Wednesday, 3 May 2017

A NUMBER OF AMENDMENTS TO FIREARMS LAW HAVE BEEN MADE BY THE POLICING AND CRIME BILL.

A number of amendments to Firearms law have been made by the Policing and Crime Bill. Three of the key changes are explained below.

Authorised Lending and Possession of Firearms (section 132)

What is the aim of the amendment?
The amendment removes the uncertainty in the existing law as to who is an ‘occupier’ of premises for the purpose of lending a shotgun or rifle on that land.

What was the previous legislation?
The law previously allowed a person who was not a certificate holder to borrow a shotgun or rifle from the occupier of private premises (including land) and use it on those premises in the occupier’s presence. In the case of a rifle the law also authorised use of the rifle in the presence of the occupier’s “servant” who must hold a certificate for that rifle. Only a person aged 17 or over may have borrowed a rifle.

What has the amendment changed?
The amendment clarifies the law and provides legal certainty. The law will now allow a person, without holding a certificate, to borrow a shotgun or rifle on private premises and use that firearm in the presence of the lender or other person authorised in writing. Only a person aged 17 or over may borrow a rifle.

The new clause makes clear that the person lending the firearm must be a certificate holder aged 18 or over and can be either a person who has the right to allow others to enter the premises for the purpose of hunting animals or shooting game or vermin, or is a person authorised by them in writing.
Where a rifle is borrowed it must be used in the presence of the lender or if not the person lending then a person aged 18 or over who holds a firearm certificate in respect of the rifle borrowed. The person in whose presence the rifle is used must also, if not the lender, be a person who has the right to allow others to enter the premises for the purposes of hunting animals or shooting game or vermin, ie. he must have similar qualifications to a person who is given the ability to lend.
Where a shotgun is borrowed it must be used in the presence of the lender or if not the person lending then a person over 18 who holds a shotgun certificate and who is authorised by a person who has the right to allow others to enter the premises for the purpose of hunting animals or shooting game or vermin.

The amendment will not restrict the use to which a shotgun or rifle may be put when it is borrowed on private premises. Thus a shotgun may be used to shoot live quarry such as game or wildfowl, or for pest control or clay shooting. A rifle may be used for hunting animals or for pest control or it may be fired at artificial targets. The use of a rifle must, as at present, comply with any conditions on the certificate held in respect of that rifle.

It should be noted that a person who is authorised to lend a gun or to be present when it is being used, must be authorised ‘in writing’. It is expected that this term will be clarified in Home Office guidance. The Firearms (Electronic Communications) Order 2011 currently allows notification by email for certain purposes in connection with the Firearms Act.

Who will this help?
Previously the law did not define occupier, and the Courts had never defined the term. As such there was uncertainty as to who could lend a shotgun in many situations and many legitimate shooters were prevented from lending a gun to a friend or family member on private land because, while they might have been a member of a shooting syndicate or club, or otherwise have lawful authority to shoot over land, they were not considered the ‘occupier’.

Young people who were being taught to shoot were, previously, often obliged to hold a shotgun certificate because they were unable, lawfully, to borrow a shotgun on land where they were being coached by a parent or other adult.

The shooting world has changed considerably since the Firearms Act 1968 was enacted and nowadays more shooting is done on a syndicate (sometimes even a roaming syndicate) basis, where there is an increasing distance between the landowner or the holder of the shooting rights and those shooting on the day. This law helps the whole shooting community whether they are shooting game or targets, and marks a significant clarification of firearms legislation.

The change in the law will also assist the police as one of the unintended consequences of the previous law is the need to apply for shotgun certificates for children and young people so they could shoot under supervision when borrowing a gun from someone who was not the ‘occupier’. This is no longer necessary.

Extension of Firearms Certificates (section 133)

What is the aim of the amendment?
The amendment allows a person to continue to possess firearms lawfully, for a limited period of 8 weeks following the expiry of a firearm and/or shot gun certificate, so long as the application to renew had been submitted to the police 8 weeks before the expiry date.
 What was the previous legislation?

Previously, if the applicant’s certificate ran out before the firearms licensing team had had time to renew it then the applicant was in unlawful possession. In order to remedy this, he must have either transferred his guns to another lawful holder or to a Registered Firearms Dealer. Alternatively, where the delay in renewal was down to the police firearms licensing team, the police must have issued a Section 7 Temporary Permit to ensure that his possession of firearms remained lawful. However, the applicant would still have to have transferred all Section 5 items to a Section 5 Dealer or hand them over to the police for storage, as Section 5 items cannot be held on a Temporary Permit.
What has the amendment changed?

This legislation gives the police an eight week window to complete the renewal and avoid the administrative burden of issuing a Section 7 Temporary Permit.

Who will this help?
Many people depend on their firearms for their livelihood, and the inability to use their shotguns and firearms lawfully would undermine their ability to carry out the functions of their job. Although in theory the firearms licensing team should be completing all renewals before the applicant’s existing certificate has expired, that is unfortunately not the case in practice. It is not uncommon for a renewal to take several months in some police force areas. This amendment would assist the police and firearms users and reduce the reliance of the police on Section 7 Temporary Permits
Temporary Permits were originally intended to deal with cases in which the executor of an estate needed to dispose of firearms that belonged to a deceased person. They were not meant for coping with a backlog in renewals of either shotgun or firearm certificates, but this is how they are now being used by many police forces.

It should also be noted that some of the police forces inspected by HMIC failed to issue Section 7 Temporary Permits to individuals whose certificates had expired, placing these individuals in an illegal situation through no fault of their own.

Controls on Ammunition which Expands on Impact (section 131)

What is the aim of the amendment?
The amendment removes the prohibition on expanding ammunition introduced by the 1997 Firearms (Amendment) Act. Expanding ammunition would therefore revert to Section 1 of the 1968 Act. Until 1992 no-one perceived expanding ammunition as a problem, but its status was changed in the Firearms (Amendment) Regulations 1992, which appears to have arisen from a misunderstanding of the EU Weapons Directive 91/477/EEC of the 18 June 1991, which prohibited expanding pistol ammunition for certain purposes.

What was the previous legislation?
With expanding ammunition being classified as Section 5, special authority had to be given on a firearm certificate for the possession of expanding ammunition, requiring additional administration by the police. Furthermore, expanding ammunition could not be held on a Section 7 Temporary Permit. As such, where police forces used a Permit in cases where there was a delay in the renewal of a certificate those individuals who needed to use expanding ammunition in the course of their employment or for sporting purposes, could not do so.

What has the amendment changed?
The amendment has moved expanding ammunition back to Section 1 allowing firearm certificate holders to buy/hold/use the ammunition without specific derogation. Expanding ammunition for pistols remains prohibited under EU law.

Who will this help?
This will be of benefit to the over 100,000 people that participate in deer stalking every year and the many others who control pests, who will now be able to obtain their ammunition with greater ease. The amendment simplifies the licensing process, saves resources for the police and also facilitates the movement of such ammunition through the trade. Expanding ammunition is required under the Deer Act 1991 and the Deer (Firearms etc.) (Scotland) Order 1985 in order to shoot deer and is the humane option for pest control and humane dispatch. It is therefore widely possessed, and certificates were rendered more complex by the inclusion of the additional authorities to acquire and possess it. It was illogical to have a type of ammunition banned by one Act and yet required to be used by another.
Furthermore, because the reason for which authority may be granted (“the management of any estate”) refers only to estates in Britain, owners of rifles for use overseas, such as large calibre rifles designed for hunting dangerous game, are currently prohibited from possessing expanding ammunition for their rifles in this country and they may not therefore zero and practice in Britain with their rifles using the ammunition which they will be using overseas. The return of expanding ammunition to section 1 has removed this restriction.


Author and Credit to Jack Knott at Countryside Alliance