by Deborah Hadfield
Daniel Holmes from Bodmin Moor in Cornwall submitted his gun certificates renewal applications on January 2022. His firearms and shotguns certificates were due to expire on 13 March 2022.
He put in his renewals seven weeks before his certificates’ expiries. Devon & Cornwall police firearms licensing department told him that, had he sent them in eight weeks prior, it would have sent him an extension. Seven weeks and they would not.
Daniel points out that he nearly made the eight-week deadline but he had to wait an extra week for his medical certificate.
With no certificate forthcoming, Daniel puts his guns into storage with a registered firearms dealer on 12 March 2022. He asked for quotes from gunshops. One of them quoted £5 per week per gun. He eventually did a much better-value deal for £280 all in with Bodmin-based riflemaker Southern Gun Company.
The days turned into weeks and then months. Daniel frequently phoned Devon & Cornwall’s police firearms licensing department. He was never allowed to speak to the senior civil servant, Michelle Moore, who was either off work or out of the office. Her colleagues told him that the matter was out of their hands, and that it was with Daniels local police firearms liaison officer. The Devon & Cornwall police website used to list firearms liaison officers and their contact details but, in a reversal of policy, police headquarters told Daniel he is now not allowed to contact that officer and their details are no longer listed.
“All this time, I was losing chickens to foxes and eggs to magpies,” he says, “and it was costing me money in storage.”
Delays in getting or renewing a firearms license can be difficult and, in some cases, dangerous. Despite the problems it causes new home office statistics reveal in England and Wales it’s becoming a huge issue.
Another victim is Tom Davies who waited four months for his license. Tom lives in Devon and relies on his FAC for his job, venison supplier Dartmoor Deer Services.
He says the delay was frustrating but was even worse for his father who has waited more than 12 months. Tom says: “With my license it’s my business. I spoke to the officers, and they said it’s supposed to be a one week like fast-track turnaround for the businesspeople with firearms. But it took four months and I needed bullets. Without the license you can’t buy bullets. I got sent a permit which that lapsed, so they had to send me another permit.”
The permit didn’t allow him to buy ammunition. He says: “The only thing you can do the permit is allows you to hold your guns. You can’t purchase any ammunition or anything.”
Tom’s says that his father is “constantly chasing” Devon & Cornwall’s police firearms department. “It’s not a business to him,” he says. “It’s just as firearms license. He’s constantly phoning, but he just gets told the same thing – that they will look into it, which is the answer everyone gets.”
Police haven’t offered him a permit, so his guns are in storage at an RFD which is costing him every month.
BASC says the failure of firearms licensing departments to prioritise resources is having a significant impact on both participation of shooting sports and the gun trade in England and Wales. Dozens of firearms departments across the two countries are beset with significant delays and backlogs.
BASC says the latest Home Office statistics reveal that 18 police forces are taking more than 100 days to turn around applications, with some accepting that it can take up to a year to process. The statistics showed that on 31 March 2022, just under 540,000 people in England and Wales held a firearm and/or a shotgun certificate, 8% down from 590,000 two years earlier.
BASC head of firearms Martin Parker says the trend is concerning. He says: “I went back to the figures from 2019 to 2020 as that’s the last year before covid and lockdowns and all the various problems that firearms licensing departments had. And the really worrying thing is you’ve got a loss of something like 8% in the total number of firearms and shotguns, ticket holders in the UK. And that represents about 47,000 less certificate holders. And I think for any organization or anyone who’s interested in shooting, that’s a worrying figure.”
Demand for shooting is there. The bureaucracy is not, and delays are affecting the next generation of shooters. BASC is also concerned about the effect of the delays on people who need guns for work or sport. It wants police to realise there is a cost for public safety. Martin says shooting needs young people to take up the sport. He says ‘We want to replace people who are leaving. But I think the figures also reflect a lot of people who are interested in shooting, who haven’t been able to pursue that hobby.’ Martin is worried for people who need a firearm certificate as part of their job. He says: “Some of those are struggling to get certificates, although in fairness, most forces do try and prioritise that.”
BASC is concerned about of the impact on the gun trade because it is being deprived of new shooters. Martin says: “When I speak to the chair of the Gun Trade Association (GTA), he says that his members are quite seriously affected because the people who are likely to spend money on new guns, new equipment, or people who are coming into the sport.”
The GTA says the issue is causing problems for its members, with small dealers, which have limited turnover and small margins, under real pressure. BASC fears it could cause long term damage to the industry too. Martin says for some it could potentially be ruinous. He says: “For all it’s not a good position. It’s a perfect storm when you combine it with all the other pressures that all businesses are under at the moment in terms of rising energy costs, general inflation, the shortage of supplies and ammunition. It’s just all come at a very bad time and it makes it difficult for them to weather.”
BASC says the drop in the number of certificate holders is down to the failures of the system in some areas. One member in the Devon and Cornwall area says he had a two-and-a-half year wait for a certificate.
Martin is finishing a report on the firearms licensing departments within England and Wales which shows a considerable number that are struggling. He said forces have prioritised renewals at the expense of new grants. Martin says: “I think the worst case we have is someone who’s taken over two years to get a grant. But delays of six months to a year are not uncommon.”
Martin says the introduction of statutory guidance and the more stringent medical provisions has impacted older shooters too. He says: “There are some shooters who are looking at it now and saying I really don’t want to be bothered with the effort of doing this.”
There are huge differences of firearms licensing at the 43 police forces in England and Wales. Martin says it is a postcode lottery. He says: “If you’re living in one force area, you can potentially get a grant in six weeks. If you’re living in another force area, that grant could take six months to a year. And I don’t think that’s an acceptable situation.”
Martin says some forces are managing to cope with renewals. He was helping North Yorkshire force with training and is impressed they have no delays. He says there are around a dozen forces doing an equally good job and questions why all authorities cannot be equally efficient. He says police in Scotland have no real delays in terms of renewals and grants. Martin says: “So you have to look north of the border and say, well, what are they doing in their system, which is clearly been successful when we’re struggling so much south of the border.”
BASC says the forces that are struggling should learn from the ones which are proving more efficient. Martin doesn’t believe it is a political or a financial issue. He says: “For some departments there may well be resourcing issues. But I also think the actual approaches that have been taken by firearms licensing departments, their policies, the way they manage risk all have quite an effect. I have spoken to some of the more efficient and effective departments and, you know, they would say they have not got that by accident.”
Martin says they’re achieving what they are because they’ve looked long and hard at where they can streamline the processes and where they can be as effective as possible. He says: “I think it’s for PCC’s to holding chief constables to account to say, ‘why aren’t we achieving that in our forces?”
BASC is calling on the chief constables and police and crime commissioners of the failing forces to act immediately. Martin is also taking his concerns to the new Minister for Policing. He says: “My report will go to all chief constables and PCC’s. We are certainly applying pressure there. We’re also calling on MPs to work with their PCC colleagues and to actually prioritise this and hold chief constables is to account for a service for which you can go nowhere else.”
Tom Davies says shooters want the police to address the situation. He says: “If it’s your business and a few of them know who I am up there so they knew it was my business. I think if it’s your livelihood something could be done there. Maybe, you know, just to keep people going.”
Daniel Holmes found a solution to his problem that bypassed the police. At the beginning of July 2022, Daniel wrote to his local MP, Sheryll Murray, about the matter. He sent the letter on a Wednesday. That Friday, at 7.15pm, out of hours, his local firearms liaison officer Lynn Crockford rang him on his mobile phone.
“It was a five-minute phone call asking if I was healthy and mentally healthy,” he says. “Has anything changed with my gun storage? No. That was it. Thanks very much. It was a five-minute phone call. Why can’t they do that in the first week and press print?”
Some 11 days later (and four months late) his new certificates arrived by post. He also had a two-page apology letter from Michelle Moore.
“If this was you or I in our place of work, we’d be out of a job,” says Daniel.
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