Pedants against guns

Short Circuit is finally going to get some R.E.S.P.E.C.T.

(Many apologies for 'all arms, all the time' at the moment on this blog. What can I say - it's a good time for guns, apparently).

Don't get me wrong - I don't think arms fairs should be banned. I don't oppose the arms trade per se, and the little buggers have got to do it somewhere. I don't mind them doing it, as long as they don't hurt anyone, and they don't do it in public. Some of my best friends are arms dealers. Etc.

But I do prefer the organisers of arms fairs to understand export control law. If you're going to help people sell guns, read the manual.

The organisers of the gunfest currently occupying a swathe of London's Docklands, the DSEi arms fair, are the perma-cheerful Clarion Events (they also do the Baby Show at Earls' Court. Bless.)

They've produced a lovely passive-aggressive little FAQ for lazy journos headed "DSEI: The Facts". Because Clarion are apparently concerned that
There is a lot of incorrect information, and deliberate misinformation, about DSEi available online.

Absolutely. Unfortunately, quite a lot of it is on the same Clarion webpage. Here's a selection from Clarion's wide-eyed journey into the evidently puzzling world of UK firearms and export control law:

"Promotion or display of the following items is banned at DSEi:...Portable devices designed for riot protection or self defence using an electric shock (e.g. tasers, electric shock batons and shields, stun guns) – even though these have been deployed by UK police forces"

Um, no. UK police do have Tasers, but the Home Office has absolutely not authorised 'electric shock batons' or 'electric shock shields' to be deployed with the UK police.

"Any contracts signed on UK soil by foreign companies require UK export licenses and are therefore subject to the UK’s strict export regime."

Nope. First of all, they wouldn't need an export licence unless the goods or services were physically leaving the country. Second, they *might* need a trade control licence (different to an export licence, but Clarion Events don't seem to have heard of them), depending on exactly what commercial/contracting activity and goods were involved. A large amount of 'trade arrangement' activity is actually provided with an effective exemption from case-by-case licensing by the Open General Trade in Goods Control Orders. For most kinds of weapons, these exempt from individual licensing the act of arranging deals for arms to be moved from anywhere in the world except Iran, North Korea or Zimbabwe (or from the Taliban, let's not forget) to a list of 32 'friendly' countries; or from these 32 friendlies to anywhere except 45 hyper-dodgy places. That's one of the reasons why London is probably quite a convenient place for arms dealers to come to sign contracts - the UK has lots of open licensing (read: licensing exemption) for arms brokering that many other European countries don't have.

"Q. Which countries have Clarion Events invited to DSEi? A. Clarion Events is not responsible for inviting overseas delegations. They are all invited by the UK Government."

Well yeah. Except that just a little further down the page they also say "Out of courtesy, Clarion invites defence attaches from London based embassies". So Clarion Events *does*, er, invite foreign governments themselves. And unlike the UK Government, Clarion doesn't provide a list of the foreign defence attaches it's invited.

"Q. Didn’t Mark Thomas find illegal equipment on display at DSEi in 2005? A. No. Mark Thomas was invited to attend DSEi 2005 by its owners at the time. What he found was literature about equipment. Nonetheless, this was a breach of DSEi policy, so when the leaflet was discovered the stand in question was closed and the companies involved were reported to HM Revenue and Customs."

Wrong. The equipment in the sales material that Mark Thomas found was classified as 'Restricted' (now 'category A') in UK export control law. Under the Trade in Goods (Control) Order 2003, which had entered into force by 2005, any person in the UK who does "any act calculated to promote the supply or delivery of" such goods is breaking the law. The UK government's own helpful guidance on this law makes it explicitly clear that all advertising or promotion of such equipment, including at trade fairs and even when the equipment is not pysically present, is banned. Although HMRC chose not to press for prosucution, the activity described by Mark Thomas was still unlawful.

"Since then [the Mark Thomas caper] there have been two other DSEi Exhibitions (in 2007 and 2009) and the exhibition is now owned by Clarion Events"

Absolutely. What Clarion neglect to mention is that the 2007 event didn't really do any better than in 2005. As Amnesty International UK notes: "At DSEi in 2007, researchers discovered two companies, BCB International (Cardiff) and Famous Glory Holding (China) promoting banned leg restraints."

And now that the event's happily in Clarion's hands, any progress? Umm:

14 September 2011: Amnesty International has obtained brochures from the Defense and Security International fair (DSEi) currently taking place in London’s Docklands, which appear to clearly show illegal torture equipment advertised. Despite explicit acknowledgments on the DSEi website that the sale of “leg irons, gang chains, shackles and shackle bracelets” are prohibited, the brochures Amnesty has obtained, advertise the products for sale from a company called CTS-Thompson on display at the Beechwood Equipment stall. A double-page spread in the brochure clearly offers oversized leg cuffs, waist chains, lead chains and “the enhanced transport restraint system”, which combines waist chains and cuffs with leg cuffs.

Note to Clarion Events: Try harder. Or at all.