§ Mr. Eldon Griffiths
asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether the review of controls over replica firearms, which he announced on 15 June 1981, Official Report, c. 729, has been completed; and if he will make a statement.
§ Mr. Whitelaw
My Department, together with chief officers of police, has re-examined what effective controls could be devised to prevent the misuse of replica firearms. This review, which was carried out in consultation with officials from the other Government Departments involved, has been completed.
I fully share the concern which has been expressed about the use of devices which resemble firearms in the course of crime. The extent of this misuse is difficult to determine—particularly when the weapon is not located by the police—but the figures available show that the percentage of serious offences in which firearms were reported to have been used which were known to involve imitation firearms has been about 2½ per cent. on average each year over the period 1974–80.
A real difficulty about controlling "look alike" firearms is that there are already millions of toys in circulation, many of which resemble actual weapons. Measures to achieve conspicuous dissimilarity could be easily circumvented and, in any event, criminals could still make model guns which under conditions of stress have been shown to be capable of convincing a person who was threatened by one. Moreover, it is already an offence under the Firearms Act 1968 to possess an imitation firearm with intent to commit an indictable offence or to resist or seek to prevent arrest, and such offences carry a maximum penalty of 14 years' imprisonment.
I have concluded that it would be neither desirable nor practicable to bring "look alike" firearms under further control.
By virtue of case law, imitation firearms which are incapable of discharging a missile but are nevertheless capable of being readily converted to fire live ammunition, may fall within the scope of the existing legislation. I regard it as important that such imitations should be subject to the same controls as actual firearms and that the 425W law on this point should be clear. I therefore welcome the initiative of my hon. Friend in promoting a Bill to achieve this; it has the full support of the Government.