Bills Committee on Firearms and Ammunition (Amendment) Bill 1999 (Minutes) 26 Apr 99

Legislative Council

LC Paper No. CB(2) 2867/98-99
(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 Monday, 26 April 1999 at 4:30 pm
in the Chamber of the Legislative Council Building

Members present :

Hon James TO Kun-sun (Chairman)
Hon James TIEN Pei-chun, JP
Hon David CHU Yu-lin
Hon MA Fung-kwok

Members absent :

Hon Gary CHENG Kai-nam

Hon Howard YOUNG, JP
Hon CHOY So-yuk

Public Officers attending :

Security Bureau

Mr Philip CHAN
Principal Assistant Secretary for Security

Ms Jessie WONG
Assistant Secretary for Security

Hong Kong Police Force

Assistant Commissioner of Police (Support)

Mr FAN Sik-ming
Superintendent (Licensing)

Department of Justice

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. Meeting with the Administration
Matters arising
(LC Paper No. CB(2) 1705/98-99(01))Power to amend a licence

In response to the concern expressed by the (the Concern Group) that the Police should not take the opportunity to amend or cancel a licence while processing an application for renewal, Principal Assistant Secretary for Security E (PAS(S)E) said that to allow the Commissioner of Police the necessary flexibility in the regulation of the possession of and dealing in arms and ammunition, the Bill sought to empower the Commissioner to amend a licence. The Commissioner would take into account all relevant factors before making a decision. Should any person be aggrieved by the Commissioner's decision to amend a licence, he could appeal to the Administrative Appeals Board. The Commissioner could not amend a licence or impose additional conditions on a licence at his will.

2. At the invitation of the Chairman, Assistant Legal Adviser 4 (ALA4) advised that section 35(1) of the Firearms and Ammunition Ordinance (the Ordinance) provided for a person to make an appeal to the Administrative Appeals Board should he be aggrieved by a decision of the Commissioner to refuse a licence or a renewal or to cancel a licence.

3. Mr James TIEN was of the view that the Police should not impose unnecessary restrictions on or amend the conditions of a licence lightly when considering a renewal application given that the firearms in question were already in the possession of the licensee when he submitted an application for renewal which had been inspected when they were first submitted for approval. PAS(S)E said that in processing an application for renewal, the Commissioner had to consider whether an applicant was still a fit and proper person to hold the licence and had a legitimate reason for the continued possession of firearms. In addition, a need to amend a licence may arise from changes in circumstances. However, under the existing legislation, the Commissioner was empowered to cancel but not to amend a licence. Assistant Commissioner of Police (Support) (ACP(Sup)) added that although the term "fit and proper person" was not stipulated in the existing legislation or in the Bill, an applicant could appeal to the Administrative Appeals Board if he was aggrieved by the Police's decision to cancel or amend a licence.

4. In reply to Mr James TIEN's enquiry, ACP(Sup) said that there were many factors attributed to the Commissioner's decision to amend a licence, for example, when certain types of firearms were considered no longer appropriate to be kept by individual licensees. However, the Police could only persuade the relevant licensees to surrender their firearms in question under the Ordinance or cancel the licences as the Commissioner did not have the power to amend a licence. PAS(S)E added that empowering the Commissioner to amend a licence would be a flexible arrangement having regard to the fact that a licence might cover several firearms.

5. Mr James TIEN asked when could the Commissioner amend or cancel a licence. PAS(S)E replied that the Commissioner might amend or cancel a licence when considering a renewal application as well as whenever he considered the licensee was no longer a fit and proper person or there was such a need because of the changes in circumstances when the licence was issued. The factors for consideration should be of material changes.

6. The Chairman was of the view that the Administration should spell out the prerequisite conditions and circumstances under which the Commissioner might amend or cancel a licence notwithstanding that there was no need to provide a definition of "fit and proper person" in the Bill. PAS(S)E agreed to consider.Adm

Assessment and appointment of arms instructors and range officers

7. Mr James TIEN was concerned whether the assessment test for appointing arms instructors and range officers would be so difficult that as a result there would be insufficient arms instructors and range officers to serve in shooting clubs. PAS(S)E said that no feedback was received from shooting clubs about the negative effect of the test on their operation. He pointed out that the primary objective of the test was to determine the suitability of a person to be appointed as an arms instructor or a range officer to ensure range safety. According to the Police's record, there was no reported case concerning safety of shooting clubs.

8. Noting that the Concern Group strongly objected to the proposal to empower the licensing authority to determine the suitability of a person to be appointed as an arms instructor or a range officer in shooting club because the training and professional knowledge of the arms instructors and ballistic officers of the Police were different from those needed for sporting/recreational activities, the Chairman enquired about the syllabus for the assessment test. PAS(S)E reiterated that the primary objective of the test was to ensure safety in shooting ranges. The emphasis of the assessment was on the safety aspect in the use of firearms. ACP(Sup) added that the Police had no intention to hamper the development of shooting activities, but a minimum standard of safety for shooting ranges must be maintained. He pointed out that if such assessment work was undertaken by individual shooting clubs, the standard of assessment could vary quite significantly. It would also open a loophole in the enforcement because there would be a problem in holding the party responsible for the range safety in a shooting club. ACP(Sup) further said that the proposal was a combination of test and exemption. The Police would consider exempting persons, recommended by shooting clubs, with experience and qualification in the use and handling of firearms. The Police had exempted 53 persons from the assessment test up to the end of February 1999 and that 33 persons were appointed range officers after passing the test. As for arms instructors, only three persons sat for the test and all passed. The Police had exempted 12 persons from the test for arms instructors. Given that there were only about 20 shooting clubs in Hong Kong, it was considered that there was already a considerable number of arms instructors and range officers available.

9. In reply to Mr James TIEN's enquiry, ACP(Sup) said that majority of the existing arms instructors and range officers in shooting clubs had already passed the assessment test.

10. Noting that holders of certain overseas qualifications might be exempted from the assessment test for appointment of arms instructors and range officers, the Chairman asked whether it was feasible to list out the specific overseas qualifications and their issuing authorities. Superintendent (Licensing) (SP(Lic)) said that there would be practical difficulties in implementation because there were numerous shooting clubs all over the world and that the regulation of shooting clubs varied greatly in different countries. For some countries, there were no regulation at all. Under the existing arrangement, any person who wished to be exempted from the test would have to provide proof of qualification obtained for the Police's consideration.

Use of firearms by overseas shooting athletes while visiting Hong Kong

11. Responding to Mr James TIEN, SP(Lic) said that under the existing practice, the Police would normally grant exemption permits to shooting athletes from overseas, who came to join competition in Hong Kong, after taking into account whether they had participated in shooting activities in their respective countries or whether the shooting clubs concerned were recognized internationally. However, the major factor for consideration would be whether the applicants really came to Hong Kong for competition purpose. No application for exemption permit for competition purpose had been rejected, nor any complaint in this respect had ever been received.

12. Mr MA Fung-kwok noted with concern that shooting athletes from overseas had to go to the Police stations in person for the application of exemption permits. Mr MA enquired whether consideration would be given to permitting local shooting clubs to submit such applications on behalf of overseas shooting athletes with a view to obtaining exemption permits before their arrival. SP(Lic) responded that it was stipulated in the Ordinance that an exemption permit should be issued to an individual person for a specified period. No complaint had ever been received from overseas shooting athletes that their participation in competitions were delayed because of the application procedures for exemption permits. He said that the Administration would give thought to Mr MA's suggestion.Adm

(Post-meeting note : SP(Lic) advised that normally, applications were submitted by local shooting clubs on behalf of overseas shooting athletes. These athletes were required to collect the permits in person with the production of any proof of their identities.)

Application for limited licences

13. Referring to the further submissions from the Concern Group and the (the Arms Dealers) which were tabled at the meeting, the Chairman asked whether the Administration was aware of their dissatisfaction with the requirement of a limited licence. PAS(S)E said that a licensee had to apply for a limited licence for transporting arms and ammunition from a designated place to the Firearms Forensic Examination Bureau (FFEB) for inspection in accordance with section 30 of the Ordinance. To reduce the workload of FFEB and to streamline the application procedures, the Administration was seeking advice from the Department of Justice on the feasibility of waiving these unnecessary requirements so as to allow such transport without obtaining a limited licence.

(Post-meeting note : The submissions from the Concern Group and the Arms Dealers were issued to absent members vide LC Paper Nos. CB(2) 1819/98-99(01) and (02).)

14. Referring to para.22 of the Concern Group's submission (LC Paper Nos. CB(2) 1819/98-99(01)), Mr James TIEN enquired whether the Administration would consider the request from the Concern Group to separate the activities under the definition of "deal in" in the Ordinance into two categories. In response, SP(Lic) said that although the Concern Group considered activities such as import, procure, purchase, take possession of, transport, test or prove were commercial activities and hence should not be subject to regulation. There were, however, practical difficulties in differentiating the activities under the definition of "deal in" explicitly into two categories having regard to the fact that most of these activities were inter-related. For example, "sell or let on hire" would definitely involve "transport", "supply or repair" could not be separated from "import, export or procure".

15. Responding to the Chairman's follow-up question, SP(Lic) said that in the event that "transport, test or prove" were not subject to regulation as proposed by the Concern Group, the Police would not be able to know how many firearms had been imported into Hong Kong. Moreover, disputes would arise over the classification of activities which were subject to regulation.

Restriction on the use of modified firearms.

16. Mr MA Fung-kwok pointed out that noise produced from the use of modified firearms in a TV/film production was already subject to statutory control, e.g. the Noise Control Ordinance, the Police should not restrict the timing for the use of modified firearms in TV/film productions simply because they would give rise to noise nuisance to residents nearby. ACP(Sup) said that the Police would take a proactive approach rather than wait until the public made complaints about the noise nuisance caused by TV/film productions

17. Noting from the Administration's response that the Police would consider relaxing the timing for the use of modified firearms for TV/film shootings should the shooting location be distant from residential area or the applicant could prove no noise nuisance would be resulted, the Chairman considered that the arrangement was acceptable.

18. Mr MA Fung-kwok opined that it was impossible for the TV/film productions not to cause any nuisances in the course of filming. Thus the tolerance level involved judgment of circumstances and an understanding of the industry. He questioned whether the Police was the appropriate authority in this respect. He also asked whether the Film Services Office had been consulted prior to the drafting of the Bill. In response, ACP(Sup) said that only few requests from the TV/film industry were not approved. The restriction on the timing in respect of the use of modified firearms in filming was considered necessary from the public interest point of view. Given that Police officers were the front-line officers in carrying out law enforcement duties, the Police were therefore considered the appropriate authority in determining the timing for TV/film shooting scene.

19. To allow flexibility, the Chairman suggested that the Police might grant approval for TV/film shooting scene if it would not cause too much or unreasonable nuisance to the residents nearby. Mr James TIEN considered that it would be difficult to identify an adjudicator to determine whether any nuisance was caused.

20. Mr MA Fung-kwok remarked that the Administration should consult the departments concerned, in particular the Film Services Office about the need of the TV/film industry rather than introducing regulation simply from the public safety point of view. ACP(Sup) responded that although there were differences between the Police and the TV/film industry over the regulation of the use of modified firearms in TV/film productions, the Police tried to help the industry as far as practicable. However, the Police were playing a difficult role in balancing against public safety and other issues, such as noise nuisance, the potential fear to nearby residents if there were explosive flames arising from TV/film productions, etc. He reiterated that the Police had maintained close contact with other departments concerned in formulating changes to the licensing procedures and kept constant dialogue with the TV/film industry.

21. Notwithstanding the Administration's explanation, Mr MA Fung-kwok said that he had reservation about having the Police as the approving authority for the use of modified firearms in TV/film productions.

Procedures for a licensee to renew a licence

22. The Chairman asked whether an application for renewal submitted after the expiry date of a licence would be considered by the Police. In response, SP(Lic) said that notwithstanding that the Police encouraged every licensee to renew his licence before the expiry date, the Police did consider renewal requests from licensees after the expiry date provided that there were reasonable grounds for the late submission.

23. Referring to para.26 of the information paper, Mr James TIEN enquired about the details on the initial assessment in respect of renewal applications made by experienced Police officers. SP(Lic) said that the Police officers would assess whether further investigation on the suitability of the applicant to use and possess firearms was needed. The major consideration would be the physical and mental condition of the applicant.

24. The Chairman considered that whether the applicant's identity was real was a critical factor in considering an application. PAS(S)E said that under the Ordinance the applicant should be the bona fide holder of the firearms concerned. Should the responsible Police officers have doubts in considering an application, they would refer the application to other professionals.

25. Responding to Mr James TIEN, SP(Lic) said that only a few applications for renewal of licences were rejected in the past.

Procedures for processing application for the possession of firearms

26. Referring to para.29 of the information paper, the Chairman enquired about the criteria for determining whether a person was considered as inactively participated in shooting activities. SP(Lic) explained that an inactive participant meant a person seldom involved in shooting activities for recreational and sporting purposes. In the event that a licensee did not participate in shooting activities for a considerable period, the Police would re-examine his need for the possession of firearms when considering his application for renewing his licence. The Police would recommend the licensee to deactivate his firearms if he want to keep the firearms for appreciation instead of using them. ACP(Sup) added that when a person withdrew from shooting activities for a considerable period, his overall attitude towards the safety of firearms might become less secure. Hence, the Police considered that the possession of deactivated firearms would be more appropriate for the person in question.

27. Mr James TIEN pointed out that if an owner of firearms did not use the firearms for a considerable period, the safety of firearms would be an area of concern given that there was no regulation regarding the maintenance of firearms kept in shooting clubs. Mr David CHU, however, considered that the owner of firearms should be held responsible for the maintenance and safety of his firearms. The Administration should not impose too much restrictions on the public and the owners of firearms which, in his view, was indeed causing more nuisance and affecting one's rights.

28. ACP(Sup) said that the Ordinance had been in place for many years with very little amendment. The use of firearms for recreational or sporting purposes in Hong Kong had, however, become more popular over the years. The number of shooting clubs had increased. With the proliferation of shooting clubs, it was considered that the regulation of possession and use of firearms should be tightened.

Notification requirement when a licensee left Hong Kong

29. PAS(S)E said that under the Bill, licensees would not be required to notify the Commissioner when they left Hong Kong if their firearms were kept in shooting clubs. The objective of the amendment was to streamline the existing licensing procedures without jeopardizing public safety.

Handling of unused ammunition

30. Mr James TIEN said that the requirement of returning unused ammunition to an armoury or the arms dealer's shop was an inconvenient arrangement. SP(Lic) said that unused ammunition could be kept in the armoury of the shooting club if it had an armoury. The Police were aware that not every shooting club had an armoury and that armouries or dealers' shops were sometimes closed when the shooting activities finished. Hence, the Police were considering the feasibility of allowing firearms users to store unused ammunition in the Police stations near the shooting clubs so that the unused ammunition could be returned to the armoury or arms dealer on the other day. At the request of the Chairman, SP(Lic) agreed to provide the number of shooting clubs which had armouries.Adm

31. Mr James TIEN opined that keeping unused ammunition in Police stations was not an optimal arrangement. The Chairman, however, considered that the arrangement provided flexibility for firearms users and a legitimate way to handle the problem of unused ammunition.

32. Mr James TIEN considered that shooting clubs should be encouraged to be equipped with armouries.

Statistics on firearms being kept in different locations

33. In reply to Mr James TIEN, SP(Lic) said that the 1 717 firearms being kept in the armouries of arms dealers referred to those owned by individual licensees. Only 920 firearms were kept in shooting clubs having regard to the fact that not every shooting club had an armoury.

34. In response to the Chairman's enquiry on whether the Administration was tightening the possession of firearms at home, SP(Lic) said that for those firearms which were permitted to be stored at domestic premises, the permission would continue to be valid under the Bill. Only for new applications, the Police would examine whether there was a need for keeping firearms at home. For example, when a person was a member of several shooting clubs, he might be permitted to store firearms at home in order to minimize the risks of accidents when transporting firearms between different shooting clubs.

II. Date of next meeting

35. The next meeting would be scheduled for 4 May 1999 at 8:30 am. PAS(S)E suggested and the Chairman agreed that an expert from FFEB would be invited to demonstrate once more on how modified firearms could be reverted back to genuine firearms during the first part of the next meeting.

36. The meeting ended at 6:35 pm.

Legislative Council Secretariat
12 August 1999