Broken, badly funded and not fit for purpose: that’s the verdict on the firearms licensing system in England and Wales. But BASC and politicians who understand the importance of shooting sports to the economy, the environment and countryside communities, believe it can be fixed.
MP Sir Bill Wiggin says the government should consider introducing ten-year certificates.
He says: ”My view is that once you are medically monitored, why do you have to keep coming back to the police? Increasing the costs on the police as well as all the individuals. You’re being monitored. You don’t need to keep reapplying.”
He says the system should be the same as for driving licences: people could be reassessed when they reach a certain age.
BASC director of firearms Bill Harriman is concerned that the recommendations made after the inquest into the shootings in Plymouth in 2021, where five people died, are going in the wrong direction. The jury suggested shotgun certificates should be scrapped and added to firearms certificates. He says: “It troubles me because I look back at history and the last time that shotguns were changed in status was 1988. Since then, the all-time high of shotguns certificates in 1988 has gone down by 40%.”
Bill Harriman says the solution to fixing the broken system is to focus on individual responsibility. He says: “Shotguns are really the only efficient part of the licensing system because they licence people rather than individual guns.”
He says the government should design a system that concentrates on the suitability of the person. He says: “Once that person is suitable to possess firearms, it’s generally a matter for him to decide which ones he possesses, providing that he satisfies a statutory condition which we have at the moment to keep those firearms securely.”
MP Sir Bill says the licensing system should be standardised. He says: “I think we need to have one price, one level of training, and one commitment by the police to ensure that not only are you a fit and proper person to have a shotgun or firearms certificate. In return for you being that person, you are trusted for a longer period of time.”
He says the public has a right to be protected by the certification process as well as by our police force and our doctors.
He says: “If it’s all working, then we don’t need to go back to the old fashioned five-year renewal. So I’d like to see more trust put in people who are being monitored more closely.”
Firearms licensing has become an issue due to mistakes made by Devon & Cornwall Police.
The inquest jury criticised the force, which gave the killer, Jake Davison, a certificate despite his history of violence.
After the shooting, the force cracked down on shooters. Fieldsports News has reported on many incidents where police seized guns from ordinary shooters.
Tom Wyndham Smith and Art Harvey from Cornwall say they were two of the victims of this over-reaction. Police seized guns from both of them.
Tom says: “I think that my situation was brought on by a kneejerk reaction by Devon & Cornwall police as they scrambled to try and save themselves.”
He says it appears the force has saved itself as he believes no real action has been taken against it after the Plymouth shooting.
Art has now got his guns and certificate back.
He says: “I think we’ve been victims. I have been stressed. I can’t understand it when I haven’t done anything wrong.”
Tom still hasn’t got his guns or certificate. He says not having his guns makes life difficult. He says: “I do a lot of pest control, fox shooting and deer stalking.”
He’s losing work because he hasn’t got his guns.
He says: “It’s a lot of years’ worth of work and it’s all gone.”
BASC says one of the ways the government could avoid the inconsistent service that shooters face is to introduce a national system. Bill Harriman says he would improve firearms licensing with a system such as the forensic regulator’s office. He says: ”It needs to be put in place, with teeth, to mandate chief constables to obey the statutory guidance by financing and resourcing their departments properly. And you would have to be able for that office – call it the ‘firearms regulator’ for want of a better word – to be able to say: ‘Chief constable, you’re behind with your renewals of certificates. You will remedy this by six months and we will inspect you again’.”
Sir Bill says his preferred change would be a national firearms unit that covered the whole of the UK so that individual constabularies can’t have different levels of service.
He says: “The training was missing in Cornwall. Having one firearms unit would allow the police to ensure that training was uniform across the whole of the country. I think there are other things that can be done rather than trying to toughen up shotgun certificates.”
Whatever the future changes to firearms licensing, they will come too late to help Tom. He says it is too expensive to appeal to get his guns or certificate back. He says: “It’s really unfair, it’s not right. There should be an investigation into the claims against me. I just feel really let down by the system.”
Art says the issue is that, right now, people can make any claims they want against legal gun owners and, because of Plymouth, police overreact to it. Art says he no longer trusts his local force and is fearful he could lose his guns again any time.
After a campaign by Fieldsports News, most of the shooters in Devon and Cornwall that we spoke to do have their guns back.
There are forces in England and Wales that suspended processing of new certificates and waiting times are months not weeks.
BASC says there is a risk history could repeat itself. Bill Harriman says it is difficult to avoid another tragedy like Plymouth. He adds, however: “You can learn an awful lot. The rollout of a medical marker on people’s records will alert the police to somebody who’s presented with a condition.”
He says that it doesn’t mean people won’t get a gun but it could be investigated. He says: “You’ve got to risk-assess rather than be risk averse. I think if you get that scrutiny together with that early warning system then you’ve done everything you can.”