The Law Commission has recently published a report urging the government to reform the law relating to possession, ownership and purchase of firearms.
The recommendations contained within the report are designed to ensure that the law enhances public safety and is clearer for the authorities and owners of licensed firearms to interpret.
Currently, key terms such as “lethal”, “component part” and “antique firearm” within the Firearms Act 1968 are undefined, and cause difficulties for the investigative and prosecuting authorities, in addition to members of the licensed firearms community. The commission has recommended that:
- A standard test should establish whether a weapon is “lethal” based on the kinetic energy at which projectiles are discharged.
- A statutory list of what constitutes a "component part" of a firearm, with the power for the Secretary of State to update the list to keep up with firearms development
- A definition of "antique" firearm based on whether the cartridge or firing mechanism is obsolete to ensure that only "those old firearms that no longer pose a realistic danger to the public" are included.
The commission identified that the present law on deactivated firearms does not impose a legal requirement for firearms to be deactivated to an approved standard and had ‘the potential to be exploited by those with criminal intent’. The commission has proposed the introduction of a legal requirement that firearms must be deactivated in an approved manner. If they are not deactivated to that standard, such weapons should continue to be classed as firearms.
The commission also noted that the current law has failed to adapt to the increased availability of specialist tools and equipment that can be used to convert imitation firearms into real firearms. It has proposed a new offence of "possessing an article with the intention of using it unlawfully to convert an imitation firearm into a live one".
The report follows an earlier consultation paper. Based on the responses received the commission believes that the highlighted problems ‘are not theoretical, but cause real difficulty in practice’ and has called on the Government to adopt the proposed reforms.