London (CNSNews.com) – Firearms groups in Britain are wary over proposals to bring in even tighter restrictions in a country that already has some of the toughest gun control laws in the world.
One campaign group contends that public attitudes are beginning to change in favor of gun-owners, following terrorist attacks in London this year. In two vehicle-ramming and stabbling attacks, in March and June, terrorists killed civilians before being shot dead by police.
The government’s Home Office announced two consultations last month over possible changes over gun ownership.
The first – part of a broader package to tackle violent crime – would ban the private ownership of .50 caliber and rapid-fire Manually Actuated Release System (MARS) rifles.
The government estimates that fewer than 500 of these types of rifles are in private hands in Britain. Nonetheless, a Home Office impact assessment contends that they would be dangerous if they fall into the hands of criminals or terrorists.
The Home Office says .50 caliber rifles are capable of penetrating police body armor and that
the MARS rifles – which can reportedly fire almost as quickly as a semi-automatic rifle – can cause a high number of casualties in a short amount of time.
The department’s second consultation relates to proposals to extend the definition of what is considered an antique firearm, and therefore subject to looser restrictions.
British police argue that criminals are increasingly trying to obtain older guns, mainly of pre-World War Two vintage, and modify ammunition to fit them.
In 2016, 91 antique firearms were recovered under what law enforcement termed “criminal circumstances.”
One proposed change would prevent any gun manufactured from 1900 onwards from being labeled as an antique.
In announcing the review of antique guns, Police Minister Nick Hurd said Britain needed to remain vigilant against gun crime.
“This country has some of the most robust gun laws anywhere in the world,” Hurd said. “But we must not be complacent, which is why these laws are kept under review.”
The Countryside Alliance, which represents rural gun owners and hunters, said in a recent statement any proposed new laws need to be based on evidence and principle.
The British Association for Shooting and Conservation (BASC) is also demanding that any changes to legislation are proportionate and evidence led.
The Vintage Arms Association charged that the proposed changes will only affect genuine collectors, as criminals don’t obey the law. It pointed out that people who use antique guns in committing crimes can already be convicted and imprisoned.
Firearms UK, a campaigning group that promotes and defends gun ownership and sport, said that to its knowledge, no legally-owned .50 caliber or MARS-type rifle has ever been used in committing a crime in Britain.
Nor have they been stolen from legal owners and then used in a crime, it said.
Firearms UK spokesman Dave Ewing said that no matter which party is in power, the British government has restricted gun ownership year after year.
It was a government led by the Conservative Party that brought in a sweeping handgun ban in the 1990s as well as passed the Firearms Act of 1988, which targeted other types of firearms such as rifles.
Under the left-leaning Labour Party, the handgun ban was extended to cover .22 caliber sporting pistols.
With either party, Ewing said, it was always about control – either as part of a larger agenda or perhaps simply in an effort to look tough on crime.
“If it’s a Labour or a Conservative government, I think the trend will continue,” he said.
Firearms UK, he said, is looking to promote gun ownership through sports and to help get the facts out to a larger public.
Ewing said that he believes British attitudes towards gun ownerships are starting to change and that the terrorist attacks in the capital this year woke people up.
“It’s not legal gun owners that are the problem,” he said. “It’s criminals.”