In the last few days, places like Twitter and other blogging sites have been jumping with the news of, and subsequent discussion about, the treatment of one Paul Clarke: a former soldier in the British Army, who, apparently, found a discarded shotgun and handed it in to police. Sadly for him, neither the police to whom he took the gun, nor the Crown Prosecution Service*, believed his 'just found it' story at face value, and consequently arrested and prosecuted him for possession of an illegal (i.e. unlicensed) firearm.
[*the CPS, the body responsible for recommending whether a case is in the public interest to warrant any prosecution or not - the US equivalent would be the District Attorney's Office].
Not that I want to turn this into some for-or-against gun lobby affair, but some readers will already be aware of the (certainly by international comparison) draconian gun-ownership laws under which we operate here in the UK.
In short, what this means is that, in applying for a firearms license, unless you can meet a long list of stringent safety and psychological interview & evaluation criteria - you aint getting a firearms licence; and being found to be in possession of one without a license renders said possession a criminal offence. These laws were introduced by successive UK governments after tragedies like the Hungerford Massacre, and that at Dunblane.
No doubt, after reading the above local newspaper coverage of the case, you may feel Mr Clarke was harshly treated - opinions, certainly legal opinions, differ on this point; and so it's at times like this that I've found no better source of sifting through the voodoo and blather to cut the chase on a given case than Jack of Kent's blog on UK legal matters: an oasis of calm in the heat of "but what about...!" type debates and contentions.
Finally, and pulled straight from Jack's blog on this very case, is the tale, as retold by 'Ivan', which perhaps more than anything gives a clear indication as to the straits faced by someone entering the UK whilst already being in possession of firearms, say from a country where obtaining a firearms license is a less taxing affair.
['Ivan' wrote]: A friend of mine once had approximately the following conversation with a work colleague who had just come to Britain from South Africa. This took place before the latest change in the law which brought in such draconian penalties for possession.
(South African): "I hear on the grapevine you are quite a crack shot at clay pigeon. I wouldn't mind having a go at that."
(My Friend): "Of course. I'll introduce you at the club, and you can hire a gun and have a go."
"Well I could just bring my own. I've got a nice shotgun."
"You've got a gun? How did you get that? It took me ages to get a licence."
"I just put it in the container of furniture and other stuff I sent over from South Africa. How do I get a licence?"
"I think what you should do is take the shotgun around to the police station, explain the situation, and they'll probably look after it for you while you install a gunsafe, apply for a licence, and all that."
"Does that go for my handgun too?"
"No. You aren't allowed to keep a handgun at home, but you can keep one at a gun club. Change my first idea. Don't take them to the police station. Call the police, and ask them to come round to you."
"And my sub-machinegun?"
"Oh dear. Better idea. Don't call the police at all. I'd go out after dark and drop them all into the canal if I were you."