5/08/2009

Info on confiscation of guns in the UK

This is from Richard Munday, who is undoubtedly the leading expert on gun control in the UK.

Rifles and pistols have been individually registered as such on personal Firearm Certificates in Britain since 1920, and magazine-fed shotguns with a capacity over three shots since 1988. Firearm Certificates, giving individual permission to possess specific serial numbered weapons, are subject to renewal by the police every five years (formerly every three years). At renewal, the police may make individual judgements about which particular firearms an owner will be allowed to retain, on the basis of recorded regularity of use, etc.

When the 1997 ban was implemented, the police had a complete list of every licensed pistol: unless one exported the weapon (and could prove it) or could satisfy the police that one had somehow destroyed it, one had no option but to hand it in. Every holder of licensed pistols received a letter from his local police authority, detailing when and where his registered weapons were to be surrendered. I rather doubt that many copies of those letters are still extant, and I cannot offer other references for what happened because it was simply not a matter for discussion: it was the obvious and inevitable way the system worked.

Shotgun Certificates in Britain are subject to slightly different issue criteria from Firearm Certificates. All legal shotguns have been individually registered by serial number to their owners since 1988; prior to that Shotgun Certificates did not record registration numbers. When the 1988 Act was implemented and magazine-fed shotguns were elevated to the higher Firearm Certificate control level, Colin Greenwood estimated that over the previous ten years some 300,000 such guns had been imported into Britain; only 50,000 were subsequently registered. One may speculate as to how many other single and double barrelled shotguns were not submitted for registration at that date; the confiscation of all licensed fullbore self-loading rifles in that year (on the same basis as that used for pistols in 1997) might have influenced the thinking of some owners.

Interestingly, the Home Office estimated that there were some 8,000-10,000 fullbore SLR's in Britain in 1988 (the licensing system accurately segregated rifles from pistols, but did not specify action type), and the British Shooting Sports Council (which might have wished to stress the likely compensation cost) estimated that there were 20,000 such weapons in circulation. In fact, only 3,548 rifles were recorded as having been handed in. Others may have been deactivated (which would have been subject to police check) or personally exported, or (probably the majority) simply sold to the gun trade for export. The mechanism for the seizure of self-loading rifles should otherwise have been as watertight as it later was for pistols. Reference for the 1988 events may be found in my book Most Armed & Most Free? (Piedmont 1996) p.42.

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