Thursday, 28 June 2018

The Offensive Weapons Bill and the reclassification of certain firearms as “prohibited weapons” under section 5 of the Firearms Act 1968

I appreciate that this is naturally an issue of great concern to members of law-abiding shooting communities in Cornwall.

The bill proposes the prohibition of large calibre (0.50) ‘materiel destruction’ rifles and rapid-fire rifles under section 5 of the Firearms Act 1968.

A .50 calibre ‘materiel destruction’ rifle can shoot over a very long range. It was developed for use by the military and is designed to damage equipment such as vehicles. Rapid-fire rifles have a very fast rate of fire, which is greater than a conventional bolt-action rifle.

The Home Office estimates that there are 132 .50 calibre rifles and seven hundred rapid-fire rifles currently held by registered individuals or dealers in the UK. These types of firearms can currently be held on a standard firearms certificate issued under section 1 of the 1968 Act.

There is a risk of these firearms falling into the wrong hands if they are available for civilian use. In the Government summary of the consultation exercise on the bill, a significant number of respondents commented that the “risk to public safety from these weapons was high, and that the police have no suitable body armour to protect themselves against such high-powered rifles, should they fall into criminal or terrorist hands.” I also understand that the Home office is aware of at least one incident in which a .50 calibre rifle was stolen and subsequently recovered.

Rather than reducing the number of current incidents, the proposals are designed to prevent future incidents. Prohibiting ‘material destruction’ and rapid-fire rifles weapons will minimise the likelihood that these weapons could be obtained by terrorists or criminals in future.

Given the recent surge in gun crime in England and Wales (11% rise compared to previous year), I am keen to ensure that we get the balance right between making firearms available for sport and land management purposes, and protecting public interest and safety. Compared to many other developed countries however, the UK should be proud of its record. Gun murder rate in England and Wales is about one for every 1 million people. In the US, by contrast, there are about 160 times as many gun murders in a country that is only six times larger in population than the UK.