Labour minority makes voice heard

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The Independent Online
The five Labour members of the committee were furious with their Tory colleagues' refusal to recommend outlawing most handguns and published their own "minority report".

It called for measures to "dramatically reduce" the number of guns in private hands. The committee noted the possible emergence of a gun culture based on the ready availability of firearms. It also highlighted "the power of the shooting lobby, which is unlikely to accept any serious restrictions".

The minority report said that the private possession of handguns should be banned. The MPs said that although a large proportion of crime involving firearms was committed with illegally held guns, reducing the number in circulation could only improve matters. Calls for partial bans were ruled out as "impracticable".

Exceptions could be made for specific activities and occupations such as RSPCA inspectors, veterinary surgeons, knackermen and starting pistols.

The Labour MPs said that a small number of gun clubs, that could demonstrate that firearms could be kept securely, at a central point, and in such a way that they did not pose a public risk, might be considered as exceptions to the general ban.

Methods of reducing the number of legally held shotguns must be considered, they said, because several deaths had been caused by these weapons recently. Shotgun certificates should no longer be granted to people who lived in towns. Licensing should be considered for all airguns, the Labour MPs said.

THE REPORT'S MAIN RECOMMENDATIONS

The 48-page majority report on firearms refuses to ban handguns on grounds of cost, practicality, and effectiveness. It also rules out other wide ranging measures, opting instead for changes of existing structure and improved police scrutiny.

The six Tory MPs on the Home Affairs Select Committee report Possession of Handguns decided:

n Banning the possession of all guns would be "too far reaching" and "ineffective" as it would not prevent unstable individuals from gaining access to guns illegally. It would also prevent farms, game shooting and clay pigeon shooting.

n A ban on handguns was turned down because it would have "trade, employment and cost implications". Estimates suggest the sales of pistol ammunition and accessories could be worth pounds 17m. Compensation for confiscated handguns might cost pounds 140m.

The Tory members said "panic legislation" should be avoided. They conclude that banning of all guns would bring only "minimal" improvement to public safety.

n They also reject banning all handguns except those used in sports events and single shot models because they doubt it would "make a mass killing any less likely".

n Holding handguns in a centrally stored area, such as a gun dealer or club, was ruled out because the committee did not believed that a "determined criminal would be prevented from using a weapon for criminal purposes".

n Keeping handguns separate from ammunition unless they were on licensed premises was turned down because of "practical difficulties".

n A proposal for restricting the number of handguns an individual can hold was rejected.

n The committee found "significant practical difficulties" with psychiatric testing.

n There should not be a legal requirement upon clubs to pass to the police details of applications which have been rejected.

Positive recommendations included: n GPs should supply medical information about a person applying for a gun certificate and the application form should be checked and signed by the doctor. The British Medical Association has already rejected this proposal.

n A nationwide system for sharing information between police forces should be set up. Names of offenders involved in violence, threats or intimidation should be checked against records of firearm and shotgun certificate holders.

n Two references should be provided. The referees should then be questioned by the police.

n More needs to be done by Customs and Excise to detect and prevent the illegal importation of firearms as this appears to be the main source of weapons.

n Police records should kept about the source of firearms recovered after crime.

n Police should be given a right of entry into all gun clubs.

n Police officers should have the power to revoke firearm certificates on the basis that applicants no longer had good reason for possession.

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