by Deborah Hadfield
Shooters came face to face with firearms licensing officers at the British Shooting Show.
Officers from three police forces, Devon & Cornwall, West Mercia, and Warwickshire went to the 2023 event in Birmingham to meet shooters. The police staff were there to help with variations and offer practical advice on how to navigate the licensing maze. Some of them had some explaining to do about their poor service during the past three years.
Detective Seargent Billy Bingham of Devon & Cornwall Constabulary says the response he had was positive, despite the backlogs and frustrations.
He says: “It’s about positive engagement. During covid, there wasn’t enough physical contact with the community. We’ve got big backlogs in our department. We’re struggling on a number of levels, and this is an opportunity to explain, engage and provide a service to the community that we’re here to support.”
John Allison of the British Shooting Show says the result of having the firearms attend the show was phenomenal.
He says: “They’ve really enjoyed themselves. And I think the direct engagement has really paid dividends. Just variations alone yesterday, a little bird told me that we have by 12 o’clock we had done the equivalent in variations of a week’s worth of work, which I thought was quite amazing. It’s been really well received. I think the beauty about this is they’ve now realised the importance of it.”
Gamekeeper Jay Phipps came up from Dorset just to collect his variation, which meant it took six days not six months.
He says: “I like to interact with people face to face. I know who I’m dealing with. I can see them. I can talk to them. I like interacting with people.”
Billy adds: “I work a lot of hours. My team work a lot of hours. And it’s good to feel that positivity. And I have got to say, I’m feeding off it and I’ll certainly be taking it back when I go home in three days’ time.”
Shooter Mark Whitaker enquired about his variation with West Mercia Police at the shooting show. Mark says he preferred being able to deal with officers in person.
Richard Munson of West Mercia Police says it’s much easier than trying to do it over the telephone. He says: “It’s fine picking up the phone and speaking to somebody in an office. But if you can have a personal interaction with somebody one-to-one at something like a shooting show where they are here, it’s a much more personal interaction. And I think it’s beneficial both for us to understand the certificate holders and for them to get to know us.”
Martin Parker of BASC says some of the forces have some real issues with delays.
He says: “It’s an opportunity for people to actually say you’ve got some got some difficulties here and it gives a chance for the force to explain what they’re doing and how they’re moving that forward.”
He says good relations between firearms licensing departments and the shooting community is really important. He says: “As head of firearms at BASC, I want the best relationships possible because that’s how you get things done.”
Former Metropolitan Police detective and Fieldsports Nation member Ian Jensen says it is important that police work more closely with shooters. He says many forces are struggling with a lack of resources.
He says: “There’s a degree of remoteness between the police and shooters and I think shooters aren’t really certain why the licensing unit is there. Is to stop people having guns. Is it there to make sure only the right people have guns? What is it there for exactly? Is it just a registration system or is it to stop people having guns?”
He says meeting firearms licensing officers at the shooting show gives people a better understanding of exactly what the purpose of a licensing organisation is.
The face-to-face sessions in Birmingham happened just ahead of the results of the inquest into the 2021 shootings in Plymouth, when five people died. The jury heard that the mass shooter Jake Davison had a history of violence. Despite this, the police granted him a certificate. The inquest jury said “catastrophic failures” within Devon and Cornwall’s firearms licensing unit led to an “unsafe culture” and the force had failed to protect the victims and the wider public. The jury made recommendations, including calling for the shotgun certificate to be scrapped and shotguns to go on firearm certificates. It also suggests an increase in charges for certificates.
Billy says: “There has been an utterly tragic incident that has been dealt with away from here, and we are here to do everything we can to keep everybody safe and in lawful possession.”
BASC says the firearms licensing system in England and Wales needs a major overhaul. It says it is ‘largely unprofessional, overburdened and poorly resourced’ and a ‘Cinderella service’ that is ‘putting public safety at risk’.
.Martin says: “I would like to say things are improving. It is a little bit of a situation of ‘light at the end of the tunnel’ and ‘jam tomorrow’.”
He says the police are trying to move forward with professionalising the service. He says: “I think anything that professionalises it has got to be good. The downside is that we are still in a situation where there are probably seven forces which have over a thousand section seven permits. That’s never a good situation.”
In Scotland, police oversee firearms licensing centrally and there are fewer issues.
Jake Swindells of the Countryside Alliance in Scotland says: “Without being too critical of English forces. I think one of the main advantages that Scotland has is the fact that it’s now one police force. It was amalgamated a number of years ago, whereas in England you’ve got a number of forces with different policies and doing their own thing. Inevitably they’re going to have different ways of doing things which causes backlogs.”
He says in Scotland there is one police force with one police and one training course which works better.”
The sessions at the British Shooting Show allowed shooters to get help by meeting officers in person. They are a welcome contrast to the crackdown that happened after the shooting in Plymouth, when Home Secretary Priti Patel introduced new statutory guidance that led to police seizing guns from ordinary shooters across Devon, Cornwall and Dorset. Almost all of the gun seizure victims who told their story to Fieldsports News have now had their guns back.
Devon deerstalker Andrew Alger’s case comes up in April 2023, and he still doesn’t know what he has done wrong, because the police won’t tell him.
he police force outreach at the British Shooting Show won’t help Andrew, but it is a step in the right direction.