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Such a Deal! -- British Gun Licensing Exposed  by John B. Godwin

Such a Deal!
British Gun Licensing Exposed

by John B. Godwin

The next time you hear someone say, "we need to license handguns, just as we license cars," you should ask a few pointed questions. What is the goal of licensing? How will it reduce crime? What will it cost?

If you as a gun owner fear that licensing is the first step toward eventual confiscation, you need only look to Great Britain to confirm those fears.

From an innocuous beginning with the "Gun Control Act of 1870" (a simple revenue measure), the "Pistol Act of 1903" followed restricting the sale of pistols to minors and felons plus requiring records of all pistol sales.  (Does this sound familiar?)  Then in 1920, based on the classified "Blackwell Report" which remained classified for fifty years, the 1920 Firearms act really instituted draconian measures on gun ownership. Passed in fear of a possible Bolshevik revolution in Britain, it was passed off as an anti-crime measure. British firearm laws climaxed with the 1997 amending of Section 28 of the "Firearms Act of 1968" outlawing private ownership of pistols. First to go were center-fire pistols by the outgoing Conservative government. Not wanting to be outdone in protecting the populace from themselves, the incoming labor government outlawed all pistols.  (Only the .22 caliber rimfire pistols were left.)

From a license fee of 10 shillings, (a princely sum even for 1870), legislation evolved into government confiscation of all pistols by 1997. Parliament wiped out several centuries of firearms' ownership, history and tradition with almost no public debate. This was in the hysterical aftermath of the Dunblane Scotland murders. As part of the 1997 amendments, the Home Office established the Firearms Compensation Scheme (FCS) for reimbursement of the confiscated private property of its citizens. Wielding the power of monopoly pricing that would have made the robber barons of old green with envy, the government offered three options of reimbursement.

The first was a flat fee per pistol:

  • Center-fire pistols, 150 pounds sterling ($235 US)
  • .22 caliber pistols, 100 pounds sterling ($157 US)

The second scheme for those not satisfied with the flat rate schedule, was an official government (FCS) price list. Of course it did not have all pistols on it. Lack of expertise was apparent in the pricing. Shooters were not consulted.

A third option remained for the last free market malcontents. Dealer valuation less 25%. The government refused to pay full retail.

Many former pistol owners had the audacity to seek reimbursement for their ancillary accessories such as holsters and reloading equipment. Compensation seemed to depend more upon the mood of the clerk processing your claim rather than any merit. Some were paid, and some were not. Suddenly their hundreds of dollars worth of accessories turned into junk. High-priced junk, but junk nonetheless.

Cost to Her Majesty's subjects? Initially estimated to be 24 million pounds (for 187,000 registered pistols), the last official statement was at 168 million pounds ($263,000,000 US, plus or minus some change depending on the exchange rate). This does not include the cost of the ongoing litigation in European Courts. Some claimants waited for over a year for payment, with one gun dealer reportedly committing suicide out of despair. Apparently his creditors were not moved by the governmental action for the common good.

The police could not account for over 25,000 registered handguns due to record keeping errors and many weapons being taken out of service for various reasons. Today, all pistols in the United Kingdom have been accounted for.

Today in Britain, to purchase a rifle or shotgun, the individual:

  • Must be deemed "fit to be entrusted"
  • Pay a 56-pound sterling FEE ($88 US +-)
  • Grant police access to his or her medical records
  • Provide two references "of good character" who also will allow their personal information to be stored on police computers.
  • Provide the storage location of your firearms
  • List the maximum amount of ammunition you have on hand by caliber
  • List the maximum amount of ammunition you plan to purchase by caliber

Those are just some of the requirements for firearms sport in Great Britain. While no license is currently required, just to be safe there are laws for even BB guns. International pistol competition shooters must now travel outside their homeland to practice their sport. They must also store their sporting equipment outside of their own country.

The crime situation has changed dramatically. Fatal shootings in London doubled between 1998 and 1999. Armed crime is up 10%. A Briton is twice as likely to be burglarized as an American. According to the 16 January 2000, Sunday Times, there are an estimated 3 million illegal firearms in circulation in the country. Pistols on the black market cost 200 pounds sterling, and submachine guns are readily available.

I really look forward to pistol registration in the United States.

John B. Godwin

Every attempt has been made to be accurate in this article. Any errors are those of the author solely.

Sources for above material:

  • Exchange rate based on 4 March 2000 Post and Courier of $1.57 to 1 pound sterling
  • NRA Fact sheet 3/2/00 licensing
  • U.S. Dept. of Justice October 1998 NCJ 169284 "Crime and Justice in the United States and in England and Wales. Available world wide web
  • Firearms Compensation Scheme  Sunday Times 16 January 2000
  • Note, should be required reading for any American who thinks the Second Admendment is just about duck hunting.

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If you have always believed that everyone should play by the same rules and be judged by the same standards, that would have gotten you labeled a radical 50 years ago, a liberal 25 years ago, and a racist today. —THOMAS SOWELL

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