Police warning on 'knee jerk' anti-gun laws

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The Independent Online
A national register of firearms should be set up in the wake of the Dunblane massacre, the Labour Party proposed yesterday as part of its anti-guns initiative. Labour confirmed that it would like the law changed to ban anyone aged 18 or younger - possibly with a minimum age of 21 - from owning or using a firearm.

In its submission to Lord Cullen's inquiry into the Dunblane killings, the party also calls for sweeping powers for chief constables to refuse the granting of firearms certificates.

However, on the eve of its annual conference, which will debate an emergency motion on the need for a review of firearms legislation, the Police Federation warned politicians against a knee-jerk reaction over gun control.

Fred Boughton, chairman of the federation, called for careful thought to be given to the terms of new laws. "It seems there is some ya-boo politics going on at the moment between the main political parties. I think this subject is so serious that I would hope some careful thought is given before we embark on legislation."

He stressed that the federation's submission to the inquiry had not yet been finalised but said the two main issues were likely to be the nature and number of weapons held and the suitability of those allowed to keep them. Mr Boughton added that some people held up to 50 weapons in their homes and questioned why anyone should need to keep so many.

Jack Straw, Labour's home affairs spokesman, believes the current system in which individual police forces keep details of gun owners, rather than a central register, is "ludicrous". Labour's submission suggests the establishment of a national database, run by a Firearms Control Board.

At the weekend he called for the outlawing of all pistols and rifles higher than .22 calibre, taking an estimated 200,000 weapons out of circulation. He also wants stricter controls on the 2 million shotguns currently held in the United Kingdom, possibly with the introduction of a higher age limit. Publishing details of the party's full evidence, Mr Straw said yesterday that the public would be astonished that those as young as 14 could legally own a gun.

The submission also calls for a drastic overhaul of the issuing of firearms licences. It argued that "the dice are heavily loaded in favour of the applicant" with the onus on the police to establish a "good reason" for turning down an applicant who can then appeal to the courts. In 1994 of 11,700 people who made an application only 1,120 were refused.