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Is the Offensive Weapons Bill fit for purpose?

Is the Offensive Weapons Bill fit for purpose?

Alex Tiley | Dods Monitoring

5 min read

Hopefully the Government will reconsider their current path, and use the final stages of the Offensive Weapons Bill to introduce amendments to the legislation that will allow the Bill to have it’s intended effect, says Dods Monitoring's Alex Tiley.

On Monday, Government whips pulled the Offensive Weapons Bill from the order paper, making this the second time that the Report Stage and Third Reading have been bumped by the Government.

While the official line on this was that time wanted to be made for a number of Urgent Questions, the decision to do so, effectively shelving Government legislation twice suggests that more is at work here than meets the eye.

In the previous 2 weeks, 2 New Clauses and Amendments tabled by Sir Geoffrey Clifton Brown have taken off and attracted a current total of 48 signatures from a number of distinguished and well known back bench Conservative MP’s including the ex Brexit Secretary David Davis, and chair of the EFRA Committee, Neil Parish. This amendment has also received support from a number of DUP MP’s, and the Labour benches with Kate Hoey.

The Amendments, if accepted, would introduce a Level 3 Security Measures (3 separate secure safes for component and munition storage) as a requirement for granting a firearms licence to a civillian for a high powered rifle by the police, making it significantly harder for such a firearm to be stolen from a house and thereby fall into the wrong hands.

However, the main issue of note is that by introducing these amendments, it would become part of Government legislation that .50 Cal rifles could not be banned by the Bill, something that a number of figures on both the Home Office and Shadow Home Office team have expressed a will to do.

As arguments made for prohibiting legal gun ownership of these firearms were due to concerns that they could “fall into the wrong hands”, it would seem that the Amendment’s tabled by Sir Geoffrey present a good compromise between the concerns of the police and concerns of law abiding gun owners. This raises the question therefore why Louise Haigh, the Shadow Home Office Minister who was on the Public BIll Committee has been so outspoken and vehemently opposed to these constrictive amendments, accussing Sir Geoffrey on twitter of “high-jacking an important firearms debate.”

Although there has been some speculation that the Offensive Weapons BIll has become a proxy battleground for Brexit, and with Brexiteers flexing their muscle as a warning to the Government, this contention, and the Government’s own fear to push forward with the Bill raises bigger questions over if the Bill, and the provisions within it, can actually be considered fit for purpose.

In the Government White Paper, the Home Office said that it intended to introduce legislation on Offensive Weapons in order to combat the recorded uptick in violent crime. Alongside a number of provisions on bladed items and acid, lawmakers also turned their attention to .50 cal and MARS Action Rifles, and an in effect precautionary principle ban.

However, crunching the statistics for violent crime reveals that these proposed bans would do little to combat the uptick in violent crime, and the use of firearms. According to the Office of National Statistics, consistently over 50% of violent firearms related crime was committed with a handgun, an item already banned in the UK. Rifles, by comparison, have consistently constituted less than 1% of offences, and shotguns under 10%. The proposed ban on these types of rifle therefore appears to only be legislating for less than 1% of firearms related offences, and therefore would not contribute to any significant reduction in violent crime statistics.

What is particularly questionable is that the current version of the Offensive Weapons bill makes no mention to gang crime, or handguns, arguably the two main aggravating factors in violent crime statistics, and so raises the sincere question if any of the proposed legislation on firearms is there even with the intention to combat violent crime. The prevalence of handguns in the statistics, being already banned, also raises serious questions over if prohibiting legal ownership is even effective at all, and if criminals would simply obtain firearms illegally through the black market.

The disingenuous nature of content of the Offensive Weapons Bill on firearms, particularly with the claim from the Home Office that the purpose of the Bill was to assist in tackling violent crime statistics raises serious red flags both from a public policy perspective over if the Bill can be considered fit for purpose, or is rather an attempt to railroad in additional, unnecessary prohibitions.

Given the Home Office’s apparent refusal to legislate coherently on the statistically relevant areas of firearm related crime, reports that the Shadow Home Office team has refused to meet with or listen  to the concerns of law abiding gun owners, and the hostile reaction to Sir Geoffery’s sensible compromising amendments, it really seems that the Offensive Weapons Bill has been developed in a Westminster vacuum. Hopefully the Government will reconsider their current path, and use the final stages of the Bill to introduce amendments to the legislation that will allow the Offensive Weapons Bill to have it’s intended effect.

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