Written by Gareth Martin, 15th November 2023
The Firearms Act 2023 received Royal Assent on 18 September 2023 and introduces a number of regulatory and criminal law changes in England and Wales. With our extensive experience in providing advice and assistance to clients from all walks of life who may find themselves facing criminal and/or regulatory investigation in relation to their use or intended use of guns, we take a look at what the new provisions may mean for you.
When changes to the legislation were first mooted, there was concern amongst the shooting community that even legitimate shooters could be criminalised with regards to possession of ammunition components.
The Government’s intention, however, was not to criminalise responsible shooters, many of who will hold firearms and shotgun certificates in order to pursue their hobbies, sports and even livelihood.
The intention was to tackle criminals who possess ammunition components with the obvious intention to use them for their criminal activities, for example those keeping effectively old-fashioned calibre handguns, with all the components to manufacture ammunition to use with them.
It may come as a surprise to the wider public that until now, although the main components of ammunition, specifically the propellant and primer were already subject to strict controls and criminal sanctions for the unlawful possession of complete ammunition, there was something of a loophole or rather insufficient controls to prevent the unlawful manufacturing of ammunition from the components.
As such the new Act will make it an offence to possess component parts with the intent to manufacture unauthorised quantities of ammunition. It is the inclusion of the word intent which is key to this legislation and the target of it.
The offence will in effect be made out if:
(a)the person has in their possession any component parts of ammunition (bullet, cartridge case, primer, propellant);
(b)the person intends to manufacture ammunition to which section 1 applies using those parts, and
(c)were the person to do so—
(i)possession of the ammunition by the person would constitute an offence under section 1, or
(ii)the manufacture or possession of the ammunition by the person would constitute an offence under section 3.
Anyone convicted of the offence on indictment in the Crown Court may be liable to a term of imprisonment of up to five years and/or a fine, whilst on summary conviction in England and Wales they will be liable to the statutory maximum in the Magistrates’ Court and/or a fine.
As noted, the term intent is an important qualification as it will mean that the Court or jury will not be bound in law to infer that the individual intended or even foresaw the result of their actions because it was a natural and probable consequence rather they will need to decide whether the individual did intend or foresee that result by reference to all the evidence, drawing only such inferences from the evidence as appear proper in all of the circumstances of the case.
All of this should, in any event be considered when the police and/or prosecution are contemplating bringing charges, therefore it will be interesting to watch how this particular section of the new legislation is enforced and against who.
Miniature Rifle Ranges
The new provisions also seek to address concerns raised by the authorities about unsuitable people potentially gaining access to firearms. The concerns stem from an exemption within the existing Firearms Act 1968 which allows a person to run a rifle range or shooting gallery without the need for a firearms certificate, provided only small calibre rifles or air weapons are used. Concerns were also expressed about the fact that members of the public do not need a firearms certificate to shoot at these ranges.
Given that this exemption has been widely used to introduce people to target shooting, the Firearms Safety Consultation sought views on improving controls on miniature rifle ranges whilst retaining the benefits they bring to shooting sports.
There was considerable support for the key proposal which suggested that anyone wishing to operate a miniature rifle range must apply for a firearms certificate and undergo relevant police checks into their background and security.
As such the new Act will require such operators to possess a firearms certificate on the basis that the checks that they will now be the subject of will alleviate any public safety concerns and reduce the risk of unsuitable operators.
Moreover, the new provisions also clearly re-define what constitutes a miniature rifle (a rifle chambered for .22 rim-fire cartridge), meaning there can be no uncertainty as to which miniature rifles or air weapons can be used on site. This is a particularly important point, one might assert, especially given that those who use the ranges will still not necessarily hold their own certificates or have been subject to any suitability checks.
How can Olliers help?
In our experience, the approach taken by Firearms Licensing Departments across the country can be inconsistent and at times incomprehensible. Whilst the new legislation is intended primarily to address discreet concerns around public safety issues, there is always the risk that aspects of it could result in increased and inappropriate investigations and prosecutions by inexperienced, poorly resourced and at times over-zealous licensing departments and prosecutors.
It is, therefore, essential that if you are subject to refusal, revocation or even worse, criminal investigation, you get legal advice and assistance from those who understand the wider issues faced by the shooting fraternity, so please do get in touch.
Our experts have represented many businesses and individuals in both criminal and licensing matters. We are happy to discuss fees on a fixed costs basis or hourly rate and have dealt with many of the main legal expenses insurers, if you need us to speak to them on your behalf.
Please contact us on 0161 8341515 (Manchester) or 020 3883 6790 (London) or email firstname.lastname@example.org to arrange representation.