Firearms laws are set to be strengthened after MPs supported moves to tackle the unlawful manufacture of ammunition.
MPs heard police have raised concerns that component parts of ammunition are too easy to obtain and are being used by criminals to manufacture whole rounds of ammunition.
The Firearms Bill would introduce a new offence of possessing component parts with the intent to assemble unauthorised quantities of complete ammunition.
The Bill would also close a “loophole” by requiring the operator of a miniature rifle range to be granted a firearms certificate by the police.
Conservative MP Simon Baynes (Clwyd South), introducing the Bill, said: “The regulations require that, with certain exceptions, anyone wanting to acquire or keep explosives must hold an explosives certificate issued by the police.
“The projectiles or bullets and the cartridge case are constructed of inert material and these are not controlled.
“This can make the prosecution of certain cases by the police difficult. They may believe there is intent to produce ammunition unlawfully, but be unable to progress with certain criminal cases if the materials found are not controlled.
“Assembly of ammunition requires various component parts to be used, including the restricted and unrestricted components.
“The new offence means that the police will be better able to prosecute cases where criminals are manufacturing ammunition, including where only some of the component parts are present, provided that intent is shown.
“This will be a significant step forward in helping the police to tackle gun crime.”
Mr Baynes said an existing exemption means a person can purchase firearms and operate a miniature rifle range at which others can shoot without a certificate, and therefore “without having undergone the usual stringent police checks on a person’s suitability or police assessment of how they will safely store and use the firearm”.
He said: “The police raised concerns that the exemption is a loophole in firearms law, which is vulnerable to abuse by criminals or terrorists seeking to access firearms and side-stepping the usual robust checks carried out by the police.
“The miniature rifle range exemption has been in existence for many years and is used extensively by small-bore rifle clubs to introduce newcomers to sport shooting.
“It is used by some schools and colleges, by activity centres offering target shooting, at game fairs and in a number of other legitimate environments.
“Many would be severely affected if the exemption were removed entirely, as they would no longer be able to enable newcomers to try out target shooting in a safe and controlled environment.
“In recognition of that, the Bill preserves the benefits that the miniature rifle range exemption offers, while bringing in the appropriate controls by making it a requirement that the operator must be granted a firearms certificate by the police, having undergone all the necessary checks on suitability, security and good reason.”
Home Office minister Chris Philp said the measures will “contribute to public safety” as he offered the Government’s support.
The Bill received an unopposed second reading and will undergo further scrutiny at a later stage.