A Matter of Trust

The question is posed as to why we bother with a certification system for firearms in the UK. As such this piece must be considered entirely from a UK perspective and is an appraisal of the certification system. Why do we have one? A question that is easily answered, we have one purely for political reasons. The current manifestation of the certification system is the unwarranted and unnecessary desire of Government to instil control over people, their possessions and how they use them hidden behind a mask of protecting public safety. They could not readily sell you control but they can sell you fear.

Historical Note

Ever since the modern firearm as we know them were created Governments sought to control them, they soon realised that the devices that facilitated their political adventures and that provided crucial defence, could also be used to overthrow government. The 1917 revolution in Russia sent alarm bells ringing throughout western nations and gun control became a measure to prevent armed uprising. In a British historical context with the end of the first world war and the effects of the Russian revolution still reverberating across the world, the British government became increasingly worried over the availability of firearms, including those that returning troops were bringing back from the front. The Government of the day was deeply concerned, this concern culminated in the 1920 Firearms Act from which stems every further gun control act to the modern day.

Revisions of firearms legislation and other acts of attrition on civil liberties have resulted in the fragmented, divisive job creation scheme we call the shotgun and firearms certification system currently run by UK police forces.

In more recent times two well-known tragic but significant events in 1987 and 1996, have been ruthlessly exploited by political parties to gain emotionally charged votes. The actually effects of certification has not reduced crime and has served only to categorize firearms depicting certain firearms as more dangerous than others, however when firearms are used with safe best practice, we know a firearm is no more dangerous than any other inanimate object.

Certification is there to filter out the undesirable elements of our society. Those who law abiding citizens would consider pose a genuine threat to public safety, such as those who have shown themselves to be criminals or are unsound of mind. Having made an application to hold firearms of any description and the authorities having determined that you, the applicant are accepted as being of sound mind and good character that should be the end of the process and certification should be yours by right unless good reason can be shown why issuing the certificate is not appropriate. There should also be an appeals procedure available where certificate issue is declined.

The overt control on what a certificate holder can own and use, and where and when it can be used should not be mandated but remain the sole responsibility of the holder. Time and time again self-regulation and best practice are shown to be more effective than intrusive government regulation.

You have been deemed acceptable to hold firearms, if you then choose to misuse them, are neglectful, or operate outside the law, that law is sufficient to the purpose of punishing you. This is in line with the principle of detection and prosecution after the fact the same as for committing other offences. It really does seem to be the case that the rules regarding firearms are there to support the premise that because it was originally designed for the dispatch of opposing armies it has evolved into a sentient being with a degree of autonomy and the principle of guilty until proven innocent should apply?

I particularly like a poster I saw once where someone placed a firearm in a wheelchair on their veranda, left it there all day and then professed surprise it had not got up by itself and run amok indiscriminately killing. It ended with the firearm being accused of being the laziest in the world. As stupid as the last part may seem there appear to be those in society and authority who believe autonomous firearms are abound. We know it’s nonsense, they know it’s nonsense, and we know they know it’s nonsense yet the hypocrisy persists because it is really about control and mistrust of the populace by Government and its apparatus of state. Of course if you challenge officialdom on this theory the rhetoric is well prepared and exercised, it’s about public safety and interest, it’s about prevention of lawfully owned firearms falling into the hands of criminals, yawn!

There is not too much to ponder regarding the criminal elements and their activities. It is very simple, if you have a history of violent offences, or threatening behaviour you perhaps have an issue with self-control, or a drug or alcohol problem so the criteria that are in place already determining when an offence, having been committed, prosecuted and sentenced, is spent are probably not far from right, and for repeat offenders well sorry, you made your choices live with the consequences. Professional criminals are already making their lifestyle choices so little the authorities do or say is likely to have much effect, authority can only ever be reactive and until the state decides to become completely totalitarian that situation will remain.

It seems entirely reasonable that if the medical profession are to be provided with influence over the grant or revocation of a firearms certificate then they should be able to provide assurances that the decision making process is fair, objective and allows appeal. After the review of firearms following the 2010 incident involving Derek Bird the esteemed Medical Profession were reluctant to be the arbiter of choice and the whole matter was back in the hands of the uninitiated and the bean counters.

During the review after 2010 there was a Home Office acknowledgement that the system was broken and that a review of legislation, guidance and process was long overdue. It duly concluded that it had no intention of carrying out reviews anytime soon, it seems confusion reigns supreme and the status quo is desirable?

So in summary of the above, if the individual is of sound mind and proven good character the issuing of firearms certifications should be a right not a privilege. It should be for authority to present good reason why not, not the applicant to justify why and having been issued with certification what that holder then goes on to own and use is a matter for them not the state.

Wait, we hear the cry. What about the anti-firearms groups and those who think no one should own them or no needs them. The response is very simple and we list it below:

  • Firearms are not dangerous on their own, they need the assistance of a person.
  • To become lethal the person in possession must have intent, or be guilty of gross negligence.
  • I choose to own and use firearms. I have a certificate to permit that.
  • I am not, by default, a threat to anyone or anything.
  • I do not mandate what you say, think, feel or do. Do not try to mandate the same for me.
  • You do not like firearms. Don’t buy one.
  • You do not like people who own firearms. Don’t befriend any.
  • Make your own life choices and allow others to make theirs.
  • Don’t use your misconstrued idea’s to encroach on everyone else’s personal liberty, responsibility and freedom.

What of need? The only thing we need is air, water, food and shelter but the firearms ownership question is not about need. It is about choice, free choice in an alleged free society.

So the assertion is that the system is wrong and is focused on the wrong issue the firearm, and not just the person, so the challenge becomes what could we do about it? One choice would be a complete change of emphasis by authority, concentration on the people not the manufactured goods, the innate fixation of those authorities.

The idea is the following system for managing firearms ownership, which with development, could be fairer and perhaps more acceptable to law abiding firearms owners, more efficient and cost effective. The main difference between what is proposed and what is reality is the method of recording the equipment and retains the premise that in the UK stepping back from any system where authority has information about who owns what is not going to become a reality in our lifetime and it does not really matter if authority knows what we own and use, they know we own cars, a TV, a House, etc. What matters is we, law abiding subjects of this green and pleasant land, must seek permission prior to making our lifestyle choices.

A Proposal

Move to an online system. All that is needed is a fairly simple database, although by the time authority has gold plated it, simple is probably a misnomer?

  • Create a database.
  • Individual user accounts for Manufacturers and Importers. Every firearms made has unique serial number entered into the database at birth and assigned to the maker or importer. Ammunition unique batch identifier and quantity similarly recorded.
  • Firearms departments have an administrator account that updates with any online data entry from any source.
  • Applications for certificates are made online and at the same time a unique user account is established. This unique user account also applies to dealers. Relevant checks are confirmed and authorities issued via database notifications. Any limited documentation can be made available for download and protected against edit.
  • Maker or Importer assigns firearms to Dealer at purchase, Dealer accepts receipt.
  • Individual issued with unique certificate number as now with credit card style certificate issued.
  • Individual purchases firearm from dealer, database updated immediately with purchaser ID on dealer account and Admin account.
  • Individual responsible for updating their user account within 72hrs of purchase to confirm entries as now.
  • Individual sells to Individual and carries out transfer using the same criteria as purchase from dealer.
  • Ammunition purchase is recorded in same manner as firearm purchase.
  • Database issues immediate notification e-mail to administrator at conclusion of each transaction.

The above process removes the need for separate SG/FAC issue. Every firearm and round of ammunition is tracked from manufacture or import to purchase. As now SG shells need not be included.

Authorities have a clear and up to date track of all firearms and ammunition. The database can flag ammunition purchases over a preset database default amount by any one individual if required allowing further investigation.

In conclusion, the narrative above sets out to sow the seeds of an idea that could potentially address the civil liberties, public safety, public interest and personal freedoms of choice that must be considered for there to be an effective but proportionate approach to firearms ownership. It sets out the basis of a plan to establish satisfying the areas of concern but removes the most divisive element of all, the control by the state of the personal choices of individuals.

The above post is also available in a downloadable .pdf version.

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3 responses to “A Matter of Trust

  1. Derek Bernard

    The proposals would be a big step forward, but do not go far enough.

    Registration of firearms and recording ammunition purchases are expensive, error-generating procedures which produce no social benefits of any sort. On the contrary they are strongly anti-social as they help generate and maintain the mindless fear of guns that is, sadly, so common.

    Certification is equally counter-productive. Issuing a Certificate to a non-criminal generates work, paper and cost without benefit. Denying a Certificate to a violent anti-social person is likely to make such a person more anti-social, not less. Furthermore, always remember that there is lots of research that shows that a robber armed with a hammer, baseball bat or knife tends to injure a higher proportion of his victims – and injure them more severely – than a robber armed with a gun.

    Police-approved firearm storage security should be abandoned forthwith. It is costly and intrusive, yet generates no social benefits. It is also widely used as a mechanism to prevent lawful gun ownership.

    Most important of all, the right to self-defence is a fundamental human right. It is wickedly anti-social to deny the most effective means of self-defence – a gun.

  2. An interesting perspective Derek. With respect to the comments about ownership, security and storage, and self defense, each being eminently sensible, it is the ownership issue that may be the most difficult of these three to challenge.

    The accepted position of authority, now and historically has been that control of the item contributes to the public safety. This message, irrespective of the motivation behind it, is the one that has been the mantra of authority and the public have to a very large degree bought into it, of course there are notable exceptions amongst like minded people, but generally it is an accepted practice.

    What the article tries to do is strike a balance between authorities’ perceptions and contrived need, and reality whilst attempting to remove the unfair and divisive restrictions on legitimate owners. It suggests a way that the owner has the freedom to own and use what they wish, the market becoming the regulator, affordability the determinant. Authority does not pre-determine who owns what but it is satisfied in that it has a record of item and ownership, much the same as cars are registered and tracked for the lifespan, but without mandating to the owner what they may own.

    The possible removal of the restriction on ownership, that is type, quantity, etc, would also potentially solve three other issues. That of section 5 classification, the prohibition of automatics and defense issue. On the basis that the person is deemed satisfactory to own and use forearms there is no continued logic in not declassifying S5 as S1. Authority would have a record of the item, its owner and stored location. Security is, or should be mandated as the responsibility of the owner, how it is then exercised and implemented should be for them to determine, not micro managed by authority.

    The ownership, but particularly use of automatics could again be regulated by the market. Given the cost of ammunition in the UK the owner would require deep pockets indeed to be using one regularly?

    The self defense matter almost solves itself. People in the UK have a right of self defense, but short of running away or talking the assailant out of their intention it is practically useless. If an authorised owner can now own handguns the only remaining issue to resolve is not with the firearms law but becomes a criminal justice matter requiring the re-classification of the offensive weapon definitions. You, being authorised to own handguns decide to carry it under your arm, or at the waist, in a holster is a matter for you.

    Certification. Given that all crime is committed by people, that all instability in thought or intention is attributable to people, is it not then reasonable that some attempt is made to filter out those with a disaffection towards society, and fairly but decisively limit their access to items of equipment that are more readily used or adapted to cause harm to others. Does that not create a kind of balance between those who are capable of moral decision making, those with social conscience, those capable of self defense and those who are not?

    Is an unqualified system of no restriction for those of a violent or criminal disposition something that society could tolerate and would that not result in chaos?

  3. To the points raised above, we should it be acceptable for a society, established by coercion and superior force have any authority to disrupt the lives of those who by their own free will don’t wish to be a part of such a society?

    An unqualified system would arguably not be made for those with a violent or criminal disposition, it would be made or exist for everyone, and not be limited to either the criminal class or those deemed suitable by an authoritarian force, but instead by open to everyone equally, although such discussions do tend to wander into the philosophical rather than the practical or even political.

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