To Ken Livingstone, Mayor Of London
Following the announcement that he was
considering a ban on ownership of replica guns in the capital.
Dear Mr Livingstone,
I understand from today's BBC news, and from previous
reports over the last few months, that you're becoming increasingly
concerned with the use of replica guns in the Capital and are currently
considering a complete ban on replicas of all kinds. I understand that you
are interested in hearing the
views of London's populace, and so I have been moved to contribute mine...
A little background - I am 36, in a stable long-term
relationship, and work full-time for a large corporate designing and
managing their computer networks... Possibly not the sort of person you
would expect to have a keen interest in toy guns, but nevertheless I own a
collection of several highly realistic replica guns and a "target range"
in my basement where I greatly enjoy firing plastic BB pellets at empty
I was taught to use real firearms by my school's cadet
force many years ago, and have had an interest in guns since then - but
the ever-tightening legal restrictions on the ownership and use of
firearms in the UK has meant that in practical terms owning the real thing
is just completely out of the question.
Last year, however, I discovered the increasingly
popular sport of "airsoft", which utilises realistic replicas of military
firearms in a sport very similar to paintball - although these airsoft
replicas are considerably less powerful than any paintball weapons (or air
rifles, for that matter), and are widely considered to be completely
harmless - the little BBs weigh only 0.2g, are completely incapable of
penetrating the skin, and even the Home Office categorises them as toys.
Although I don't actually participate in these airsoft
"skirmishes" at present, I am on the fringes of a large, well-organised
community of enthusiasts based around several online discussion and advice
forums, and do consider myself part of the hobby. Unfortunately it seems
that your proposed ban would affect not only the skirmishers, but also
basement target "shooters" such as myself - and it would be a great shame
if all of us were criminalised because of the actions of a completely
unrelated subculture of criminals!
With respect to the use of replicas in gun-related
crime, there seem to be a number of separate issues:
1) The use of non-firing, blank firing, or
pellet-firing "toy" replicas in criminal acts - in other words, someone
pretending that they are in possession of a real firearm in order to
commit a crime. It certainly seems eminently reasonable to treat a crime
committed or attempted with use of a non-lethal replica as if a real gun
had been used - the intent to scare and victimise is much the same, and
therefore the legal response should also be the same.
2) The possession or use of replicas converted to fire
live ammunition. Any replica capable of firing live rounds is completely
equivalent to a firearm, both in practical terms and in the eyes of the
law, and therefore is already covered by the UK's comprehensive firearms
3) Children and teenagers carrying or using toy
replicas in public places - scaring passers-by, possibly resulting in
alerts to the armed police units, and conceivably even resulting in
injuries or deaths when the police consider an armed response is required.
Unfortunately there seems to be no
good solution to this problem - teen and pre-teen boys are famed for
stupid and illegal acts, the armed police are famed for stupid and
unnecessary over-reactions, and this state of affairs seems likely to
continue whatever laws are in place at the time...
Points 1) and 2) are definitely covered by the existing
firearms laws and any further ban simply seems like redundant
over-legislation. Point 3) is caused by the known foolish behaviour of
adolescents, and legislation has never been very successful in addressing
Also with respect to point 2) - the common idea that
replica guns can be converted to fire live ammunition in ten minutes is
completely and totally absurd! However realistic they look, the "£50
replicas" commonly referred to are made of plastic, and any attempt to
convert them to a real gun would be doomed to failure. Even the
considerably less common (and considerably more expensive!) metal replicas
are made of an inferior grade of metal to genuine firearms and could not
possible contain the power of a real bullet. Aside from all that, the
engineering skills required to convert a mechanism intended to fire a 6mm
plastic BB pellet to one that could load, chamber and fire a considerably
larger, heavier and differently shaped live round would be nothing short
of miraculous! I urge you to check this with an independent firearms
expert - perhaps one of London's few remaining licensed gun dealers.
Gun crime has not decreased in spite of successive
restrictions on private ownership of real guns - handguns are completely
illegal, now, but gun crime continues and indeed increases - and it seems
extremely unlikely that a ban on replicas would be any different. The
Yardie gangs and crack dealers
targeted by the Trident unit don't care about the existing legislation,
and I doubt that they'll care any more about your proposed ban... Just as
with all previous gun-control legislation, the only people it will really
affect are enthusiasts such as myself, and once more the incidence of gun
crime will almost certainly remain unchanged!
I wouldn't personally feel any safer on the streets as
a result of a ban on replica guns and, in my opinion, banning replicas
will not address the problem in any way, shape or form, but will simply
result in further erosion of the personal freedoms of otherwise
law-abiding citizens... something that is already progressing far too fast
for my peace of mind. I voted for you in the Mayoral election, have
supported your work in general, and will probably vote for you again...
But I'm extremely worried by what appears to be a "twitch reaction"
intended more as a response to media hype than to address real issues, and
I strongly urge you to reconsider this ban, and any other planned
restrictions on replica firearms.