Handguns are designed to be held in one hand. Following the Dunblane gun massacre on 13TH March 1996 when 16 children and their teacher were killed by a licensed handgun owner, an unprecedented public outcry and campaign resulted in The Firearms (Amendment) Acts 1997 banning handguns with a number of exceptions including antique guns, those held as curiosities and ornaments, muzzle-loading black-power guns, and guns of historic interest.
Although handguns are banned other weapons which look like handguns, such as deactivated handguns, air pistols*, airsoft guns, BB guns, realistic imitation firearms and imitation handguns are not banned. They are cheap, easily accessed and can be bought from UK dealers, online forums, newspapers, magazines and car boot sales, and no background checks are required. See ‘Gun Law’ pages.
IDENTIFICATION It is often impossible to tell without close examination if a gun being brandished during an incident is a banned handgun or a deactivated handgun, an air pistol, airsoft, replica, bb, imitation, toy or paintball gun. Victims of armed crime are traumatised and not surprisingly unable to identify the gun being used to assault them. Media reporting is unreliable and unless guns are fired or recovered and can be authenticated they are categorised as ‘unidentified’. Many press reports which refer to ‘handguns’ are likely to involve deactivated guns, air pistols, airsoft handguns or other non-licensed guns which look like handguns.
1. HANDGUN - FATALITIES
Handguns are responsible for a number of deaths including homicides. The number of handgun fatalities has reduced significantly over the years since handguns were banned.
2. HANDGUNS - VIOLENT CRIME
Handguns and guns which look like handguns are used in violent crimes including armed robbery, domestic violence, sex crimes, drug related incidents, intimidation, threats and drive-by shootings. Victims fear they are about to die and the consequences are traumatic and long lasting. Handguns and guns which look like handguns inflict life changing physical and psychological injuries on victims. Incidents require police investigation, hospital treatment, court costs, and insurance. Victims and families endure pain and suffering, time off work, loss of income and disruption to daily life. Handgun crime is paid for by individuals, the community and the taxpayer.
3. HANDGUNS - CRIMINALS BANNED FROM OWNING GUNS CAN STILL BUY GUNS WHICH LOOK LIKE HANDGUNS
Guns which look like handguns, can still be bought by criminals banned by the courts from possessing guns and those banned from possessing guns by virtue of having served prison sentences. Guns which look like banned handguns can be bought online from international suppliers, UK dealers and private sellers, forums, websites, newspapers and magazines, no background checks are required.
4. HANDGUNS - MENTAL HEALTH, ALCOHOL AND SUBSTANCE ABUSE
Since the 1997 Firearm (Amendment) Acts handguns have become increasingly difficult to access, but guns which look like handguns are still easy to obtain and have been accessed by individuals suffering from mental health issues and those involved in alcohol and drug abuse. They can be bought online from international suppliers, UK dealers and private sellers, forums, websites, newspapers, magazines and at car boot sales, no background checks are required.
5. HANDGUNS - COST TO THE PUBLIC
Crimes involving banned handguns and guns which look like handguns, yet remain available with no background checks, have financial cost implications for society and for individuals in terms of police time, medical care, the judiciary, insurance, local authority services, disruption to commerce, industry and transport. Victims and families endure pain and suffering, time off work, loss of income and disruption to daily life. In cases of animal cruelty farmers, pet owners and animal charities are faced with considerable veterinary costs. Handgun crime is paid for by individuals, the community and the taxpayer.
6. HANDGUNS - ANTIQUES, RE/DEACTIVATED AND CONVERSIONS
The word ‘antique’ is not defined in the Firearms Act 1968, chief officers of police and the courts consider each case on its merits. Handguns which are ‘curiosities or ornaments’ are exempt from certain Sections of the 1968 Firearms Act. De-activation specifications laid down by the Home Office in 1989 have since been revised to ensure that reactivation is impossible, most recently in 2010 following incidents of weapons deactivated to early less rigorous standards being reactivated and used in fatal shootings. The new specifications are not retrospective and deactivated handguns capable of reactivation remain available to anyone over the age of 18, no background checks are required.
7. HANDGUNS – THE OLYMPICS
The UK has failed to win any medals in pistol shooting events at the Olympic Games since 1912. Nevertheless, since the Firearms (Amendment) Acts 1997 and the introduction of the handgun ban special exemptions were made before the UK Olympic and Commonwealth Games to allow a small number of home-based competitors who were entering pistol shooting events to practise in Great Britain. Given the UK’s lack of success there is no justification to extend the exemptions.
Funding for shooting (2013 – 2017) in preparation for the Rio Olympics has been increased to £3,950.888.
See ‘Gun Law’ page.