London (CNSNews.com) - A central register of English gun owners has been delayed by technical difficulties, the government said Thursday, prompting criticism from both anti- and pro-gun groups.
The Firearms Certificate Holders Register will hold the names of every licensed gun owner in England and was part of gun legislation passed in 1997.
License records are currently held by local police forces, but the new database would have made all license records available to authorities on a national basis.
A spokeswoman with the Police Information Technology Organization, the government body responsible for the database, said initial bids by contractors seeking to build the database were too high.
In addition, technical problems in integrating local records forced the government to hold off on awarding the contract to build the database until spring 2003.
"We've had to take a fresh approach and look for better value for money," the spokeswoman said.
But gun-control advocates accused the government of dragging its feet on the creation of the central registry. Jill Marshall Andrews, chairwoman of the Gun Control Network, said she was shocked and disappointed by the delay.
"If the government really wanted to do this and the police really were behind it, it would have been done years ago," she said. "There is a lack of political will."
Marshall Andrews said the Gun Control Network wanted the database to be extended to guns themselves, in addition to gun owners.
"It's a big task but one we have to start," she said. "We need to try to find out what's happening to legal and illegal weapons."
Pro-shooting groups had differing views on the need for a database, but also expressed anger with the U.K. government.
Nigel Davenport, director of the Countryside Alliance's Campaign for Shooting, said he had no problem with a national registry.
"I don't see this as Big Brother breathing down our necks," he said. "People who shoot are responsible people who follow the law ... if this database helps police stop crime or helps to track guns that are stolen, that's a great thing."
Davenport said, however, that resources could be better used by focusing on illegal guns used by criminals.
"The 1997 law has done nothing to curb illegal gun use - if anything, it has gone the other way," he said. "It's a pity that we can't focus on fighting crime and illegal guns."
Joe Kelly, chairman of the Sportsman's Association, agreed that resources would be better used to crack down on illegal crime, but said his organization was opposed to the national database.
"It's a total waste of time and effort," he said. The whole country is awash with illegal guns, and the government is spending time and money putting in a database of legal guns. It doesn't make any sense at all."
But Conservative MP James Paice said he believed the database, once operational, would cut crime and criticized the government for failing to act quickly enough.
"One has to wonder just how much of a priority it is for them," Paice said. "This is yet another example of the government failing to deliver on promises."
The 1997 gun laws introduced compulsory rifle and shotgun registration at the local level and banned handguns. The laws were prompted by a 1996 school massacre in Dunblane, Scotland that killed 16 children and their teacher.
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