UK

Firearms laws confused and unclear, Law Commission says

Man pointing rifle Image copyright Thinkstock

Firearms laws in England and Wales are "confused, unclear and difficult to apply", the Law Commission says.

In a report, it highlights "pressing problems" undermining the effectiveness of laws on buying and owning guns.

Its recommendations - designed to make laws "clearer" and ensure they keep up with technology - include creating a new offence of possessing tools to turn imitation firearms into live ones.

The Home Office said it would "carefully consider" the report.

The commission is an independent body which reviews laws in England and Wales and can recommend reforms.

'Simple test'

Commenting on current laws, the commission said: "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 report calls for an "approved standard" on deactivating firearms, to reduce the risk that a weapon can be reactivated.

The commission says tools to convert imitation firearms to live ones are increasingly available, and it proposes a new offence of "possessing an article with the intention of using it unlawfully to convert an imitation firearm into a live one".

To clarify definitions, the commission says there should be:

  • a "single, simple test" to determine whether a weapon is lethal, based on the "kinetic energy at which it discharges a projectile"
  • a statutory list of what constitutes a "component part" of a firearm, with ministers allowed to make additions so the list keeps pace with technology
  • a definition of "antique" firearms based on use of obsolete cartridge types or firing mechanisms. These would be on a statutory list, only containing "those old firearms that no longer pose a realistic danger to the public"

'Fundamental reform'

Prof David Ormerod QC, law commissioner for criminal law, said existing laws were causing "considerable difficulties" for investigators, prosecutors and people involved with licensed firearms.

"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," he said.

"We remain of the view that the entire legislative landscape requires fundamental reform and should be codified."

A Home Office spokesman said: "The UK has some of the toughest gun laws in the world and we are determined to keep it that way."

He added: "We recognise the importance of strengthening legislation to guard against misuse of firearms and will carefully consider the recommendations in the Law Commission's report."

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