Gun Registration and Confiscation in England and Wales

Gun Watch – by Dean Weingarten

The exemplar for restrictive firearms regulation in the United States has been England and Wales.   Some have argued that it was NAZI Germany, but though the 1968 Gun Control Act borrowed heavily from NAZI law, the country and laws that most have referred to has been England.  Wales shares the same laws and Supreme Court as England.   Interestingly, before the British passed their own restrictive firearms laws, the most restrictive law in the Anglosphere was the one passed in New York City, the infamous Sullivan law of 1911.    

The first real study of armed crime and firearms control was done by Colin  Greenwood, Chief Inspector, West Yorkshire Constabulary, in 1972, at the Institute of Criminology, University of Cambridge.   Greenwood was somewhat puzzled by the English firearms laws, because they did not appear to have any effect on crime, and very little study had gone into their creation.   Firearms restrictions had been vigorously opposed before the First World War, on the grounds that they infringed on the rights of Englishmen to be armed for their own defense.  The first significant English firearms law was passed in 1920.

From A Study of Armed Crime and Firearms Control in England and Wales by Colin Greenwood, page 246:

How, then, should policy on firearms controls be affected by the facts produced?  The system of registering all firearms to which Section I applies as well as licensing the individual takes up a large part of the police time involved and causes a great deal of trouble and inconvenience.  The voluminous records so produced appear to serve no useful purpose.  In none of the cases examined in this study was the existence of these records of any assistance in detecting a crime and no one questioned during the course of the study could establish the value of the system of registering weapons.

It was not until much later that Greenwood found out the purpose of the English firearms registration laws.  They were passed to facilitate firearms confiscation in the event of civil unrest or revolution.   From Colin Greenwood, May 15, 2000.  The term “Constitutionalists” below means British Constitutionalists:

Constitutionalists might argue about whether in Britain, Statute law can over-ride the basic principles of the Common Law, but in 1920 the Government of Britain was in fear of revolution and documents such as the. Cabinet Diaries reveal debates about the number of aircraft available for use against insurgents within the British Isles. In that climate, the registration of firearms (other than shotguns) was imposed for the purpose of “ensuring that all arms are available for redistribution to friends of the government”.

Extensive research by Professor Joyce Lee Malcolm buttresses what Colin Greenwood found.    From Guns and Violence, the English Experience, page 162:

Second, the Firearms Act of 1920, which took away the traditional right of individuals to be armed, was not passed to reduce or prevent armed crime or gun accidents.  It was passed because the government was afraid of rebellion and keen to control access to guns.

Widespread door to door searches and confiscations of firearms did not happen in England and Wales for the purpose of turning those arms over to government supporters, though that was the initial purpose of the registration of firearms.   Rather, the searches and confiscations occurred incrementally, over the last hundred years, as the government kept tightening requirements for ownership and made possession of arms ever more expensive and difficult.   The decisions to impose more restrictions were often made in secret and not know to the public until long after the fact.   Malcolm does an especially good job of documenting this process.

If someone tells you that the purpose of gun registration is crime control, that was never the case in England.   Nor has gun registration ever been of any significant use as a crime control measure.

One can say, with considerable authority, that the purpose of firearms registration in England was always confiscation, even if it occurred incrementally over generations.

©2014 by Dean Weingarten: Permission to share is granted when this notice is included.
Link to Gun Watch

3 thoughts on “Gun Registration and Confiscation in England and Wales

  1. Back to the Special Olympics: Here we go again.

    Restrictive gun ownership laws in Germany were imposed by the Weimer Republic in 1928 — 5 years before the National Socialist Worker’s Union Party (NAZI) won the election of 1933. Those laws restricted German residents to ownership of one gun and a maximum of 50 rounds of ammo for that one gun. Both the gun and ammo had to be registered, regardless of type. The 1928 German gun laws prohibited Gypsies from owning firearms.

    In 1938 Hitler had acquired executive powers to rule as a dictator from a 95% plus vote in the German parliament. He changed the gun laws, arming the German people to the teeth. Now German residents (Jews were no longer citizens as of 1934, but were allowed guns according to the new law.) could buy as many guns as they wanted and as much ammo as they wanted. That’s right, Uncle Bunky, the German Gun Laws of 1938. Registration requirements for long guns and ammo were dropped. Only concealable firearms (pistols and folding-stock machine guns) required registration. Gypsies remained unauthorized to own firearms.

    1. Yea, any German who was judged to be politically reliable could own guns. He did *not* “arm the German People to the teeth”, unless you mean that he rearmed the German military, which he certainly did do.

      The law restricted guns that were not for “sporting purposes”, such as the Mauser bolt action rifles. The law made it legal for the NAZIs to disarm anyone they thought was a threat.

      The 1938 law was clearly the precursor of the 1968 gun contol act in the United States.

Join the Conversation

Your email address will not be published.