Bringing the law on firearms up to date

In a report published today, we make recommendations to solve pressing problems that undermine the effectiveness of the law governing the acquisition and possession of firearms. The existing law is confused, unclear and difficult to apply. There are over 30 pieces of overlapping legislation, some of the key terminology – such as “lethal”, “component part” and “antique” – is not clearly defined, and the law has fallen out of step with developments in technology.

The aims of these recommendations are:

  • to make the law clearer and easier to use for investigators, prosecutors and those who legitimately use and own firearms, and
  • to ensure the law takes account of the technological developments that have taken place since the Firearms Acts were enacted.

Following extensive public consultation with police and prosecutors, in addition to groups representing the licensed firearms community, the Commission makes three recommendations in its report to clarify definitions:

  • There should be single, simple test to determine whether a weapon is lethal, based upon the kinetic energy at which it discharges a projectile.
  • What constitutes a “component part” of a firearm should be set out in a statutory list and the Secretary of State be given the power to update the list.
  • Whether a firearm is antique should be determined by whether it uses an obsolete cartridge type or firing mechanism contained on an statutory list. Only those old firearms that no longer pose a realistic danger to the public should be on the list.

The Law Commission also makes a number of recommendations that seek to ensure the law reflects technological developments and the increased availability of the tools that can be used to convert imitation firearms into live firearms.

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

“The failures in the existing law are causing considerable difficulties for investigators and prosecutors, as well as the licensed firearms community. The responses we received to our consultation confirmed that these problems are not merely theoretical, but cause difficulties in practice. The purpose of our recommendations for reform is to provide immediate solutions to the most pressing problems in firearms law, bringing clarity for those who own and use firearms, and those who investigate and prosecute their misuse.

“We remain of the view that the entire legislative landscape requires fundamental reform and should be codified. In fact, there was overwhelming support for such an exercise and consultees have left us in no doubt that the current law is in need of an overhaul.”