Firearms – making the law more balanced and more effective

The law governing the ownership and use of firearms is complex and difficult to apply. It is spread across a number of pieces of overlapping legislation, creating significant practical difficulties for investigating authorities and prosecutors, and generating uncertainty for the licensed firearms community.

Today the Law Commission is publishing a scoping consultation paper, identifying the most pressing problems in firearms law, making provisional proposals for remedies and asking consultees for their views on the suitability of those remedies.

The current law fails to define some of its key terms. Early consultation with stakeholders suggested that the failure to define “lethal” and “component part” causes considerable difficulties in practice for the police and CPS as well as the licensed firearms community. Our aim in provisionally proposing how these terms ought to be interpreted is to aid clarity, which will benefit everyone who has to deal with the law. It is also hoped that this will mean that enforcement becomes more efficient.

Some areas of firearms law have failed to keep pace with technological developments. For example, the test for determining whether an imitation firearm can be converted into a live firearm originates from 1982. Our aim is to ensure the law reflects the ease with which firearms might be converted in the modern world.

It is clear from meetings we have held with a broad range of stakeholders that the current law is unsatisfactory in a variety of different ways. We have come to the provisional view that there is need for a wholesale reform of firearms legislation, and we ask consultees whether they agree.

Professor David Ormerod QC, Law Commissioner for criminal law, said today: “The law must strike the right balance between protecting the public from firearms misuse and the needs of licensed firearms users. In our scoping consultation we are seeking to identify opportunities in the law to maximise public safety and minimise the risk of potentially lethal weapons falling into the wrong hands.

“The present law on firearms is found in over 30 pieces of legislation. It contains numerous illogicalities and inconsistencies, and can be difficult to use. The Law Commission believes there is a strong case for bringing all firearms legislation under a single Act, to clarify the law, make it easier to use and future-proof it against technological change. We are asking for evidence to support this case from all those who legitimately own and use firearms, and those who investigate and prosecute their criminal use.”

The consultation closes on 21 September.