Legislative Update, 4th Quarter September – December 2022
Legislative Update, 4th Quarter September – December 2022
Legislative and Home Office
New Ministerial appointment: As part of a Government reshuffle, Chris Philp MP was appointed as Minister for Policing, with responsibility for firearms licensing matters. Among his first actions was to give evidence to the Scottish Affairs Committee on firearms licensing.
Firearms Safety: Following publication of the Government’s response to the consultation on Firearms Safety, the Home Office drafted a Statutory Instrument which would give effect to the decision to impose ‘level 3’ security requirements on High Muzzle Energy rifles. The draft was shared by Home Office officials with the Secretary who, in consultation with FCSA, proposed changes, in particular a transition period which would allow certificate holders time to upgrade their security, and time for FEOs to visit holders of HME rifles. The final SI, which was laid early in 2023, contained a transition period of 6 months as requested by BSSC.
Scottish Affairs Committee: The House of Commons Scottish Affairs Committee held an inquiry into firearms licensing following the fatal shootings on the Isle of Skye and in Wester Ross on August 10, 2022. Following a call for evidence by the Committee, BSSC prepared a submission which noted that, while the Firearms Act 1968 applied across the whole of Great Britain, there remained wide inconsistency between police forces in implementing the licensing of firearms, though it noted the high efficiency levels of Police Scotland. BSSC supported the rollout of mandatory medical checks on applicants, and called for a statutory duty on GPs to place the firearms marker on patient notes. It commended the mental health initiative by Police Scotland and the Scottish shooting associations and called for it to be extended across the whole of Great Britain.
Sound Moderators: The BSSC Secretary prepared a paper proposing deregulation of sound moderators which was presented to the BSSC Practitioners Group. The paper described the technical aspects of sound moderators and the rationale for their use to protect the hearing of shooters and to reduce noise disturbance in the countryside. It dismissed suspicion engendered by misrepresentation of moderators in films and on TV, it noted the anomalies which existed in the legislation surrounding the use of moderators on sub-12 ft lb air rifles, the fact that they are not required to bear identification marks, that they have not been recorded as contributing to criminality and that they present no threat to public safety. At the Practitioners Group meeting there was full support for deregulation from the police representatives, and the BSSC Chairman subsequently approached the Minister on the matter. The Minister wrote to the Chairman with the welcome news that “on the assumption that removing sound moderators from certificate control would be supported by both the police and the shooting community, we are minded to do so when a suitable legislative opportunity arises.” A suitable legislative opportunity is awaited.
Home Office review of Approved Club Liaison Officers: Discussion over the role of Home Office Approved Club police liaison officers proceeded with a meeting between the BSSC Secretary, NRA and NSRA, following which the Home Office was sent a note of what the shooting associations felt the role of a Police Liaison Officer should be. This was discussed at a further meeting with police and Home Office officials and a paper on the Role and Responsibilities of Gun Club Liaison Officers was prepared by the Home Office, for further consideration.
Non-Statutory Guidance: A revised edition of the non-statutory Guide to Chief Officers of Police for firearms licensing was issued by the Home Office and circulated to BSSC Council members. Updated guidance included new advice on UK Athletics licenced race starters. Guidance on the exemption under section 11(6) relating to organised clay pigeon shoots was re-inserted as requested by BSSC member associations, and new guidance on ‘remote’ sales by registered firearms dealers was inserted following discussions at BSSC Practitioners Group meetings between police, the Association of Professional Shooting Instructors (APSI) and the Gun Trade Association (GTA).
Firearms Fees Review: The review of firearms fees proceeded slowly and an anticipated meeting of the Fees Review group was cancelled by the Home Office. Data collected electronically that had been provided to police licensing staff in the forces taking part in the data collection exercise had highlighted problems and significant inconsistencies, and it was decided to go back to forces to collect a new set of data by means of a proforma to be completed over a fixed period of time.
Trophy hunting: A Private Members Bill was accepted by the Government at Second Reading as constituting a Conservative manifesto commitment. There was very significant support, including on the government benches, and the chances of defeating the Bill are expected to be limited. Sir Bill Wiggin made a very good speech and covered his and the broader view that the Bill is not, in fact, just dealing with “rare and endangered” species, and as such goes beyond the manifesto commitment. As to whether this argument is going to make much headway is yet to be seen. In any case whatever may be passed it needs significant amendment.
Deactivation: A paper was presented to Council by Deactivated Weapons Association (DWA) calling for an amendment of the 1988 Firearms (Amendment) Act, S8A, to exclude from the definition of a ‘defectively deactivated firearm’ not only those deactivated to an EU specification, but also those deactivated to an official UK standard from 1988 to 2016. Following support for the proposal at the Practitioners Group, the Chairman took the paper to the Minister who responded favourably but cautiously, noting the current passage of the EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill which included sunset clauses on retained EU law.
Criminal Use of Firearms Prevent Board: A meeting of the National Crime Agency’s Prevent Board was held on October 19 and attended by the Secretary and other BSSC member associations. The meeting considered the Criminal Use of Firearms threat assessment by NABIS, discussed novel firearms systems including 3D printed firearms and parts, and considered a ‘deep dive’ assessment of shotgun thefts to explore the circumstances in which particular thefts had been carried out.
Practitioners Group: A meeting of the BSSC Practitioners Group was held on November 22. The meeting welcomed both the Head of the Home Office Firearms Unit Nick Hunt and NPCC FELWG lead, CC Debbie Tedds. The Home Office provided updates on the Fees Working Group and both the Statutory and non-Statutory Guidance to Chief Officers. It was noted that the rollout of the encoded medical marker in England had been a partial success: two software firms supplying GP surgeries had launched the rollout in July; one had been successful and one had not, and the work had to be stopped. The software problems were being worked through and there would be a relaunch in January. The Home Office said that they were working on an upgrade of NFLMS and it was hoped that a new system could be delivered in 2024. CC Debbie Tedds introduced herself to the group and outlined the structure of NPCC. She recognised the need for greater consistency in licencing between forces but felt that the foundations were not yet in place to deliver the service she wanted to achieve. The APP was out of date and needed refreshing. If there was not a guide or template, then HMIC had nothing to inspect against. She was therefore working with the College of Policing to deliver this, and a new APP would be coming forward for consultation in January 2023. She said that shooters should know what to expect from their licensing department and she was therefore also currently working on force performance data. There were discussions on sound moderators, the recording of the ‘theft’ and ‘loss’ of firearms – many ‘losses’ being simply administrative losses within NFLMS – deactivation and explosives regulations.
Thames Valley stakeholders group: I visited the TVP firearms licensing unit in Witney on October 4 to meet licensing staff and FEOs, along with the BSSC Secretary and other representatives from the national shooting associations.
Hampshire police stakeholders group: I attended a Teams meeting of the Hampshire stakeholders group on October 11. The BSSC Secretary and some other members were present. There was discussion about the significant backlog which had built up during the Covid period and the internal resourcing challenges which had thus far failed to fully address it. Renewals were being prioritised but there was also a significant increase in demand for grants, in which occupational/vocational requirements were being prioritised. Staffing was being increased by 9%. Online applications now amounted to 90% of work, with 10% still being submitted on paper.
Metropolitan Police stakeholder group: I attended a meeting of the MPS stakeholder group on October 24 together with the BSSC Secretary and other members. It was noted that there had been a small decrease in the number of FACs (0.05%) and a significant decrease in SGCs (13%). It was suggested that some of those who had previously undeclared medical issues were no longer renewing. In contrast, 700 grants had been processed over the previous 12 months and 95% of renewals were completed prior to expiry. The licensing staff were proposing a short renewal to level out the ‘bulge’ in shotgun renewal applications.
Irregular actions by firearms licensing departments: The HBSA and BSSC Secretary had discussions with NPCC FELWG staff officer Adrian Davis over irregular and unusual actions by licensing teams. Cheshire Police had asked home loaders to enter on their own FACs the calibre, type and quantity of ammunition assembled. South Wales police had decided to prosecute the treasurer of a Home Office Approved Club for buying a firearm without authority where the treasurer had written the cheque, but the club FAC was in the club secretary’s name. The importance of training and consistency were emphasised.
UK REACH: A great deal of time was taken up with the drafting and finalising of the formal written responses to the HSE Annex XV Restriction Dossier on lead in ammunition, and HBSA, the BSSC Secretary, and other members, met HSE and Environment Agency staff in various meetings to voice concerns and develop proposals. A detailed 15 page response was finally prepared and approved by BSSC Council. HBSA, MLAGB, and others prepared and submitted detailed responses.
On hunting with shotguns, BSSC supported the principle of a transition to non-lead ammunition for live quarry shotgun shooting in shot sizes and loads which are normally used by live quarry shooters, but at a timescale which could be delivered by the gun and ammunition trade without unnecessary disruption to the sport of game shooting. In the case of large calibre centrefire (6.5mm and greater) rifles used for hunting, BSSC accepted a restriction on the sale or purchase of lead-based expanding ammunition after the conclusion of a suitable transition period. It was proposed that any transition for smaller calibres remained open to review until there was certainty that a range of suitable ammunition which was fit for purpose was available. BSSC did not believe that a restriction on the use of rimfire ammunition for target shooting was proportionate or necessary. Likewise BSSC did not believe that a restriction on the use of airgun ammunition for either hunting or target shooting was proportionate or necessary. On clay target shooting, BSSC argued that lead ammunition fired on formally registered and approved clay target grounds did not represent a significant risk to bird life, the environment or human health, and that any restriction of it was disproportionate. Likewise with fullbore target shooting, BSSC argued that Firearm Certificate holders whose rifles were conditioned for target shooting should continue to be permitted to purchase, possess and use lead-based ammunition. HBSA also sought a specific exemption for historic and heritage arms designed to shoot lead and lead based ammunition. Also on shooting grounds, vintage shotguns, along with certain specialist and rare historic firearms such as Paradox type rifled and rifled choke shotguns and muzzle loading shotguns, should continue to be permitted to be used with lead ammunition. For Practical shooting disciplines it was proposed that a Firearm Certificate holder with a shotgun conditioned by the police for participation in practical shooting should be authorised to acquire and possess lead ammunition. BSSC also felt that the transition periods proposed both for shotgun and rifle ammunition used in live quarry shooting were disproportionately short and would not allow the gun and ammunition trade time to develop, manufacture, supply and distribute sufficient stocks of suitable cartridges to enable live quarry shooting to continue without very significant disruption.
FACE: The Secretary attended a meeting of the FACE Firearms Working Group on November 21. The European Commission was revising Regulation 258/2012, which lays down rules governing export authorisation and import and transit measures for firearms, their parts and essential components and ammunition, for the purpose of implementing Article 10 of the United Nations Protocol against the Illicit Manufacturing of and Trafficking in Firearms. The Regulation was amended in 2017 following the terrorist attack on the Bataclan in Paris, but the present revision is driven by technical requirements of the UN treaty. There are a number of key elements, including requirements for transit authorisations, a simplified procedure for the EU Firearms Pass and a simplified procedure for temporary export. A single position on the draft revision has been developed by ESSF, IEACS and FACE, representing sport shooting, industry, and hunting. A new chapter is being included on imports, which contains rules about deactivated firearms, definitions of semi-finished firearms and components, signal and alarm weapons, and rules about museums and collectors. Positive improvements are a new EU electronic licensing system, a requirement that transit cannot be subject to payment of taxes or tariffs and a general authorisation for operators who meet certain criteria.
WFSA conference: The Secretary made arrangements for the WFSA autumn 2023 conference, which is to be held in London, the conference venue being the Leonardo Royal London St Pauls Hotel, with which a contract was signed. Additional arrangements were made with the Farmers Club for a WFSA dinner which BSSC member associations will be welcome to attend.
First Quarter activity
During the first quarter there continues to be much activity in hand which will be reported upon as soon as practical.
Derek Stimpson, 9th March , 2023