British Gun Controls -- and the quasi-independence of some small islands:

I recently received this article from an overseas friend, and received permission to post it. It does not exist anywhere else on the Web. The article details the experience of a competitive handgun shooter from the Isle of Man who was returning from a competition in the Channel Island of Jersey, and had to pass through a London airport. Following the shooter's tale of woe, I explain how it is possible that handguns are legal in the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man, even though they are banned in the United Kingdom.

How Irrational Fears of Inanimate Objects Divert Resources & Delay ‘Planes

by John Partington, Isle of Man Pistol Team Member

Flying back from the Commonwealth Shooting Federation (European Division) Championships in Jersey in May 2003 we, the Isle of Man Shooting Team, had to change ‘planes at London Gatwick Airport. What should have been a straightforward exercise in which all our checked luggage would be transferred automatically to our next ‘plane, as per the tags attached in Jersey, became a highly-stressed, worrying farce in which the comic element only became apparent some (considerable) time later.

As our pistols are illegal in England, all the gun and ammunition boxes were dealt with very carefully when we booked in at Jersey Airport. They should have stayed airside at Gatwick and been transferred direct to the Isle of Man ‘plane. Unfortunately, as we were going through the luggage pick-up Hall, there on the carousel were our 3 cases with big Firearms stickers plastered all over them and 2 more boxes clearly marked Ammunition. Just going round and round.

We informed Customs that we needed someone to take charge of the boxes as, if we touched them in England, we would be committing a serious firearms offence (illegal firearm possession is liable to a sentence of 14 years). I showed Customs our 3 IoM Firearm Certificates. The Customs office gave me permission to collect all 5 cases and take them to be X-rayed and checked in. When I put the boxes through the X-ray, the operator informed me that there were guns in the cases and they should not be there. This valuable new information was, of course, a great help! The operator then ‘phoned the senior Customs officer and the Armed Response police unit. The police arrived first and told the operator that there was no problem as they had been notified in advance and, as far as they were concerned, everything was in order. Then a senior Customs officer re-checked all the paperwork and the serial numbers that had already been checked in Jersey, then added a security sticker to each case to prove they had been through Security.

By now time was running out, but we had been effectively forced to enter England with our guns and now had to locate and reach the check-in desk for the Isle of Man flight.

I had the unique experience of an armed escort: one policeman in front of me and one behind. One of the policemen decided that there was no time for the lift so, with a forceful, “We will use the escalator. Follow me!”, he was off at a trot. "Stand back!" he shouted as we raced up the escalator, two steps at a time (with me as the filling in a Police sandwich), "Make way, make way!". I pulled both my Achilles tendons trying to keep up with this super-fit escort team.

Eventually, in pain and out of breath, I reached the Check-in desk.

“What's in the cases marked firearms?”, asked the gentleman at the desk.

Me - a gasped “Guns”.

Check-in - “We will need to check them”.

Me – “But that was done 5 minutes ago, coming in”.

Check-in – “That is not my responsibility. I have to make sure that everything going out is in order”.

Me – “The cases have been sealed with Security stickers and it is plain to see that they have not been broken”. At this point there was an announcement on the Airport Tannoy system, calling me to go to Departure immediately as the ‘plane was ready to depart, which I drew to the attention of the gentleman at the Check-in desk. At my request he then made a ‘phone call to hold the ‘plane.

Check-in – “You have pistols in these cases”, he informed me (this was, of course, a frightful surprise to both the police and myself).

Me – “That is why the police are here”.

Check-in - “I need to check that all the numbers are correct … ”.

When I eventually limped to my seat, my colleagues, long sitting comfortably in theirs, had already seen a funny side that, sadly, eluded me for several days.


Flight held up for 15 minutes at one of the busiest Airports in the world; several Police and Customs officers diverted for an hour or so from looking for NON-DECLARED contraband, or wanted persons, or some other useful activity; 2 strained tendons and a month’s quota of worry.


… and that wasn’t the end of the story. When we reached the Isle of Man, a pistol box with 3 pistols and a rifle box with 2 rifles, were both missing. Inevitably this led to many ‘phone calls, discussions with airline and security staff – and a great deal of worry. A day later, they turned up, but without any explanation. Perhaps the spitting cobras had gone for a walk.

[Back to Dave from here on:]

How did it come to be that the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man (in the Irish Sea) are not subject to the handgun prohibition enacted by the Parliament of the United Kingdom, at the urging of Prime Minister Tony Blair?

The answer is that the Jersey and the Isle of Man are not part of the United Kingdom. They are dependencies of the British crown, but they have no representation in the U.K.’s Parliament, and U.K. laws do not apply to the islands’ internal affairs. (Although such laws could theoretically be imposed by the Queen’s Governor-in-Council, they almost never are.)

Before the Norman Conquest of England, Jersey was ruled by the Plantagenet family of Normandy, which also ruled other parts of France. William the Conqueror (the Norman king) took over England in 1066. The Plantagenet family (and the other families which succeeded them on the English throne), eventually lost all of their old pre-1066 possessions—except for the Channel Islands. Although the wicked King John lost Normandy in 1204, Jersey and the other Channel Islands stayed local to the British crown, in exchange of guarantees of great local autonomy. The islands changed hands several times between England and France, giving the Islanders leverage to continue to insist on autonomy in exchange for fealty. (There are are some other islands in the Channel which are part of France, and others--the Isle of Wight and the Scilly Islands--which are part of the United Kingdom. "Channel Islands" is a term which applies only to the semi-independent islands.)

The Channel Islands now have two entirely separate, self-governing Bailiwicks. The Bailiwick of Jersey (one inhabited island and two uninhabited ones) and the Bailiwick of Guernsey (seven inhabited islands).

So the Channel Islands recognize themselves to be governed by Queen Elizabeth, but not, in internal matters, by Tony Blair. They rely on the U.K. for defense and for many external affairs issues, but do have the authority to communicate officially directly with foreign governments.

How do Channel Island gun laws differ from those of the U.K.? Derek Bernard, a pistol shooter from Jersey, explains:

Guernsey does not allow self-loading, centre fire rifles; Jersey does. Guernsey copied the UK 1988 Act [a ban on such guns] in this regard in the mid-90s. Guernsey, through the huge, almost unconstrained power of being able to add “conditions” to Firearm Certificates, rather than through statute, prevents the storage of ammunition at home and introduced a bureaucratic nonsense whereby the Certificate-holders who cannot be trusted to hold the ammunition at home, issue it to each other at the designated storage site. This adds considerable bureaucracy to the process of shooters travelling to away matches. It also prevents home loading, which would be critical if there were many active centre fire pistol shooters left; but, since the few that are left seem “happy” to use factory ammo, it doesn’t seem to cause much heartache. In Jersey, home storage and home loading are allowed within the specific quantities on the Certificate. For some years Jersey authorities have normally granted whatever quantities have been requested. The awful power to add conditions is universal in all 8 jurisdictions in the British Isles.

In Guernsey the licensing authority is the Police force, as in the UK. In Jersey, the Connetable (Mayor) of each of the 12 Parishes, is the licensing authority, but they will normally follow any recommendation of the Police that may be made with the report on criminal record. The Guernsey Licence has to be renewed every 3 years; the Jersey every 5 years.

Guernsey has adopted the UK approach to airguns: outside the Certificate and registration systems, providing rifles have muzzle energies below 12ft/lb and pistols below 6ft/lb. In Jersey everything above "soft air" toys is on Certificate and subject to registration. Until a few years ago Jersey regarded even soft air toys as firearms, which meant that their lawful importation, sale and possession was effectively impossible. Largely as a result the relatively new sport of Field Target air rifle shooting flourishes in Guernsey, but failed to get off the ground in Jersey. Guernsey police "approve" an individual applicant’s security arrangements. This used to be the effective situation in Jersey, but since the 2000 Law makes it clear that it is the certificate-holder’s responsibility to take precautions to prevent unauthorised possession, this inspection has ceased. I am not aware of a prosecution of a certificate-holder for inadequate security since the new Law came in. But in 2002/3 the Jersey Police probably spent about £500,000 searching out technical trivia and prosecuting about 25 people for e.g. Certificates that haven’t been renewed in time.

The Isle of Man also appears to have a status by which it is not subject to U.K. laws for domestic affairs. The Isle of Man was ruled by a Norwegian family until 1275, after that by the Scottish crown, and not until 1765 by the U.K.

It is home to the world’s oldest continuously operating parliament, the Tynwald, which has held the sovereignty since 979 a.d. The Tynwald is composed of the Legislative Council (upper house, 10 members; most elected indirectly, plus some ex officio) and the House of Keys (directly elected lower house, 24 members).

"[A]lthough English law does not extend to the Isle of Man, the Manx legal system is based on the principles of English common law," Wikipedia explains.

As in many Commonwealth nations, the legal but rare, course for an appeal of a judicial decision in the Isle of Man is to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in London. Within the Isle of Man itself, the High Court judges of the Isle are known as “Deemsters” (a Viking-era term).

I am not familiar with the details of the Manx gun laws, other than the fact that handguns have not been prohibited.

Commenters are welcome to share additional information about the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man, in regards to government status, and gun laws.

"Before the Norman Conquest of England, Jersey was ruled by the Plantagenet family of Normandy, which also ruled other parts of France."

Not quite - the Dukes of Normandy weren't Plantagenets until Henry II, well after the Conquest. ("Plantagenet" was a nickname of Henry's father, Geoffrey of Anjou.)
1.24.2006 12:49am
Frank Drackmann (mail):
I had a college Chemistry and Physics professor from the Isle of Man. He always bristled when people assumed he was English.
1.24.2006 6:40am
iainlaw (mail):
Don't know about the Channel Islands, but the Isle of Man is also not part of the EU.

Of course they are also well known as off shore banking /finance centres
1.24.2006 8:27am
Anderson (mail) (www):
According to A.J.P. Taylor, the Channel Islands were supine (at best) under the German occupation in WW2. Grist for the self-defense mill, perhaps.
1.24.2006 9:14am
Anthony Sanders (mail):
The Bailiwick of Guernsey is one of the most interesting political jurisdictions in the world. It basically consists of 4 inhabited islands (with 2 or 3 tiny one-family islands): Guernsey, Alderney, Sark and Herm. Guernsey is around 60,000—80,000 in population, but Alderney is just over 2,000, Sark at perhaps 1,000, and Herm only a dozen or a bit more year-round residents. Until after WWII Herm was owned by the British Government, but now is under Guernsey authority. Alderney used to be more independent, but since around 1948 has its government split between its own elected "States of Alderney" with an elected President, and the "States of Guernsey," where 2 Alderney reps sit. Alderney residents are very touchy about "Rule by Guernsey."

Sark is perhaps the most interesting. It has been called "the last bastion of feudalism." Originally, at the time of Queen Elizabeth I, 40 families from Jersey settled on the island. Many of their descendents still live on the island today. The government is heeded by a "Seigneur" and a few members of a local parliament. Its laws are in a separate legal system from Guernsey, and its in theory independent from Guernsey, except that the Bailiff of Guernsey (kind of the chief executive of Guernsey) also has authority over Sark. The Dame of Sark was a famous thorn in the side of the Nazi occupation during WWII. I've heard her autobiography is worth reading.

One interesting tidbit about Channel Island law is it's the one place where ancient Norman French law still governs, although modernized through the influence of Napoleonic French law, English law, and augmented through local legislation. One remnant is the "Calameur de Haro" where someone can, among other things, stop work on a building site for a year and a day by walking around the site 3 times, reciting the Lord's Prayer in Norman French while witnesses stand by, and then delivering the proof to the local authorities. In one testy local dispute only a few years ago it was used to shut down the building of some public lavatories.
1.24.2006 9:23am
Mike123 (mail):
The irrational fear of checked, unloaded firearms in this story and within the TSA (our TSA is just as silly) is worthy of a Dr. Phil Intervention. Their attitude seems to imply that if someone touches a gun, they'll instantly channel Osama Bin Laden and want kill everyone.

I travel with a gun going to shooting competitions. If I was to hijack a plane, do you think I'd take the time to declare it? If I was intent on murdering people, don't you think I would have done it while waiting in line and not after sitting on a plane for 4 hours? Why is airport security looking for guns in checked bags which passengers can't access? Darn it, look for bombs. Heck, you'd want me packing on a plane since I'm a better shot than every air marshall that I've shot against (some of them are not very safe).
1.24.2006 10:07am
Houston Lawyer:
I always liked the Archie Bunker solution to the hijacking problem. Just give everyone on the plane a gun as they board.
1.24.2006 10:16am
Neal R. (mail):
Excuse me, but why is it "irrational" for airport security to be concerned about "illegal" guns circling around a baggage claim carousel? The only story here is that someone goofed and sent the guns to baggage claim, rather than keeping them "airside." That's a bit troubling, but it hardly demonstrates any irrational gun phobia or anti-gun zealotry.
1.24.2006 10:19am
Angus (mail) (www):
Following up on Neal R, I'd expect airport security to devote quite a bit of attention to any material transiting an airport that was locally illegal to possess --- particularly if, as in this instance, the material was easily identifiable to passers-by.
1.24.2006 10:34am
Bruce Hayden (mail) (www):
But then, why was it so obvious? All those silly stickers. I see gun cases all the time on the luggage carrosels in Denver and Salt Lake City. No one bats an eye. And that, of course, doesn't include all the guns packed in regular luggage.

I suppose that gun thieves could hang out at the luggage carrosels at airports here, but I have heard nothing to indicate this. Besides, here you can expect to find guns there - but in London, it is an anomoly.
1.24.2006 10:55am
Alderney occasionally issues commemorative coins. Jersey, Guernsey, and the Isle of Man all issue their own regular coins and bills.
1.24.2006 11:28am
ech (mail):
The Cayman Islands have a similar status to these islands, but as a British Dependent Overseas Territory.
1.24.2006 1:50pm
Carl B. Bridges (mail):
So what are the crime rates in the gun-packing Channel Islands and the Isle of Man?
1.24.2006 4:36pm
A Superfluous Man:
Iceland's Althing is the oldest parliament (930 AD), but the Isle of Man's is the oldest continuous parliament.
1.26.2006 1:12am