competitors. The 24 inch barrel of the 1903 SMLE was less suited to competitive target shooting than many of its contemporaries and armchair objections to the short rifle led to development of the Mauser-style P14.
That did not find favour with the military, but in the Great War the tooling went to the USA and millions were made to supplement SMLE rifles and later to help arm the American contribution to the Western Front. After the war, the P14 became the backbone of NRA target shooting. When the army went to a self-loading rifle in the 1950s the National Rifle Association did not follow; couldn’t follow, as the new British rifle was never made available to UK taxpayers by their government.
Middle class type bolt-action precision target shooting continued as it had and still does; the use of ‘modern’ military rifles became a blue-collar subculture within the shooting sports, for social and financial reasons. Most semi-automatic rifles were military surplus, with the whole kit costing less than a good telescopic sight and competitions tended to be at shorter ranges over iron sights and could thus be accommodated at more venues around the country. British L1A1 rifles got to the UK market in 1982 when the Singapore National Guard sold theirs in favour of M16s. Following the Hungerford murders in 1987, it was the working class semi-automatic rifle shooting that the Conservative government of the day prohibited, leaving ‘their’ sport unmolested.
Shotguns are smooth bored; ‘shot’ is lots of small spherical pellets instead of one ball. In the flintlock era – pre 1805 – most military and sporting guns were smooth bored and some sporting guns came double-barrelled. The idea of catching birds on the wing in a cloud of small pellets became a more reliable proposition with the advent of percussion mechanisms, as these reduced the lock time or ‘hang fire’ between pulling the trigger and the shot getting out of the barrel. Cartridges started to make their appearance in Prince Albert’s time with pin fires. Eley Brothers patented their central fire cartridge in 1860. This is the system that won out in the end, although ‘pin-fire’ actually hung on for another hundred years with the last batch of commercially produced 12 bore cartridges being made in 1968.
Double barrelled shotguns developed rapidly in the 1870s; clip-on forends, rebounding hammers, boxlocks and hammerless actions – by 1880 the only difference between The Prince of Wales’ shotguns and modern ones were that he wouldn’t have smokeless cartridges and ejectors for a bit longer. And he got them before becoming King Edward VII in 1901.
The use of these shotguns was by the likes of the Prince of Wales and his social set. The huge bags on grouse moors helped the gentry get over the social season and the winter bags of pheasant and partridge gave them something to do on their country estates before the next social season dragged them back to London.
The use of shotguns gradually percolated down through rural society. Below the wealthy shooting pheasants was an army of gamekeepers and farmworkers using shotguns – and rifles – to cull predators that hoped to feed off the pheasants, but also to control numbers of pest species that eat crops planted for human consumption, such as rabbits and wood pigeons. That goes as far back in history as guns do, so countrymen went for a dual-purpose firelock that would serve their country pursuits and meet their militia obligations. Before guns, it was a bow and arrow. Dogs and hawks also played a large part, as did snares and traps, long-nets, poison, digging, etc.
Post WW2; the increasing wealth of the working classes made them more mobile and shooting – as a sport – increased as did other sports. By the time ‘Guns Review’ magazine first published in 1960, most of its potential adult male readers would have been firearms trained for military service; so rifles were old hat, but shotgun shooting was ‘new’ and emerging in popularity. The letters pages of ‘Guns Review’ magazine show concerns from the ‘haves’ that the unwashed are buying cheap American repeating shotguns without having places to use them: and likewise the emerging skilled working class complaining that all country shooting – pest and game – is inherited and there’s no room for people wanting to get into these sports to do so.
Those respective pressures inflated the Clay Pigeon Shooting Association: officially founded in 1928 in reaction to the working-class live pigeon trap shooting having been banned in 1923, it had double-digit attendance at its AGMs until the 1960s, after which it grew rapidly. What it takes to put on a clay pigeon shoot is space and launching traps and the latter are fairly portable and can thus serve several venues.
Roy Jenkins introduced the shot gun certificate in 1967. He had no interest in controlling shotguns per se; the certificate applied equally to the landed gentry with their sets of best doubles as it did to the skilled working classes using repeating guns at clay pigeon clubs. What happened was that in 1965, the Home Office conducted a review and concluded that shotguns weren’t worth licensing, so they abolished the old 10/- gun licence via a clause in the Local Government Act 1966.
Then in August 1966, Harry Roberts and associates shot three London policemen in Shepherds Bush near Wormwood Scrubs prison. The political and media reaction was to demand the return of the death penalty that Roy Jenkins had suspended for five years in 1965. Desperate to fend off a return to capital punishment for capital crime, he looked to the Home Office for inspiration and they still had the rejected shot gun certificate proposal lying around. So he brought it in through the Criminal Justice Act, 1967, knowing it was not worth having, except as a diversion with which to entertain the media.
Shotgunning jogged along for two more decades as an uneasy combination of land owners with their game and pest control shooting on the one side and urbanites wanting to get out into the countryside at weekends on the other. This started to rebalance itself with money as the key, although not, it seems until the 1970s. WW1 changed the social structure of rural living for the survivors; WW2’s human resource demands were covered on the farms by the Women’s Land Army in the war and mechanisation. That helped with the manpower shortage in planting and harvesting, but left insufficient hands to undertake efficient pest control. That’s when myxomatosis was introduced, as a hands-free technique. In the post shot gun certificate era, rural pest control became the urbanite’s shooting. So the 1970s saw new money going into the countryside via farming pest control obligations being given or sold to urbanites, clay pigeon shooting in all its forms rapidly increasing in popularity and shotgun sections forming up at rifle clubs; but those pesky cheap American repeaters were still a bit of a thorn in the establishment’s side.
The Country Landowners Association holds a Game Fair each year in a country park or estate. They have various clay pigeon shooting competitions throughout the event, one of which is a 75-bird duck flush, shot by a three-man team. After a while, it noticed that this event was consistently won by teams using Remington 1100 semiautomatic shotguns, so the sponsors split the contest into two classes; people using Remington 1100s and people using some other product. It levelled the playing field at the Game Fair and told the rest of us that these repeaters were more suited to some styles of shooting than others.
What emerged competitively for repeating shotguns was ‘practical’ shotgun, in which the targets are often static and usually below shoulder height and the competitor moves along the course of fire. Scoring is a matter of both hitting the targets and the time taken to complete the course, so physical fitness and reloading dexterity help. In real estate terms, practical uses less space than clay pigeon shooting, as the safety zone is much reduced by firing downwards.
Following the Hungerford murders in 1987, the Conservative government cast around for a suitable scapegoat and landed on the working class sports – not the middle class ones. This knee-jerk reaction followed a police report by Sir John McKay, completed in 1972 but kept under wraps by the Home Office until 1997. His conclusions were that working class guns should be prohibited.
So military style semiautomatic rifles were prohibited altogether and repeating shotguns hiked to the greater controls of the firearm certificate. It didn’t end there; in 1989, the Home Office adopted as the ‘good reasons’ for having a repeating shotgun those that were already in use for short doubles and shot pistols, which had been subject to firearms controls since 1937 or 1965, depending on barrel length. When they revised their guidance in 2002, they deleted reference to pest control in a classic ‘wet paint on the barn door’ move, thus administratively removing from the public the ‘good reason’ to which these guns were provably most suited.
Policemen regularly appear on our TV screens decrying the number of shot gun certificates; the usual line being that there are more certificates than there are farmers. The principle is that if you tell the same lie often enough, people might start believing it: especially those who want to. The truth is that the working class is bigger than all the other classes put together, so in these prosperous times should be both proportionately and actually the largest shooting group. Except the political party that claims to represent them thinks the opposite.
The term ‘pistol’ generally refers to a short-barrelled firearm that can be shot one-handed. When revolvers came along, they tended to be called revolvers and the term pistol survived to describe single shot weapons. Then it was taken over by semiautomatic pistols when they reached the market, because they weren’t revolvers. These products usually have rifled barrels, with enough exceptions, as it were, to prove the rule.
Rifles and shotguns both have their developmental origins in sport. They were used for hunting; for the fun of it by the wealthy and for the table by the rest of us. Pistols have a different origin altogether, in defence. The earliest ones, and here we think of the English Civil War, were holstered on the saddle. Land pattern pistols remained so, while the sea service pistol joined the Royal Navy. They had arms chests on each warship, containing pistols and cutlasses. These would be hauled out and placed amidships on the gun decks as part of clearing for action, so that in a close engagement the gunners on the offensive side, where the enemy ship was to be found, would take the cutlasses and board it – preceded by a broadside or three from the cannons - while the gunners from the unengaged side took the pistols and prepared to fend off any counter attack.
In the pre-gunpowder era, gentlemen wore swords, and these can be seen back to Roman times if not earlier as a badge of office with a secondary defensive role. King James II barred protestants from wearing theirs as a way of getting up their noses and hastening the glorious revolution, hence the restoration of that common law right in the 1689 bill of rights.
Pistols gradually replaced swords as defensive arms in the eighteenth century, primarily because of King George III’s road building programme. Before the Jacobite rebellion of 1745-6, gentlemen got about on horseback, but the advent of good roads for the King to get to Brighton, or Newmarket, meant travelling by coach was much more comfortable. While on a horse the sword hangs at one’s side, but in a coach it’s a liability that is quickly relegated to the luggage rack. That means it won’t be handy for the odd footpad. The pistol, conversely, gets damp priming powder in the saddle holster, but stays dry and ready for use inside the coach. What emerged over time was a brace of good overcoat pocket pistols (shorter barrels than military service arms); a blunderbuss for the coachman, and muff pistols for the ladies. Guns gave coach travellers the added bonus of not having to stop and alight from the coach for the fight.
Swords seem to be universally worn when posing for portraiture pre-1745, but disappear from most paintings of non-military personnel by about 1775. The likely explanation is that people still had their swords, but not to hand in the presence of the artist; wearing them went out of fashion: if you could not afford a coach you could pretend you had one by not wearing the sword.
Swords were the weapon of choice in duels in the 17th century and on into the 18th and in such an event, each man used own to the best of his training and aptitude. The origin of cased sets of duelling pistols was to give the protagonists equality of arms (unlike defensive arms, duelling pistols are smoothbored and have no sights) – a notion that carried on into the legal aid system until recently. Logical really, given that the abolition of duelling in nineteenth century resulted in a massive increase in lawyers. The pistol was recognized as more equal than swords, as the skill at arms for pistol duelling can be learned in a morning, while fencing takes much longer to master.
Because the overcoat pocket pistol replaced the sword, Brits never developed the idea of wearing the pistol visibly. In the UK’s climate, one rarely goes out without the overcoat. Most don’t have sights, as they were intended for use at sword distances. Sights start to appear on the ‘target pistols’ that were made after duelling was abolished in 1829. Holstered pistols eventually caught up with the military in the later nineteenth century when infantry officers took up marching with their men instead of riding horses. British officers went to the Great War wearing swords and pistols, but not for long. Those who survived the German snipers in 1914 took to concealed carry for their pistol and an infantry rifle for use, as articulated by Wilfred Owen in his writings.
Metropolitan police officers routinely carried revolvers on night beats from 1883 onwards – always concealed – as was the traditional standard for the rest of the population that could afford them. In the Second World War every British officer was issued a revolver. These were smaller than the WW1 weapons and away from the front, those who carried them at all tended to do so concealed.
The National Rifle Association’s competitive calendar included pistol and revolver events, so men of the volunteer rifle regiments had familiarity with both long and short firearms. Rifle ranges of the Victorian era could be up to 2,000 yards long – insufficient for the combat ranges available in the Boer War (and the Falklands), but greater than are used today for the modern small calibre military ammunition. Pistol ranges were up to 200 yards; the shortest rifle and pistol ranges were 25 yards.
The reality of using a pistol defensively is across a room, or a street, across a deck or along a trench; seven yards on average. Twentieth century training trended toward shorter distances through time, although competitions maintained old favourites like 100-yard pocket pistol.
Government regulation has never been far behind the ownership and usage of anything. Witness the clock tax, not to mention the window tax and a wheel tax that caused the invention of the Sedan chair. Charles II restricted crossbows to landowners worth more than £60 a year. The Pistols Act 1903 obliged pistol owners who did not hold either a game or gun licence and who wanted to carry their pistol beyond the curtilage of their dwelling to buy a pistol licence. A tax, in effect: it was abolished by the Firearms Act 1920. Gun licences were abolished in 1966 and game licences in 2007.
The 1920 Act required persons wishing to acquire a rifle or pistol to have a good reason for having one and to obtain a five-shilling certificate from their local police, the fee being payable on grant; so despite all the police rhetoric about the ‘cost’ of issuing ‘licenses’, the fee has never been intended to defray those costs that they inflict on themselves making a decision. It is meant to cover the additional costs that the decision to grant imposes on the chief constable. That’s the certificate itself, the typist’s time filling it in, the envelope and stamp - and a certificate is not a licence.
Although target pistol shooting had its origins in the middle classes that populated the volunteer rifle regiments, the use of pistols in military terms was interestingly officers in the army and ratings in the Navy. The army was somewhat anti the other ranks having pistols, which led to cut-down rifles and trench clubs seeing action in the Great War. Mechanisation of cavalry regiments in the 1930s led to the other ranks wearing holstered revolvers in tanks and armoured cars, at least until the Sten Gun came along, and the Commando role led to WW1 revolvers getting their last outing and the final batch of nickel jacketed .455” ammunition being run off in 1942.
Target shooters used the standard pistols and revolvers of the day, which varied from large overcoat types to small vest pocket and muff pistols, until dedicated .22” target pistols emerged after that calibre went nitro from black powder. These were not constrained by the considerations of holster or pocket carry, although their 10” barrels were because the Pistols Act, 1903, applied to firearms with a barrel of 9 inches or less.
Post WW2, the short .22” ranges lent themselves quite readily to larger bore pistols and as most pistol shooting competitions were short range, indoor ranges were comparatively easy to construct in existing buildings. The 1980s trend toward commercial clubs was very much handgun driven, as was the gun trade. Pistol shooters tended to have more firearms, buy more accessories and ammunition and shoot more than riflemen or shotgunners, so the ban on ‘small firearms’ in 1997 caused considerable financial upheaval in the trade and clubs, primarily to the skilled working class people who made up the bulk of pistol shooters.
Historically, British governments have taxed the things we do, such as shooting, driving cars, watching television and drinking alcoholic beverages. Trying to stop us doing some things altogether was a 20th century innovation in democratic societies, although despotic regimes have tried it in earlier times. Legend has it that both the fork and chopsticks are by-products of knife bans, for example. Looking to the USA, they had a fraught 20th century trying to control/ban/unban/demonise/etc. cannabis, which has been treated as a medicine, a poison and a drug.
Legend has it that it was the print press using the Mexican word marijuana for it as a drug that got the bans going; before that, it was Hemp – a plant widely grown by American farmers for the fibres that went into various products including clothing and rope. Its medicinal properties were just a bonus. And it was the Americans who proved, via the prohibition on alcoholic beverages, that any prohibition is both an abject policy failure and an abdication of governmental controls.
Back to firearms and the UK experience is that the Conservative Party, which under Margaret Thatcher called itself the natural party of government – i.e. it was an alliance of the ruling families and the Church of England – taxed the shooting sports when they needed the money and banned working class enjoyment of the shooting sports when they deemed it expedient.
The Liberals usually split on the issue. Prior to the 2015 general election, Lib-Dems either represented inner city constituencies or huge tracts of countryside. Townie MPs of all parties have little to do with firearms. If the subject comes up at all, it’s going to relate to gang violence or other crime or the police use of firearms. In the suburbs, MPs get to hear about slow renewals of certificates and police concerns about certificate numbers. In the sticks, firearms are working tools and money-spinners, so Lib-Dem MPs reflected what they knew about, more individually than as a party.
There was no point the working classes crying to the Labour Party about losing their rights to enjoy the shooting sports, as they are more against their members having a good time than the toffs are. We don’t know why Roy Hattersley ‘opposed’ the 1988 bill and Jack Straw ‘opposed’ the 1997 bill by claiming the government weren’t going far enough before going on to say that the knowledge of shooting had to be destroyed. Cock-up theorists suggest that shooting was a minority interest that could be trampled over by the need to score political points. Cynics think Labour’s left wing takes their instructions from abroad.
Jeremy Corbin makes no secret of standing toward the left of his party; on parade he’d be somewhere left of the Royal Bermuda Regiment. As an inner London constituency MP he is more likely to hear about the criminal use of firearms and police concerns about that than he is to hear about how slow the Met are at renewing certificates.
The current round puts Theresa May front and centre. As Home Secretary she heads the department that issues section 5 authorities; a department that seems proud of letting itself being jerked around by the police while failing to perform the tasks allocated to it by the law of the land competently, if at all. Her Home Department allowed derogation of powers to regulate air ‘weapons’ to the Scottish government and has steadfastly ignored all questions relating to whether that violates the constitution or just the Human Rights and Scotland Act. Suffice to say here that ‘weapons’ are subject to the Common Law, which Scotsmen enjoy as a benefit of the Treaty of Union and in firearms jargon ‘regulate’ refers to the power output. So the ‘power’ devolved to the Scottish Government only lets them decide by how much they should raise the power thresholds for air guns possessed in Scotland, since they can’t suggest lower figures without violating the Common Law.
She received the Law Commission’s paranoid rant that claims the 1968 Firearms Act is a failure. It has failed, certainly, but not in the way the policeman who wrote the Law Commission report wants you to believe. What the 1968 Firearms Act has done is failed to let the police erode your peaceful enjoyment of the firearms you legally possess: as an example of perceived ‘failure’ the report cites the lack of definition of an antique.
Wrong! The Act defines an antique firearm as one possessed solely as a curiosity or ornament. The Court of Appeal has considered various cases – when the police push the envelope and prosecute someone who has a firearm as a curiosity or ornament – and has provided a clear rule of thumb. Which the police still disagree with, which is why a retired Essex Firearms Enquiry Officer was acquitted at Ipswich Crown Court, thus avoiding a five year mandatory gaol term, by relying on the unambiguous Court of Appeal decisions relating to antique firearms that the police repeatedly try to undermine with public money by this sort of prosecution; or persecution. Theresa May’s reaction has been to add a clause to the Policing and Crime Bill which will replace the Court of Appeal’s fact and degree test with the erroneous, inaccurate, incomplete and legally discredited obsolete calibres list.
If her proposal becomes law, antiques owners like the retired Essex policeman will have no defence in law; and she knows that, because the bill proposes that owners of existing antiques will have to apply for a certificate for them.
Antiques is just one of the attacks in the Law Commission report; we note in passing that all the attacks in it are against legally held firearms. Criminals get off Scot free in this round, so obsessed are the Home Office with crushing those who want to be legal. So, parting shot; any new firearms act will have to accommodate the lawfulness of our possession of firearms under the Common Law. As to how it will do that, answers are in our book ‘Does the trigger Pull the Finger”, but do that it must.
NOTES FOR SRA GROUP LEADERS
Groups affiliated to the SRA include shooting clubs and syndicates, re-enactment and living history groups and at least one large family. The deal is reduced rates because we have lower overheads dealing with groups. We only deal with the key member, so from our point of view it’s one person, who represents us to the few or many in the group.
The key reason most groups’ join the SRA is for the public liability insurance. We issue cards to the key member to dish out and so far as we are concerned, card carrying SRA members take their third party liability with them to any of the activities listed on it, whether as part of your group or not. The limitation is that if they do something negligent enough to give rise to a claim, they have to tell you in the first place, then you tell us and we tell the insurers. All within seven days of the incident.
If your club or group rules don’t allow for your members to rely on SRA PLI when engaged elsewhere, you need to make that clear to your members so that they can additionally take an individual membership with us, go anywhere and deal with us direct when doing so.
One is late members; we send out the renewal reminder and you start collecting subs from your members to pay the bill. What’s been happening is that some small groups are renewing with the subs to hand and then adding members on late as the money comes to hand. The trouble our end is that is as much administration each time as a new group or individual membership. So we need to charge for that.
You have always been able to add extra members to your existing group. We think that’s a good thing, but they are, in effect, new members. To reflect the cost of adding people to your group after your renewal they will be charged at £21 each from 1st August. So spread the word to your members, if they’re late paying you it’ll be £21 instead of the £16.50 or less it has been. We’re a not-for-profit organisation and membership fees reflect our costs and the insurance premiums, which went up significantly last year.
Our other gripe is when your members contact us direct to do things for them that they should be getting from you. We can’t always be helpful, particularly where we can’t verify that person is a member of your group. You’re supposed to give us a list of members for our register if your group has less than a hundred people in it and if you haven’t, we’ve nothing to refer to. If you can supply your members’ names with your renewal, pay the whole group’s renewal on time and give your members the documents they need, we would spend less time sorting out these problems and that would enable us to get renewals etc. out more promptly. Thank you.
Our data protection act registration only permits us to keep records of current members. That’s why, if you’re late renewing, you might have to re-join as a new club (at the higher rate). It will be because to keep our database legal, people and groups that don’t renew on time have to be deleted.
The law relating to firearms
By P J Clarke and J W Ellis
Butterworths, 1981 ISBN 0 406 15820 7
Published over thirty years ago, it became essential reading for everyone involved with firearms and firearms law. Mr Clarke was a Lincolns Inn barrister who tutored law at Jesus, Oxford and Mr Ellis was the principal prosecuting solicitor for the Thames Valley police authority.
The 1968 Firearms Act was an act of consolidation. The Home Office produced a restricted 'memorandum of guidance to police' the following year, which has never been published and may (or not) have succeeded an earlier version relating to the 1937 Act.
Clarke and Ellis probably had access to the restricted 1969 version when drafting their book. Firearms laws have changed many times since then - four firearms acts and numerous other bits of statute and regulation - which mostly change classifications. The core principles of the 1968 Act remain unchanged, which makes this book relevant and useful today, albeit not quite as the bible it once was.
Firearms legislation is clarified, from time to time, by the High Court or the Court of Appeal, so books of this type refer to the relevant authorities as they relate to the point of discussion and if the discussion moves on with a new authority one would rely on the authors updating their work. That never happened in this instance; no second edition despite all the changes of the past three decades, for the good reason that it’s a lot of work writing a book or indeed updating one and firearms law as a subject, riveting as it is for those of us involved in it, doesn’t make for a best seller. There’s no money in it.
Where firearms cases do not answer a point directly, lawyers trawl other case law for clarification. As an example, this book considers the simple matter of one’s permanent address by reference to two cases; one a poor law case, as to which parish was liable for a pauper’s keep in 1872 and the other an Inland Revenue case from 1928. The first says that a man lives where he says he does and the second says that a man can have more than one address. Some clarifications, such as this, stand the test of time; others don’t.
The most recent firearms case discussed in this book was R v Hucklebridge from 1980. This case was significant to re-enactors and collectors because it considered the status of a Lee Enfield rifle after the rifling was removed. Mr Hucklebridge had two of these, one re-chambered and bored to .410” musket and the other simply over-bored to remove the rifling and both acquired on the authority of his shot gun certificate. The over-bored variants were popularly used by re-enactors as they would chamber and fire blanks of the original chambering of the rifle.
Re-chambering was something the trade had been doing for about as long as firearms have had chambers; 32-40, for example, is essentially a way of de-rusting/pitting and thus bringing back into use a 30-30 rifle that has not been cleaned sufficiently, enough or at all to give its owner long service. Obsolete military rifles were bored out (or rebarrelled) to shotgun chamberings for the civilian market; French model 1871 rifles thus appeared with 12 bore barrels and were known in the trade as ‘Zulus’. Clapped out Snider and Martini Henry rifles were re-cut to 20 bore and .303” rifles to .410” musket, as in each case the rim diameters of the shotgun cartridges are near enough the same as the rifle cartridges. You just need to tweak the headspace a bit.
The last mentioned was also done for the Indian army to make crowd control weapons. On these, the magazine was removed and replaced with a grooved walnut plug to assist with chambering the cartridge.
The Hucklebridge judgment decided that as the gun was smoothbored and (in the case of the Lee Enfield) the barrel was more than 24 inches long, the result was a shotgun and all the parts of the exhibit were parts of what it was. The latter point still holds good in law, although is largely redundant due to the powers that be having given up trying to prove that sling swivels and telescopic sights are firearms parts. The test of what constitutes part of a firearm is whether you can get a variation on a firearm certificate for it or not, so yes in the case of a spare cylinder for your cap and ball revolver and no in the case of a replacement ramrod for your later-production Brown Bess.
This matters, since firearms offences are ‘absolute’, which means there’s no defence when getting it wrong. The trouble is, the Home Office either doesn’t know or won’t say what the position is with regard to certain parts, such as trigger groups. It does not matter when one has the rifle, but obtaining a replacement for a defective part is left legally fraught quite deliberately by the Home Office in order to give the police something to do.
The ‘Hucklebridge advantage’ lasted just a few years; it meant that wannabe collectors could acquire military rifles (on a shot gun certificate) without the obstruction of police departments not recognizing collecting as a good reason for firearms collections and re-enactors likewise could get an authentic weapon that fired their blanks without the difficulty of police departments insisting on some obstruction or other liability in the barrel to ‘prevent’ live ammunition being discharged; while not recognizing the resultant blank firing conversion as not needing a certificate at all.
That all changed when the 1988 Act changed the classification of shotguns so that the police could regain control over (i.e. prevent) battle re-enactment and firearms collections. The book doesn’t reach that far, however, not having been updated.
The Home Office was in the process of revising its 1969 memorandum for publication when the 1988 Firearms Act had to be accommodated and the result was a 'guidance to the police' manual in 1989. That contained many more flaws than Clarke and Ellis, whose book had one noticeable defect, which is the very obscure argument relating to costs in appeals.
The 1968 Act provides the administrative framework for the police to issue shot gun and firearm certificates and an appeals mechanism for when they don’t - to the Quarter Sessions. When the Quarter Sessions were replaced by Crown and County Courts in 1971, the elements of schedule 5 in the 1968 Firearms Act were repealed in recognition of the fact that the 'new' Crown Court inheriting the appeals would be sitting as a tribunal and in tribunals each side pays its own costs.
This book was published a decade after that change to the law, but ignores it completely and argues costs issues as though the repeal had never happened. The same thing happened with Home Office guidance; the 1969 wording carried forwards to the 1989 publication without the 1971 amendment to the law being taken account of. So, treat this book like the Sat-Nav in your car; excellent, useful and accurate much of the time, but in places incorrect because it's not been updated, (or the goal posts have moved) and once to the best of my knowledge, clearly wrong in the first place.
Back in 1981, publishing was a different industry to that which we have today. The publishers (Butterworths) probably commissioned the authors to write it as an authoritative textbook of the subject, with all parties knowing that it was not going to be a best seller. The price on publication was £22, so if one imagines a ten per cent royalty to the authors and a print run of 1,000; they stood to make about £1,000 each out of it. Eventually.
The revolution in the publishing industry in the twenty-first century has been ‘print on demand’. The book, its binding and cover are reduced to a computer program, the same as the programs for making firearms parts on CNC machinery. One inserts the program and tells the machine how many times to repeat it and the books come out of the other end. It makes no difference to the unit cost whether one orders three or a thousand.
Thirty years ago, Butterworths would have had to guesstimate their likely sales for the dual purposes of coming to a royalty figure with which to induce the authors and to tell the print shop how many copies to make – the print run. Once printed, space is needed to store books prior to shipping and naturally some titles take longer to pass through the chain than others. That is how it was when we wrote ‘the fighting handgun’ for Cassell in 1996.
Following the development of ‘lightning source’ technology, a Sunday newspaper offered its readers three copies of their own book for £20 and four newspaper tops. The reader had to write the book, of course, in a word processor format that could be manipulated into the instructions for the machinery to make the volume, but that is how cheap publishing has become.
Lightning source has also been used to scan and reprint scarce and out of print books, like Charles Lightoller’s account of the ships he served in. ‘The law relating to firearms’ is scarce and out of print, but nobody has digitized it yet, so to get a copy you have to keep an eye on the second hand book market. We once saw a copy on Amazon for over £500 – nice money if you can get it – but ex-library editions turn up from time to time and usually for less than the original £22 asking price.
Titanic and Other Ships,
By Commander Charles Herbert Lightoller
The reviewed edition was published by Oxford City Press in 2010
ISBN 978 -1-84902-641-3
Charles Lightoller (1874-1952) is best remembered as the Second Officer on the Titanic for its maiden voyage to New York in 1912. He had been appointed to the new ship as first officer, but a reshuffle caused by the Olympic being laid up meant he stepped back a rank. He was off duty and in his cabin when he felt the vibration of a collision, so he waited there to be summoned. His emergency station was launching the portside lifeboats; he got all of them away, except the last boat (collapsible ‘B’), which was washed off the ship along with him, as that portion of the ship slid beneath the Atlantic.
As you might expect, that was only one episode (and 54 pages) in a busily adventurous and seafaring life, and not the only occasion in which he surfaces in history. It was the second time a ship sunk under him and not the last; he was also shipwrecked in the Great War and on all three occasions the incident that led to the loss of his ride occurred while he was off duty and in his bunk.
During the Great War (1914-19) he was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross (DSC) for engaging the German airship L31 over the Thames estuary from his Motor Torpedo Boat HMTB 117 and three years later he was awarded a bar to his DSC for sinking German submarine UB110 by ramming it (twice) with the river class destroyer HMS Garry that he commanded at the time.
His war ended soon after with the armistice in 1918 with the Reserve Decoration, whereupon he bailed out of the Royal Navy with the rank of commander and hotfooted it to the White Star’s offices to receive what would be his last sea-going posting - as captain of the SS Celtic: the new model. When he first went to sea aged fourteen, a picture of the old Celtic graced the pages of Todd and Whall’s ‘Practical Seamanship’ textbook, but that Celtic was a four master with two funnels and in 1888, represented the summit of his ambitions.
Our much-thumbed T&D fifth edition (1903) pictures the Oceanic; the ship Lightoller was posted to after the Titanic and which found collapsible ‘A’ with three bodies in it a month after the sinking some 200 miles from the wreck site.
Born in Lancashire to a cotton family, he opted for the sea as a career and entered a sailing ship the same year as Jack the Ripper stalked London’s streets. He ‘learned the ropes’ - there being some 500 of them - used to manage the canvas. Sail was passing its peak at the time; steam gradually took over as harbours were upgraded to take the new ships. His writing style is that of short chapters, each a vignette of an event, such as being shipwrecked in the Indian Ocean, or firing an antique gun in Sydney harbour to draw attention to the Boer flag he had decorated it with. Some follow on one from another, while others seem to be glances into what could have been a longer explanation of an event. It’s a bit like opening advent calendar windows in the days before all they had behind them was chocolate.
He is vague about dates and quite often writes about a ship or shipmates without naming them, in the style of his times. He presents himself as working to raise money, then taking time out to spend it before working up capital again. One such episode finds him in pursuit of the Klondyke gold strike, working his way through the wilderness, struggling to ford river after river with a few friends, rifles in 44-56 and 45-90 and a banjo. A lot of people ventured into that wilderness never to return. Their total game for the larder on the expedition amounted to a moose and a porcupine; the unexplained mystery is why he crosses so many rivers and makes no mention whatever of fish or fishing. Bears seem to do quite nicely out of the rivers there, so either he lived well and doesn’t mention it or doesn’t mention it for some other reason; either way, he lived in Alaska for a year and must have eaten more than a moose and a porcupine.
Fishing rates a mention often enough elsewhere, not least in the Great War when the odd depth charge was expended to raise breakfast. This book was first published in the 1930s and enjoyed initial success until some offence was taken as to comments within and the publishers withdrew the book to avoid litigation.
There are two versions of what the offending passage said circulating. One has it that it was his remarks about the Marconi radio operators on the night to remember and other sources mention unproven allegations about British people on the south coast signalling U Boats during the Great War. Lightoller was writing twenty years after the Titanic sank. He was grilled at two enquiries, firstly in New York and then back in the UK by the Board of Trade before, along with many of the surviving crewmembers, he was posted to the Oceanic.
His recollections with respect to the sinking are thus those that he had related many times before; honed and defined by cross-examination and presumably ‘improved’ over time, but nowadays quite easy to check against published enquiry reports, not to mention numerous other sources and accounts; but since he was there, he probably did not read other survivors’ writings when compiling his book. Unlike Colonel Gracie (1859-1912) who quotes extensively from newspapers, the inquiry records and correspondence with survivors, as well as from Lawrence Beesely’s book.
Lawrence Beesely (1877-1967) was a second-class passenger who left the ship in lifeboat 13, loaded by First Officer Murdoch. He was a widower who resigned his teaching post at Dulwich College to holiday in the USA and to visit relatives in Toronto, Canada. His book ‘the loss of the SS Titanic: its story and its lessons’ came out within weeks of the sinking. He was back in the UK by the time his article ‘testimonies of healing’ was published in December 1912 in the ‘Christian Science Sentinel’.
This edition of Lightoller’s work seems to be a scanned copy of an original, published using lightning source but without anyone having proof read it. An unnamed editor has added modern spellings for some place names as footnotes, but that’s it for attention to detail. This process is apt to scramble text, so on one page there are two lines of text on one line of print and elsewhere, numerous simple spelling mistakes that are likely due to the electronic copying technique. We wondered why there is no mention of whose copyright the book is. Lightoller died in 1952, so his heirs should still have an interest in his copyright until 2027.
So what he says about the Titanic is that there were two Marconi operators on board. Jack Phillips (1887-1912) was working the set - Harold Bride (1890-1956) was off duty until midnight - sending and receiving telegrams for passengers once the ship was in range of Cape Race. He was interrupted by an ice warning, which he left on his desk, having no messenger to take it to the bridge and no time to leave the radio shack himself. He reported the message to Lightoller when they were both balancing on the upturned collapsible ‘B’ after the ship had gone. Lightoller says that he would have stopped the ship for the night if he had received that message before his watch ended at 22.00.
We pause to remark that the Titanic wasn’t capable of a Blue Ribbon crossing, but speed gets passengers where they want to be and the faster one goes, the more crossings with fare-paying passengers that can be made. All the senior officers on the Titanic were experienced North Atlantic sailors. They knew about icebergs, but bergs had not ventured as far south as the Titanic’s course for fifty years, so never in the experience of any of the officers on board.
What he said about his watch was that he kept a sharp lookout himself, but it was an unusually calm night, which would have denied look-outs the tell-tale white horse breakers around the base of an iceberg.
That’s not all lookouts look for. The berg the Titanic didn’t see loomed an estimated 100 feet above sea level, so on a calm, clear night it would blot out stars on the horizon; so you look at the stars and if they disappear, something is blocking your view. Meteorological evidence compiled a hundred years on suggests a different interpretation of that calm night in which the cold current carrying ice met the warmer Gulf Stream. This caused a mirage effect in which the horizon was refracted upwards. That obscured the low stars in the night sky, so they weren’t visible to be obstructed by the iceberg.
Stanley Lord, captain of the Californian, said it was a deceiving night in his evidence to the American enquiry; that it was so calm one could not distinguish the horizon and the visual effects of the night made stars seem to be ships’ lights. His radio operator messaged the Titanic about the ice, but was brushed off by the Marconi operator Phillips who was sending telegrams to Cape Race. Colonel Gracie said – in his 1912 book ‘the truth about the Titanic’ – that the Californian’s radio operator stayed at his set until 11.30pm and then went to bed.
The Californian had stopped for the night and was twenty miles south of Titanic’s course so a message about ice from a ship to the south would have been of considerable interest to the officer of the watch, had he received it.
The Titanic hit the iceberg at 11.40pm local time and sank, according to Colonel Gracie’s watch that stopped when he was immersed along with Lightoller and collapsible ‘B’, at 2.22am. There was confusion at the American enquiry over times; the Titanic’s radio room had two clocks in it, showing New York and London time, but the ship periodically lost an hour as she passed through the different time zones in the Atlantic. Some radio operators and ships’ logs recorded ‘local’ time and others used the time indicated by the shore station they were in touch with, or the time at their last or next port of call.
Stanley Lord thought Titanic was about twenty miles (and thus out of sight) north of where he stopped for the night, surrounded by ice. We know from Robert Ballard’s discovery of the wreck on the seabed that the Titanic was some three miles short of where she said she hit the iceberg. Lord mentions another ship that passed him in the night five miles or so away. Colonel Gracie thought that the Californian was watching the Titanic sink and did nothing and although he knew that Phillips had received an ice warning, fobbed off the Californian’s radio man for interfering with profitable telegram transmissions and not sent the warning up to the bridge, Gracie laid all the blame for the loss of life on the Titanic at Stanley Lord’s feet, despite mentioning at least six ice warnings from other ships and leaving the question open as to why the experienced officers of White Star did nothing in reaction to the warnings.
Marconi operator Phillips did not survive the night; Lightoller says he died on collapsible ‘B’ and they transferred his body to lifeboat 12 when the latter came to rescue them. They kept him aboard despite that lifeboat being overcrowded. Lightoller managed to trim lifeboat 12 and keep the bow to the rising swell while anxiously watching the Carpathia stopping for each lifeboat in turn. Their turn came and the body was transferred to the Carpathia to be buried at sea. The impression we are left with it that Phillips prioritized Marconi’s profitable telegram service over leaving his post to deliver an ice warning to the bridge and that Lightoller blames him for denying the officer of the watch that intelligence.
That’s what Lightoller wrote in 1934. He doesn’t mention any of this at the American enquiry shortly after the incident and other accounts contradict him; Colonel Gracie’s memoir reports that the junior Marconi operator Harold Bride was on collapsible ‘B’ and that Col Gracie’s source for claiming that Phillips was also aboard was Mr Bride and not first hand knowledge. Gracie also says that the dead man he and Lightoller transferred from ‘B’ to a lifeboat and then to Carpathia was not Phillips and that they both knew it, as the body was dressed as a seaman.
Col Gracie also accounts for exchanges between Lightoller and the Marconi operator as to which ships were coming to help, but he is clear that Lightoller’s conversation was with Bride and there is no mention of unread ice warnings in Gracie’s memoir. Bride was off duty at the time of the collision, but returned to the radio shack immediately and remained there until the captain released them at 02.10. On deck, he saw the struggle to launch collapsible ‘B’ and joined in, seeing the last of Phillips who was heading aft. On the Carpathia, he helped transmit survivor lists from their Marconi apparatus and in New York; he received $1,000 from the New York Times for his account of the sinking.
Jack Phillips has no known grave. Lightoller thought his body went onto the Carpathia and was buried at sea from there, but given all the conflicting accounts in what is a very well researched moment in time, it seems that he used hindsight to try exonerating the White Star officers who were on duty when the collision occurred by aiming the blame at Marconi’s operators. The way that pans out seems to be that Phillips had an ice warning from a ship to the south of the Titanic, which he did not pass on.
Lightoller resurrecting it may have riled the Marconi Company and that was the end of the book in the 1930s. Col Gracie had it in his book, but he died pre-publication from complications of diabetes and his health took such a knock from that night on and in the open sea that he never got over it. So maybe the mention of secret signals from the British coast to German submarines was the more significant disclosure.
It’s the book’s small details that are fascinating. Walter Lord reports in his book ‘A Night to Remember’ (1958) that the first boats were launched practically empty. Lightoller says he did not know if the boats should be fully loaded (with 65 people) on the boat deck, (they had not rehearsed the boat drills) so he sent a team of his watch to open doors near the waterline – the doors that one would normally enter the docked ship by via a gangplank – for the boats to complete loading there. He never saw any of those men again and assumed they died trying to follow the plan. Either way and as far as he knew, they did not load anyone into boats from that location and as the ship went down by the head more and more people came to the boat deck to get off, so he fully loaded boats as the distance to the water decreased.
Another small detail concerns the arms and ammunition on board. The captain decided to issue arms to officers, but First Officer Murdoch did not know where they were, as he was not there when they came on board. Lightoller was first officer at the time, so he had stowed them in the first officer’s cabin, which ceased to be his cabin when the new first officer was appointed. He was obliged to leave his duties briefly to break them out of Murdoch’s cabin and returned to launching lifeboats with a Webley in his pocket. He says it remained there until he was washed off the ship. Col Gracie says Lightoller fired it to deter steerage passengers thinking of rushing the boat deck, while robustly denying all claims about Murdoch having shot himself.
Lightoller was washed off the ship and struggled to surface, which is when he realized the revolver was dragging him down and he contributed it to the debris field near where the stern was last seen. There was some excitement a few years back when someone claimed to have this revolver and wanted to sell it through an auction house. We had doubts about its authenticity without having read this book, as the photo we saw was of an Enfield revolver of a type first made in 1927 and prohibited in the UK in 1997.
This book ends with Lightoller resigning from the sea in 1921. After its publication and withdrawal in the 1930s, he made no further attempt to write his memoirs; which is a pity because quite a lot happened to him between 1921 and his death in 1952.
Commander Lightoller appears as a mention in despatches in the Second World War after taking his yacht Sundowner to Dunkerque for operation Dynamo in 1940. The war had already cost him by then; his youngest son Herbert Brian died the first night of the war, flying in a bomber over Wilhelmshaven on the 4th September 1939. He is buried in Sage War Cemetery. The last month of the war saw his eldest son die; Roger served in the Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve and was attached to HMS Oddessey for paybook purposes. Men so attached served on detached duty as gunners, often on merchant ships. We don’t know whether his gun was on a ship in Granville harbour or shore based. Granville was attacked by a German raiding party from Jersey on the 8-9th March 1945. Roger and his men were among the 22 killed. They are buried in Bayeux War Cemetery.
Three other children served and survived; Richard was in the army and as a half colonel served on Montgomery’s staff. Daughters Mavis and Doreen served respectively in the FANY and the Political Intelligence Unit, both euphemisms for secret squirrel.
After Dunkerque, Lightoller volunteered for the Home Guard, was poached by the Royal Navy and emerges from the war managing Richmond slipways where he made boats for the river police. Maybe he made boats for the Navy in the war. The great smog of 1952 hastened this life-long pipe-smoker’s demise, aged 78.
Overall, he comes across as a readable writer who is economical with detail but clear about the incidents he reports. One gets the impression that he could have said more about many of these escapades, but chose not to. That left us wondering whether he developed this style by writing the Titanic episode first, in which he says he was using whitewash to protect White Star’s integrity at the American inquiry and then used that style to complete the before and after episodes.
So what was he hiding from the Senate inquiry? About fifteen hundred bodies: a disaster occurs, by definition, when several things go wrong and their consequences overlap. The British Board of Trade requirement at the time was a life jacket for each berth. There was no requirement for a lifeboat place for each person on board; that came later and the idea of making life rafts and such ‘high viz’ didn’t come in until after the 1940 scandal in which the Scharnhorst sunk British aircraft carrier HMS Glorious and nobody noticed the few survivors bobbing about in slate grey rafts until several days later.
The engine room personnel were not released from their posts until after their cabins were underwater, so they came on deck without flotation devices. The grill gates that kept the steerage passengers below decks were pictured closed by underwater archaeology, so a lot of people in the steerage with flotation devices could not get up to the decks.
Colonel Gracie was convinced – by the time he completed his manuscript – that the Californian was much closer to Titanic than Captain Lord said he was at the inquiry. He says that Captain Smith directed one lifeboat to take his passengers to ‘that ship’, land them and then return for more. They rowed and rowed, but the light came no closer and then disappeared.
Lord reported seeing another cargo ship pass a few miles from him during the night – which has never been identified – so what with the confusion over ships lights being stars and vice versa, rockets not seen and these ship sightings from both the Californian and the Titanic that don’t fit the known ship movements, it may be that the mirage effects obscuring the horizon also refracted lights from where they were to where they were seen.
Captain Lord became the scapegoat for the one man who actually let everyone down that night - Captain Smith. He allowed his ship to make rapid progress through a moonless night (a waning crescent moon rose about an hour before dawn) and whatever everyone else did or did not do contributed to the disastrous consequences of the captain of the ship letting it go so fast that any obstruction would be unavoidable.
Guide on Firearms Licensing Law
Published by the Home Office 2016
This latest update is a work in progress, as the Home Secretary is frantically repainting the barn door as we write. This used to be guidance to the police and was a restricted document until 1989, when it was published for the first time. Since then it has drifted off the point of guiding the police – who claimed at the Atherton inquest there was no training for issuing certificates – to being guidance to the public about the system.
This edition includes advice about taking firearms (including air weapons) to Northern Ireland, but nothing about taking air weapons to Scotland. Yet. It does contain details of the import/export regulations for deactivated firearms, which are now such that it’s easier for re-enactment groups to use live weapons. The Policing and Crime bill currently in Parliament seeks to dignify this work by requiring the police and courts to ‘have regard’ for it. Which is going to fun, given that there’s at least one mistake on every page that we’ve checked so far. By the time we return to this subject, they’ll have updated it again.
Much of the problem is that the guidance is seemingly not being drafted by appropriately qualified legal brains, but rather by practitioners, who have no regard for the unintended consequences of their errors.
DOG ATTACKS AND WEED
305 dogs have been shot for worrying livestock in the last five years and number seems to be increasing, according to the results of a BBC freedom of information request. A farmers’ spokesman said that in the worst incident 138 sheep suffocated when forced into a corner by a pack of dogs. Farms near urban centres have had to give up keeping sheep because of dog attacks.
The SRA had a case in South Wales some years back in which a sheep farmer was prosecuted for shooting a loose dog because that violated the condition on his firearm certificate. He had applied for ‘pest control’, which at the time was the suggested wording on the application form and the police issued the certificate for ‘vermin control’ because that was the Home Office approved wording.
The Home Office adopted ‘vermin control’ in a classic ‘wet paint on the barn door’ move because, they said, vermin had a legal definition while pest did not. What they forgot to mention was that anyone with a requirement to shoot loose dogs in a sheep field with a rifle should have asked for ‘vermin control and for the protection of livestock’. Or use a shotgun, where it doesn’t matter, as there is no condition to trip over.
Cannabis conviction rates are falling, said the BBC from another FOI request; forces are ignoring the criminality to make better use of their time fighting other crimes. Except in the case of firearm certificate holders, it seems. We have had two cases this year of self-medicating certificate holders being prosecuted for growing cannabis.
ANTI-SOCIAL BEHAVIOUR CRIME AND POLICING ACT 2014
Continuing the government policy of hiding bits of the creeping barrage of firearms legislation in other Acts of Parliament, this one contained five clauses (108-112) of which 110 is of most interest.
It firstly amended section 21 of the Firearms Act to overturn the 1969 decision R v Fordham. Section 21(2) prohibits a person sentenced to more than three months in prison but less than three years from possessing firearms until five years after their release. Section 21(1) prohibits persons gaoled for three years or more from possessing firearms at any time. In both cases section 21(6) provides for an application to the Crown Court to have the prohibition lifted. The R v Fordham case tested the question as to whether suspended sentences counted and the answer was no, since the key word was ‘release’.
Section 110 of this Act now includes suspended sentences, so someone who gets one is prohibited from the second day after sentence was passed for five years. Firearm or shot gun certificate holders are not so prohibited while their certificate remains in force, but as the chief officer of police has no discretion (section 30A(3) of the 1968 Act) not to revoke when he finds out about the suspended sentence, it will be cancelled and the prohibition takes effect.
The prohibition applies to all firearms, not just those on certificate, so a person caught by this provision can’t have air weapons, air gun pellets or shotgun cartridges: and courtesy of section 110(2) of this Act, antiques.
Since this Act came into force, we seem to hear a lot more about suspended sentences being handed down. We have dealt with two applications so far from certificate holders caught by this provision and as word gets around antiques owners, they’ll probably be more.
APOLOGIES FOR ABSENCE
This journal is a cobble-up of the best of the journal that never was (last year) with what’s happened this year so far. We didn’t skip a number though, so this is 58 and appears for the first time on line as well as in print.
Our editor having taken his hand off the tiller, so to speak, we have struggled to get new help to assist with both the publishing side of the SRA and the website. The new website is www.shootersrights.com has been paid for and born dead and the old website www.shootersrights.org is still on line, but as we have no way of updating it, so we started this one instead.
A PARTING SHOT
In 1984, a pitched battle outside Orgreave coking plant in South Yorkshire led to 95 arrests. All were acquitted of riot, as lawyers engaged in pre-trial argument saw the indictments off. Thirty years on, the Independent Police Complaints Commission decided against re-opening the matter; it’s so long ago that involved police officers have now all retired.
A retired officer we know said that the problem was a senior officer dictated the form of words to be used in statements. That made them all the same, which lawyers noticed and saw in that orchestration, foul play: contamination by conspiracy or collusion.
Trainee policemen are given the correct form of words to use in statements. For example, alcohol has no smell, so what you can smell on a drinker’s breath is ‘intoxicating liquor’.
Before the roadside breathalyser, there were specific forms of words used by policemen to describe their reasonable suspicion that the suspect had been drinking; these include ‘his eyes were glazed’ and ‘his speech was slurred’.
So back to Orgreave: we bet that policemen had some relevant training by 1984. Riots were nothing new then and neither was the role of the police in containing them. The second half of the 20th century saw mass public disorder become the trademark of specific groups; Mods and Rockers, football hooligans, anti-Vietnam war demonstrators, skinheads, far white right political groups.
Police solutions were generally a large presence; the use of the truncheons they came equipped with, and borrowed dustbin lids. The invention of the wheelie bin meant that dustbin lids were harder to come by and were last used by the Metropolitan Police in 1976. By the time Liverpool 8 became known as Toxteth in 1981, riot training was a standard part of police training.
It seems that failed to include the buzz phrases for statements. South Yorkshire Police are left with public doubt about their report writing, which was compounded by what they wrote, didn’t write or deleted in relation to the Hillsborough disaster in 1989.
Our interest in police statements and reports is related to their administration of the Firearms Acts. You might remember the Home Office coined the phrase ‘shooting while jumping up and down’ to describe practical pistol, which it doesn’t. The best-known and most flexible buzz phrase is contained in the Act itself – ‘danger to public safety or the peace’.
This appears twice in the 1968 Act; it’s the sole ground for refusing (or revoking) a shot gun certificate and registration as a firearms dealer. Its meaning depends on where you live; Essex Police revoked a re-enactor’s certificate last year because he did not have a GP. Once he had corrected that defect, the word was that as his card was marked it was unlikely that a new certificate would be granted, so ‘danger to public safety or the peace’ in Essex means not having a GP. This chap’s firearms were just the props he uses in living history displays,
The phrase gets to the High Court from time to time: a non-violent crime isn’t, according to the Spencer-Stewart case in 1988, nor is a firearms conviction; so said the High Court in 2002’s case of Shepherd v Chief Constable of Devon and Cornwall.
Two drink drive convictions in a ten year period is, according to an Essex case, as is leaving a gun cabinet key with one’s aged mother so that the police can double-check that serial numbers on the guns match what was printed on the previous certificate and written on the application form.
Residents who don’t have certificates having access to the guns was visited in the Devon and Cornwall case of Dabek when her co-habitee applied for a shot gun certificate. He was turned down and her certificate revoked when the police realized that she had guns at that address. This was before the ‘security’ condition appeared on shot gun certificates in 1989, although now all certificates have that, the police can still be sniffy about any unauthorized persons you live with.
Recently revised Home Office guidance to police also goes the other way, so household members are expected to approve of your application.
A recent case in the north of England resulted in a confrontation between a certificate holder’s wife and a representative of the area’s thin blue line, which went exceptionally badly because the police representative used notes relating to another case for the meeting.
In the current ‘anything goes’ climate, what the police use as evidence at firearms appeals seems supportive of the view that winning the appeal is more important to them than observing the rule of law. Readers of the SRA’s journal will be familiar with what happened to Kevin Hunter. A prosecution failed as he had an alibi for the time of the incident; he wasn’t there. At the appeal, police suggested that the incident must have happened on a different date. At the more recent appeal, the police side started off with the view that they agreed with everything their colleagues did six years earlier, only to soften their approach to seeking the court’s permission to consider new applications when they realized what a mess the previous case had actually been.
At an appeal last year for registration as a firearms dealer, the police opened their case by saying that their refusal was a matter of preventative justice. Er, isn’t the only ground for refusal danger to public safety or the peace? The appellant has no convictions, so the only thing the refusal prevented was lawful trading, but never mind the fact that restraining lawful trade is an offence at common law.
It gets better, or worse; but as it’s an on-going matter and it remains to be seen how much longer the police can drag it on before they are cornered. We’ll know when they are cornered, of course, because they will either issue the documents applied for, or, as so often seems to happen, they’ll turn to crime.
With their annual conference in progress, a police federation spokesperson expressed concerns about the increased number of firearms officers being able to reach remote, rural and coastal locations quickly enough to do something about a terrorist attack. Those already there, but unarmed would be ‘sitting ducks’. This was their opening gambit in a bid to get TAZER devices authorised for all suitably trained officers, despite the obvious failings of that device as a police tool.
Home Secretary Theresa May’s speech to the federation concentrated on her concerns about their accounts, their Hillsborough legacy and victims of domestic violence being let down, while not commenting in detail about the four senior reps arrested earlier this year over ‘potentially criminal misuse of Federation funds’: or the federation’s involvement in ‘Plebgate’.
The number of firearms officers has been in decline since the handgun ban in 1997. Competence with smallarms is a skill that has to be practiced regularly, which costs time away from other duties, as well as the travel, subsistence, ammunition etc. Firearms-trained officers who used to practice on their own time with their own kit have not been able to do so since 1997 became reluctant to carry arms. As one officer put it, “how good a driver would you be, if you only got two hours behind the wheel four times a year?”
Having TAZERS did Manchester officers Nicola Hughes and Fiona Bone no good in 2012 when called to an emergency that turned out to be an ambush in which they were both killed. Whether being armed would have saved PC Roger Brereton in Hungerford in 1987 or not is unclear: action beats reaction, so the outcome had he been armed would have turned on his preparedness for what to do in the ‘shots fired’ call he attended.
A fallen officer’s equipment can be taken and used by the suspect: it’s a worry in American policing that led to safety holsters and proximity devices. More recently, the new generation of smart guns that have to be programmed to an
Contd inside back cover
authorised user. All these safety systems are geared to making the firearm unusable by a third party, so once the officer is down or disarmed, his individual weapons are out of the fight. Massad F Ayoob said, on his first UK training course in 1988, that half the American policemen killed on duty were shot with their own service arms.
Improved training and ballistic vests started to improve matters and smart guns are a continuation of resolving that issue. The UK’s problem is that the police federation are flagging up a real concern about being sent in as a reaction force to deal with a terrorist attack. Part of the problem is whether it’s their job or not. The Geneva convention regards policemen as civilians and as such they are not allowed to engage enemy forces, nor can they carry arms in occupied territory.
This is why the Irish Republican Army, in all its forms, was never dignified as an army by the British Government. Wearing uniforms for the
Easter uprising in 1916 did not get them belligerent status, so many were shot after capture. Quashing that rebellion amounted to internal repression, there being no entity that could declare war.
The position was somewhat different after Britain declared war on Germany in 1939. The Metropolitan Police Commissioner’s view in 1940, as expressed to the war cabinet was “…no shortage of personnel who could be armed, the police should be kept for civil police work, of which there would be plenty, while the available arms were issued to other personnel.”
Three days later, the call to arms went out for men to join the Local Defence Force (LDV), which became the Home Guard.
Prime Minister Churchill had a London-centric view of policing and still saw them as a viable armed force, who were already guarding vulnerable and key positions. While it was clear that the police had no role in fighting an invasion force, the more likely problem for everyone was saboteurs.
The cabinet’s view in September 1940 was that “…isolated parties who do not form part of an occupying force and whose object is, or must be assumed to be, to attack civilians, destroy property and cause confusion and devastation, neither the police nor civilians are debarred, either by international law or domestic law, from resisting and, if possible, destroying the enemy.”
That neatly summarizes the Common Law as it was then and still is now. The problem is that successive governments have painted the public out of the equation.
Self loading rifles went from the rifle club scene, followed by charitable status – originally granted for maintaining preparation for war – then pistols went. What’s left is the Common Law obligation to deal with saboteurs and terrorists and only the police available to carry it out.
The Queen’s Speech (18th May) foretold a new consultation about replacing the Human Rights Act with a new bill of rights that will take account of Britain’s common law tradition. The government has been avoiding that thus far by ignoring it. The Home Secretary favours ruling the European Court out of domestic affairs.