I declare an interest: as set out in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests, I am chairman of the British Shooting Sports Council, the umbrella body for British shooting organisations. I rise to speak to Government amendment 26 on .50 calibre rifles but, on behalf of British sports shooting people, I thank the Government for having listened and acted on this matter, and confirm the BSSC’s wish fully to engage with the Government on getting the law right in this policy area. Having just listened to Karin Smyth talk about air rifles, I hope that the Government will learn from the debate on .50 calibre rifles. I agree that there are issues in respect of air rifles that need attention and clarification, but we should deal in a cautious and proper manner with the 3 million or so owners of such guns.
The proposal in the Bill to ban firearms with a muzzle velocity of more than 13,600 J, including .50 calibre guns, was not, under any interpretation of the facts, going to help the fight against crime. The guns are very expensive, costing around £20,000 each. There are therefore very few in number, with only 150 or so in private hands. They are extremely bulky, heavy at 30 lb and slow to load, with large, hand-loaded ammunition. In fact, one could hardly find a firearm less likely to be used in a crime. They are simply too big. That is probably why they have never been used in a crime in this jurisdiction.
That needs to be considered against the wider perspective of the very small chance of people being murdered with legally owned guns. In 2017, for example, just nine people were killed by someone in legal possession of the murder weapon. That is nine people too many, of course, but it is a very small figure compared with deaths by illegal weapons. There has been a lot of confusing evidence about .50 calibres potentially being used as military-style “materiel destruction” rifles—for instance, by terrorists to shoot car engines. However, that would be possible only when used with armour-piercing or incendiary ammunition, both of which are already barred for civilian use. Not only is there no evidence of such firearms being used for criminal purposes in this jurisdiction, as recognised by the National Crime Agency, but to imply that the provision would make the public any safer from gun crime is, I believe, unrealistic.