Legislative Council

LC Paper No. CB(2) 2669/98-99
(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, 29 March 1999 at 10:45 am
in Conference Room B 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
Hon Gary CHENG Kai-nam
Hon Howard YOUNG, JP

Members absent :

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

Senior Assistant Law Draftsman

Ms Leonora IP
Government Counsel

Attendance by invitation :

Mr HO Ying-hang

Mr POON Chi-man

Mr HO Mang-keung, Joseph


Mr LAI Wing-kuen, Michael

Mr HO Mang-keung, Joseph

Mr YIP Man-loong

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 deputations

Mr James TIEN declared interest that he was a member of a shooting club in Hong Kong and he owned a pistol. Mr David CHU also declared that he was a member of a shooting club.

Presentation from deputations

Meeting with (the Arms Dealers)(LC Paper No. CB(2) 1587/98-99(01))

2. The Arms Dealers were of the view that certain aspects of the Firearms and Ammunition (Amendment) Bill 1999 (the Bill) were unreasonable which would impede the development of the TV/film industry in Hong Kong. The salient points of their views were summarized below -

  1. Although the Bill made no reference to the TV/film industry, the Bill in fact sought to legalize the existing administrative measures put in place by the Police which aimed at tightening up the regulation of modified firearms. The Bill also sought to give the Commissioner of Police more power to determine the implementation details as he saw fit;

  2. Notwithstanding the Bill proposed to extend the validity of an exemption permit from two months to four months, the TV/film industry considered that the following proposals would stifle the development of the industry -

    1. the number of modified firearms which could be used in a TV/film production was limited to two firearms per actor and not more than 20 firearms per production; and

    2. at present, only one exemption permit was required for each TV/film production. The Bill sought to require each actor using modified firearms in the film to have an exemption permit and thus increase the production cost. The requirement for obtaining exemption permits for the possession of the firearms by individual actors involving in the handling of firearms in a TV/film production created difficulties for the film industry as it was often difficult to provide the number and details of the actors who would be involved in the handling of firearms in the production well beforehand;

  3. There was a lack of a clear set of written guidelines on the application procedures for the use of firearms in TV/film production which resulted in inconsistency decision in granting approval or otherwise;

  4. The Arms Dealer could not accept the reason given by the Administration that modified firearms should be subject to same stringent control imposed on genuine firearms because it was very easy to revert modified firearms to their original state. In order to revert the modified firearms to genuine firearms, major component parts of the firearms would need to be procured overseas. However, procurement of these component parts for reversion purpose was illegal. Under the existing practice, not only was the shipment of these component parts subject to export/import control, the licensed arms dealers could only import them for maintenance purpose. Hence, it was extremely difficult, if not impossible, to reactivate modified firearms. Given the difficulty of procuring the requisite component parts and the amount of efforts needed to be expended to revert the modified firearms, it was considered more convenient and less expensive to purchase a genuine firearm in the black market for illegal activities;

  5. Adequate safety measures were adopted in TV/film production as modified firearms were only suitable for firing blank ammunition and the use of them in TV/film production was supervised by the licensees' agents. The shooting scene was indeed the result of computer graphics as well as sound and visual effect; and

  6. Lastly, the Police should not prejudice those who had criminal records in applying for an exemption permit.

3. Mr James TIEN enquired whether the specifications on modification of firearms in Hong Kong were similar to those adopted in the United States (US). The Arms Dealers replied that genuine firearms were allowed to be used in TV/film production for firing blank ammunition in the US. They added that the regulation of modified firearms in Australia, the United Kingdom and the US were much looser than Hong Kong and the use of firearms was very much left to self-regulation by the TV/film industry.

4. The Chairman questioned the impact of the proposal to change to on the TV/film industry. The Arms Dealers responded that despite the proposal had no direct impact on the industry, there was an implication that modified firearms were subject to the same stringent licensing procedures and control imposed on genuine firearms. The industry proposed that the Administration should take the opportunity to study the feasibility of regulating modified firearms by a government department which had a good understanding of the TV/film industry, such as the Television and Entertainment Licensing Authority.

5. Responding to the Chairman's follow-up question, the Arms Dealers pointed out that accidents arising from the use of modified firearms were scarce and of a minor nature. They were most often caused by the bouncing of gun sparks.

6. Mr David CHU shared the concerns expressed by the TV/film industry. He considered that the potential danger for using modified firearms in TV/film production was low. Having regard to the argument that modified firearms could not be easily reverted back to genuine firearms, there was no need for such firearms to be regulated.

7. Mr Gary CHENG said that the intent of the Bill should not be for the sake of regulation and should have regard to the impact on the TV/film industry.

Meeting with (the Concern Group)(LC Paper No. CB(2) 1587/98-99(02))

8. Notwithstanding the Concern Group supported in principle the proposed amendments to the Ordinance, it was of the view that certain provisions in the Bill were ambiguous. Views and comments from the Concern Group were summarized as follows -

  1. The Police had, in fact, implemented the proposals by means of administrative measures regardless of the one-year grace period as stated in the Bill. As there was no clear guidelines on the new administrative arrangements and the applicants were unaware of the requirements, the Police had taken unduly long time in processing applications for renewal of licences, amendment to conditions therein, etc.;

  2. It was not possible to appeal to the Administrative Appeals Board as the Commissioner's decision was always awaiting. Even when an applicant was aggrieved by the Commissioner's decision, he was not provided with reasons for rejection;

  3. The proposal to replace "prescribed form" with "specified form" would result in inconsistency in the issue of licence for possession of arms. Applicants were often asked to answer irrelevant questions. It suggested that the use of "prescribed form" be retained and all the required documents be spelt out explicitly in the form so that the applicants could know what were required of them;

  4. Under existing legislation, the Commissioner was empowered to cancel but not to amend a licence. The Concern Group disagreed with the proposal that the Commissioner of Police was empowered to amend a licence, in particular the Police would take into account factors such as whether the applicant was no longer a member of a shooting club or he had not used firearms for a considerable period when considering an application for an amendment to the licence. As most of the licensees were amateur players in shooting, it was not uncommon that they would not use firearms for a certain period of time for various reasons, e.g. having sustained injuries;

  5. The Concern Group cited several examples to illustrate that the Police did not have objective criteria in approving an application for a licence. Hence, it requested the Police to put in place a set of specific guidelines on application procedures, the regulation of shooting clubs, shooting training as well as arms dealing; and

  6. Given that the facilities and requirements in respect of shooting ranges for recreational and sporting purposes would be different from the Police Force's ranges, the Concern Group had reservation about the proposal to examine the suitability of "arms instructor" and "range officer" by the Police.

9. Mr James TIEN asked how long a person had not used firearms that his licence would be cancelled. The Concern Group responded that the decision should be rested with the respective shooting clubs. Mr James TIEN said that it might be more appropriate for the Police to make such decision because the licence was granted by the Police. In addition, the cancellation of inactive membership might facilitate recruiting more active members so as to promote shooting activity. The Chairman considered that shooting clubs might not place same emphasis on public interest as the Force in determining whether a licence should be cancelled. Mr Howard YOUNG opined that consideration should be given to cancelling one's membership by a shooting club for not turning up for practice for a certain period of time. Mr David CHU, however, considered that there was no such need to cancel a licence because of not using firearms for a considerable period of time as it was a licensee's rights to decide when to use firearms.

10. The Concern Group pointed out that it was the responsibility of a range officer to supervise the safety of using firearms within a shooting range. It would be safe for any person to shoot in a range under the supervision and training of a range officer even if he had not used firearms for a considerable period of time. He added that guidelines had been issued to shooting athletes that they should resort to a range officer for supervision if they had not used firearms for sometime.

11. Mr James TIEN opined that under existing legislation, even when a person was licensed to have in his possession of arms and ammunition which were kept in a shooting club, he was required to notify the Commissioner of Police of his intention to leave Hong Kong even for a very short duration. He considered that such requirement was unnecessary as the arms and ammunition in question could not be conveyed from a designated place to other places without seeking prior permission. The Concern Group echoed with Mr TIEN's view and said that given firearms were normally kept in shooting clubs, and hence the notification requirement was considered unnecessary. Superintendent (Licensing)/ Hong Kong Police Force (SP(Lic)) explained that as stipulated in the prescribed form under First Schedule to the Firearms and Ammunition Regulation, a licensee was required to notify the Police whenever he intended to leave Hong Kong. However, when the form was repealed upon the enactment of the Amendment Bill, the Police intended to require only licensees whose arms were stored at home to notify the Commissioner if they intended to leave Hong Kong for more than 72 hours.

12. Mr James TIEN pointed out that the existing legislation was unclear on the storage of unused ammunition by the licensee. The Concern Group echoed that the policy on handling of ammunition was unclear. The existing legislation did not spell out where arms dealers could store ammunition.

13. Responding to Mr MA Fung-kwok, the Concern Group pointed out that the training and professional knowledge of the arms trainers of the Police Force were different from a person to be appointed as an arms instructor on the use of firearms for sporting/recreational activities. It was of the view that the syllabus to be tested by the Police was too wide which covered from shooting to military strategy. It proposed that shooting clubs be invited to make recommendation on the test syllabus of range officers and arms instructors.

14. Mr MA Fung-kwok said that consideration might be given to categorizing the licences for arms instructors into different types having regard to the different types and uses of firearms or enforcing the licensing of arms instructors by a third party basing on the recommendation from individual shooting clubs. The Concern Group welcomed Mr MA's proposal that arms instructors be specialized in specified types of arms used in shooting clubs.

15. Lastly, the Concern Group strongly requested the Administration to consider setting up an advisory committee on firearms and ammunition.

Submission from the Hong Kong Shooting Association(LC Paper No. CB(2) 1587/98-99(03))

16. The Chairman informed members that the Hong Kong Shooting Association had decided not to make oral presentation and instead put forward a list of questions which was tabled at the meeting.

Response from the Administration

17. Principal Assistant Secretary for Security E (PAS(S)E) said that the proposed regulatory control was considered minimum necessary. Specific implementation details would be put in place after the enactment of the Bill. To avoid inconsistency in the issue of licence for possession of arms, a set of objective criteria was followed by the Police Licensing Office.

18. The Chairman remarked that given the Commissioner of Police was empowered to approve individual case under the legislative proposal, he was concerned whether all the details would be stipulated in the relevant subsidiary legislation. Mr James TIEN considered that the Bill empowered the Commissioner to such an extent that it might discourage one from filing an application for the possession of arms. Thus, the enforcement details of the legislative proposal were critical factors for considering the legislative proposal.

19. The Chairman enquired about the reversibility of modified firearms back to genuine firearms. Assistant Commissioner of Police (Support) (ACP(Sup)) responded that according to the Force expert's opinion, modified firearms and deactivated firearms could be restored to their original state. Given there were over 1 200 modified firearms in use and that people with such skill to reactivate modified firearms did exist in Hong Kong, regulation of the use of firearms was needed. In addition, the Department of Justice advised that "modified firearms" was within the meaning of "arms" in the legislation. ACP(Sup) further said that given shooting sport had become popular in the recent years, the Administration would try to prevent tragedies from occurrence by imposing appropriate regulation of the possession and use of firearms. Though the regulation of the possession and use of firearms in Hong Kong was tighter than those in overseas countries, it was believed that there was still room for promoting shooting for recreational and sporting purposes in a safe environment.

20. ACP(Sup) said that the Police were aware of the application procedures adopted for using modified firearms did not fully meet the requirements of the TV/film industry. The Police had been making efforts to provide assistance to the industry, e.g. the validity of an exemption permit was extended from two months to four months. Notwithstanding that about 50% of applications for use of modified firearms in film production involved using more than 20 firearms, approval was granted. The Police would try to meet the requirements of the industry as far as practicable and would continue to do so. He stressed that the proposed legislation would not stifle the development of the industry.

21. The Chairman enquired whether a dividing line could be drawn so that when modified firearms were proven of no reversion could be made, such modified firearms would not be subject to the Police's regulation. He considered that the arrangement would reduce the administrative work of the Police and be acceptable to the industry. SP(Lic) responded that the Police had held discussions with the industry on the modification standard in respect of modified firearms. It was agreed that different standards might be adopted for different types of modified firearms in question. The requirements covered all types of modified firearms used in TV/film production. As to whether any modified firearms could be exempted from regulation, SP(Lic) said that during the discussions with the industry, it was unable to reach an agreement on such a safety standard from the technical point of view. It was because firstly, modified firearms was reversible to genuine firearms and secondly, modified firearms did resemble similar mechanical requirements with genuine firearms so as to achieve the audio and vision effect in TV/film production. He added that the Police adopted a more relaxed approach in dealing with the applications for keeping deactivated firearms for adornment or decoration purposes. Under normal circumstances, a one-year licence would be granted.

22. Mr MA Fung-kwok pointed out that there was no such need for modified firearms used in TV/film production to be submitted to the Police for annual inspection because when a person reactivated modified firearms, he had violated the law. PAS(S)E said that according to the advice of the ballistic officer of the Force, modified firearms could be reverted to genuine firearms. As Hong Kong was a densely populated area, the Administration ought to adopt a proactive approach in safeguarding the safety of the public from being endangered by any person who possessed firearms.

23. Regarding the interval for the periodic inspection of modified firearms, SP(Lic) said that the Police was still considering the implementation details. Under the existing arrangement, modified firearms used in TV/film production were submitted for inspection once, i.e. when they were first submitted for approval. The proposal for periodic inspection was based on the recommendation made by a working group in 1995. He reiterated that the Police had not yet come to a conclusion on the interval of the inspection.

24. Mr MA Fung-kwok said that the TV/film industry was concerned that the need for an annual inspection for modified firearms used in TV/film production would have great impact on the industry.

25. While appreciating the need to regulate the reversion of modified firearms, Mr MA Fung-kwok suggested the Administration to consider introducing a licensing system as well as providing separate provisions in the Ordinance for the regulation of modified firearms. He considered that a licensing system could suffice the purpose of identifying who was in the possession as well as the location of modified firearms.

26. In concluding the discussion, members requested the Administration to consider the following and revert to the Bills Committee at the next meeting -Adm

  1. to provide a written response to the submissions and views expressed by the deputations;

  2. to formulate clear guidelines for applicants in respect of the application for the use of modified firearms in TV/film production as so to ensure the consistency in granting approval; and

  3. to provide a breakdown of the number of firearms according to their locations for storage, together with the figures on criminal offences related to the use of firearms kept in shooting clubs.

(Post-meeting note : The written response from the Administration to (a) and (c) was circulated to members under LC Paper No. CB(2) 1705/98-99(01).)

27. ACP(Sup) supplemented that though it was difficult to comment on the handling of individual applications for the use of modified firearms in TV/film production at this meeting, as a general principle, for difficult cases which were not covered under the internal guidelines, the responsible officer would seek advice from his senior officers on how to handle a particular application should he have doubts.

II. Date of next meeting

28. The next meeting was scheduled for 19 April 1999 at 2:30 pm.

29. The meeting ended at 12:45 pm.

Legislative Council Secretariat
6 August 1999