LC Paper No. CB(2) 1704/98-99
(These minutes have been seen by the Administration)

Ref : CB2/BC/15/98

Bills Committee on Firearms and Ammunition (Amendment) Bill 1999

Minutes of meeting held on Friday, 5 March 1999 at 3:45 pm in Conference Room B of the Legislative Council Building Members Present:

Hon James TO Kun-sun (Chairman)
Hon MA Fung-kwok
Hon Gary CHENG Kai-nam
Hon Howard YOUNG, JP
Hon CHOY So-yuk

Members Absent :

Hon James TIEN Pei-chun, JP
Hon David CHU Yu-lin

Public Officers Attending:

Mr Philip CHAN
Principal Assistant Secretary (Security)

Ms Jessie WONG
Assistant Secretary (Security)

Assistant Commissioner for Police (Support)

Mr FAN Sik-ming
Superintendent (Licensing)

Senior Assistant Law Draftsman

Ms Leonora IP
Government Counsel
Clerk in Attendance:
Mr LAW Wing-lok
Chief Assistant Secretary (2)5
Staff in Attendance:
Mr Stephen LAM
Assistant Legal Adviser 4

Miss Mary SO
Senior Assistant Secretary (2)8
I. Election of Chairman

Mr James TO was elected Chairman of the Bills Committee.

II. Meeting with the Administration

2. At the invitation of the Chairman, Principal Assistant Secretary (Security) (PAS)(S)) said that the objective of the Bill was to strengthen the regulation of shooting clubs, arms licences holders, arms dealers, air guns, deactivated firearms and the use of modified firearms for TV/film production in order to better safeguard public safety. When the Firearms and Ammunition Ordinance (the Ordinance) was enacted in 1981, there was comparatively little interest in the use of arms for recreational or sporting purposes. The use of arms had been very much left to self-regulation by individual shooting clubs. Over the years, the use of arms for recreational or sporting purposes had become more popular. This was evidenced by the fact that the number of shooting clubs had increased from 13 in 1988 to 20 in October 1998 and the number of licences and written exemptions issued for possession of arms had also increased from 894 in 1988 to 1,793 in October 1998. With the proliferation of shooting clubs, the Administration considered that there was a need to tighten the regulation of possession and use of arms to safeguard public safety although no serious accidents had occurred in the past. He added that the regulatory measures proposed in the Bill were reasonable and practicable to the affected parties.

3. In view of the concerns raised in the written submissions from and , the Chairman enquired whether the Administration had consulted them prior to introducing the Bill into Council.

4. In reply, PAS(S) said that prior to the introduction of the Firearms and Ammunition (Amendment) Bill 1996 which lapsed after the 1996/97 legislative session as the former LegCo did not have time to scrutinize the Bill, the Administration had issued a consultation paper in January 1996 to all existing shooting clubs, licensed arms dealers and associations in the TV/film industry to seek their views on the proposals contained in the Bill. The Administration received a total of 19 submissions, most of which were from shooting clubs. The majority of them supported in principle the enhancement of regulation over shooting clubs. However, they were concerned that over-regulation would suffocate the development of shooting sport in Hong Kong. PAS(S) stressed that there was no intention on the part of the Administration to stifle the development of shooting sport. After the enactment of the Bill, the Administration would make use of the one-year transitional period for the implementation of the legislation to liaize further with the shooting clubs to ensure that the new licensing conditions were reasonable and practicable.

5. PAS(S) further said that the Administration had been in discussion with the TV/film industry over the proposed legislative measures contained in the Bill. To cater for the unique operational need of the TV/film industry, special arrangements had been made by the Police Licensing Office to limit the processing time of the exemption permit applications to no more than ten days and to extend the validity of the exemption permit from two months to four months. Applicants for the exemption permit did not need to specify the exact dates for using the modified firearms for TV/film production. Instead, they were only required to seek permission from the Police Public Relations Branch at least three working days before using the modified firearms in TV/film production in order to ensure that no other activities were being conducted simultaneously at the same place. PAS(S) undertook to provide a written response to the concerns raised in the written submissions from the and . Admin

6. Mr Gary CHENG said that according to the Administration, the main reason for tightening up the regulation of possession and use of arms was because of the proliferation of shooting clubs. In his view, such reasoning was not convincing. He also expressed concern about the impact of the proposed regulatory measures on the development of the shooting sport and TV/film industry in Hong Kong.

7. In response, PAS(S) reiterated that the Administration was conscious of the need to ensure that regulation of possession and use of arms was reasonable and practicable so as not to stifle the development of shooting sport and TV/film industry in Hong Kong. He stressed that the proposed regulatory measures were necessary to safeguard public safety and were not introduced simply for the sake of regulation. Due regard had been given to the views of the affected parties in the drawing up of the proposed measures. PAS(S) further said that the Administration would take a proactive approach rather than wait until a serious accident arising from the mishandling or misuse of licensed firearms had occurred.

8. In reply to Mr Howard YOUNG's enquiry, PAS(S) said that no serious accident caused by the mishandling of licensed firearms had occurred, nor had there been any reported cases of serious crime involving the use of licensed firearms.

9. Mr MA Fung-kwok expressed doubts as to whether the Administration had taken into account the views of the TV/film industry in the drawing up of the proposed legislative measures. Contrary to the views expressed by the TV/film industry, the Police imposed restrictions that not more than two guns could be carried by each actor and that not more than 20 guns could be used for a scene. He further said that the TV/film industry had expressed concern that the arms trainers and ballistic officers of the Police did not have the relevant training and professional knowledge to deal with the rapidly changing modified firearms used for TV/film production.

10. Assistant Commissioner of Police (Support) (ACP(Sup)) responded that he strongly believed that the trainers of the Police's Weapons Training Division, who were responsible for the training of some 20,000 Police officers in the use of a variety of firearms, had the expertise to train persons to become arms instructors in the use and handling of modified firearms. The Division was also backed up by ballistic officers who had at their disposal some of the best equipment in the world and their expertise in firearms was extremely high.

11. ACP(Sup) further said that the Police had been in consultation with the TV/film industry on the question of limiting the number of modified firearms that could be used in a TV/film production. He explained that the reason why one actor was permitted to carry two firearms was because one could only hold two firearms at any one time. In special circumstances such as a war scene, consideration would be given to relaxing the restriction imposed on the number of firearms that could be used in a TV/film production.

12. PAS(S) reiterated that the objective of the proposed amendments was to tighten licensing control in arms and ammunitions in order to safeguard public safety. In considering the granting of a licence for possession of firearms, the Police Licensing Office would need to consider whether the applicant was a fit and proper person and that there was a legitimate reason for him to possess a firearm. If any applicant was aggrieved by the Police's decision to refuse or cancel a licence, he could appeal to the Administrative Appeals Board. He added that the Bill also sought to remove ambiguities in the existing Ordinance. At present, the licence for a shooting club was held by a responsible officer of the club but there was no definition of the term "responsible officer" under the Ordinance. The Bill proposed that the person holding a licence for the possession of arms and ammunition on behalf of a shooting club would be the one who was personally responsible for the management of the club.

13. In reply to Mr Gary CHENG's enquiry as to why it was important to regulate modified firearms with a muzzle energy of not greater than two joules, ACP(Sup) said that there was a need for such modified firearms to be regulated as they could be easily reverted back to a genuine firearm.

14. Mr MA Fung-kwok opined that some of the modified firearms should not be regulated as they had been modified to such an extent that it was virtually impossible to convert them back to genuine firearms. In response, Superintendent (Licensing) said that there were two types of firearms used in TV/film production. The first type was imitation firearms, which had the appearance of a real firearm but did not have any firing capability. The second type was modified firearms, which were real firearms before modification. He pointed out that although modified firearms were only suitable to fire blank ammunition, they were potentially dangerous as the force of the air current propelled from the firearms could inflict harm to a human being within a close distance. If the modified firearms were not maintained properly, the spare parts inside the guns would become fragmented. When the gun was triggered, the fragments inside the gun would be propelled with the air current thus hurting people. He said that there had been incidents where people had been hurt by modified firearms in this way.

15. In reply to Miss CHOY So-yuk's enquiry, Superintendent (Licensing) said that the force of the air current would depend on the types of modified firearms used. He reiterated that modified firearms required regulation because they could be restored to function as genuine firearms.

16. In reply to the Chairman's enquiry as to what were the considerations for the issue of a licence to possess arms, Superintendent (Licensing) explained that film or TV companies intending to use modified firearms needed to apply for an exemption permit. As regards persons who wished to possess a firearm for recreational or sporting purposes, they must apply for a licence for possession. In determining whether such an applicant had a legitimate reason for possessing a firearm, the Police Licensing Office would consider whether the applicant was a shooting club member and whether he/she had participated in any shooting competition, if so, which type of competition and whether such competition was held in Hong Kong; and whether there was a suitable shooting range in Hong Kong to use the firearm in question. If the applicant failed to satisfy these requirements but still wished to possess the firearm in question, the applicant would be advised to deactivate the firearm. In this case, an exemption permit would be required. Superintendent (Licensing) further said that not all of the shooting clubs had their own shooting range. In allowing a public area for use as a shooting range, the major consideration would be whether the surrounding area was suitable and whether adequate safety measures were in place.

17. The Chairman further enquired whether a situation in which a firearm afficionado's application to bring in the latest model of firearm to Hong Kong was turned down by the Police Licensing Office simply because the Office did not have the expertise to assess the firearm concerned would arise.

18. In reply, Superintendent (Licensing) said that the Police Licensing Office was supported by ballistic officers of the Forensic Firearms Examination Bureau who were responsible for searching information on the latest weapons in the market. He believed that if the applicant had the knowledge to bring in the latest model of firearm, the ballistic officers would know about its existence. Moreover, when applying for a licence the applicant had to provide the specifications of the firearm concerned. He considered that the Police had the expertise to assess the state-of-the-art firearms submitted for inspection by applicants.

19. Mr Howard YOUNG enquired whether, apart from the consultation exercise conducted in 1996, the Administration had consulted the relevant organizations again before the introduction of the Bill in January 1999.

20. PAS(S) replied that no consultation had been conducted since 1996 because the proposed legislative measures in the Bill were basically the same as those contained in the lapsed 1996 Bill. ACP (Sup) supplemented that the shooting clubs and the TV/film industry were well apprised of the proposals contained in the Bill as the Police Licensing Office had held regular discussions with them over the proposals set out in the Bill.

21. Miss CHOY So-yuk said that the lack of clear guidelines on the application procedures had resulted in inconsistency in the issue of licence for possession of arms. She said that there were cases in which different applicants were asked to provide different information to support their applications. She further said that the information which the applicants were required to provide should be standardized so that the applicants could know what were required of them. Furthermore, the issuing authority should inform the applicants of the reasons for rejecting their applications. Mr Gary CHENG echoed Miss CHOY's views.

22. In reply to Mr Gary CHENG's enquiry as to why there was a need to ask the applicant whether he had ever won any medal in a shooting competition, Superintendent (Licensing) said that this was a standard question for the applicant. The intention was to find out the extent of the applicant's involvement in the shooting activities. Whether the applicant had won a medal in a shooting competition was not a consideration for granting a licence.

23. In reply to Miss CHOY's enquiry about the basic criterion for granting a licence for possession of arms, ACP(Sup) said that the applicant must be a fit and proper person and that there was a legitimate reason for him to own a firearm.

24. Assistant Legal Adviser 4 advised that there was no definition of the term "fit and proper person" in the existing legislation or in the Bill. However, regulation 6 of the Firearms and Ammunition Regulations stipulated that no licence or exemption should be granted to any person under the age of 18.

25. PAS(S) said that although the term "fit and proper person" was not defined in the existing legislation or in the Bill, the Police would deal with applications for possession of firearms according to established internal guidelines. Besides, if an applicant was aggrieved by the Police's decision to cancel or amend a licence, he could appeal to the Administrative Appeals Board.

26. ACP(Sup) added that in the absence of a legal definition of the term "fit and proper person", it was not possible to lay down a set of criteria which had to be adhered to slavishly in determining whether the applicant was a fit and proper person. However, factors such as whether the applicant had a criminal record, whether the applicant was physically and mentally fit, storage facilities for the arms and the applicant's experience and training in the use of firearms were usually taken into consideration in processing an application for possession of firearms. Senior Assistant Law Draftsman also pointed out that under regulation 4 of the Firearms and Ammunition Regulations, the Commissioner of Police was empowered to require the applicant to undergo medical or psychiatric tests to ascertain that the applicant was a fit and proper person before granting a licence for possession of firearms.

27. In response to the Chairman's enquiry, PAS(S) said that under section 34(1A) of the Ordinance, the Police was required to state the reasons for rejecting an application for possession of firearms.

III. Date of next meeting

28. Members agreed that the Bills Committee would next meet during the last week of March 1999 to meet deputations and to continue discussion with the Administration.

29. There being no other business, the meeting ended at 6:01 pm.

Legislative Council Secretariat
16 April 1999