Inspired by a recent case in the mainstream media, Peter Glenser looks at the rights of shooters who wish to transport guns around the UK
Many of us travel regularly with firearms and do so without incident. Looking at the recent PACEC report commissioned by the BASC, one can see there are around 4 million nights of accommodation required per year in connection with shooting in the UK. It’s a staggering number. It is also readily apparent that shooters need hotels and hotels need shooters, which makes the attitude of one hotel during the recent Commonwealth Games in Glasgow rather surprising. I’m sure you have seen reports of it in the press, so I won’t go over what has been said already – but in short, it appears the company has a policy for its hotels to disallow firearms on their premises.
A guest attempted to check in to the establishment with a shotgun and the hotel staff called the police. It was alleged by the hotel that it is against the law for guests to have firearms on the premises; this is plainly not true. Eventually, permission to stay in the hotel was granted on the condition that the guest relocate the guns to the police station and collect them the following morning. This seems like a monumental waste of police time and to be astonishingly querulous on the part of the hotel.
What is the law’s position on this and how can trouble or potential embarrassment be avoided? The Firearms Act of 1988 makes the law’s position clear. A safekeeping condition is required to be attached to all shotgun and firearm certificates. The standard conditions say that when not in use, firearms must be stored securely so as to prevent unauthorised access. When in use, being cleaned, repaired, tested, in transit or sold, reasonable precautions must be taken for their safe custody. The law does not define what is meant by reasonable, but it is a criminal offence to fail to comply with the conditions on a firearms or shotgun certificate. The maximum penalty for this offence is six months in prison, or a fine, or both.
You aren’t about to get thrown in jail for spending the night with your gun, however. While the Home Office does not have the status of law, their guidelines are helpful in determining the attitude that the police and the CPS may take. Upon revision in 2014, this is what they had to say about travelling with guns and staying away from home:
“When firearms and ammunition are being carried on a journey which involves them being kept away from their usual secure storage the responsible person should ensure that they are secure, as far as reasonably practicable. Considerations when firearms are being taken to venues involving overnight or longer accommodation include:
Obtaining accommodation which provides secure facilities (some hotels offer this service) but the certificate holder (whose responsibility it is) should satisfy himself that no unauthorised person has access to the security, for example by having spare keys to a cabinet;
Separating and retaining possession of integral parts of the firearm to prevent it being used; or
Using portable security devices, such as security cords.”
Note the use of “or” as opposed to “and” in the second consideration. The component parts of Section 2 firearms are not themselves firearms, even if pressure-bearing. There is no reason why one part of a shotgun cannot be put into the hotel’s safe while another is locked in the boot of your car and the forend is either kept on your person or in the safe in your room. You are not allowing access to a complete firearm to anyone, so no offence is being committed. You may not do this with any other firearm that is subject to certification because, as most readers will know, the pressure-bearing component parts of any other firearm are themselves considered firearms, (as are moderators).
It is worth mentioning at this point that you are not obliged to tell the hotel that you are travelling with a firearm. Lack of knowledge of a firearm’s whereabouts by unauthorised persons is integral to its security. On arrival at a hotel, leave the barrels in the boot of your car and back the vehicle up against the wall so that no one can get behind it. Clearly, this is much better in a saloon car than an estate. Do not advertise that you are shooting. Make sure there is nothing obviously shooting related visible in the car. Do not arrive with the guns in their slips. Break them down so that the barrels are already in the boot and put the actions and forends in an ordinary bag – there are many items of luggage now available which are designed to contain one or two rifles or shotguns unobtrusively, and it would be good to see them widely available and widely used.
There are many solutions that will meet the requirement of reasonableness and ensure the safety of your firearms. The best idea, however, would be for the hotels to have firearm cabinets or security cables for the guests in their rooms. While this involve an expensive initial outlay, it may well be worth it, and the truly enlightened will have a gun room on hand with someone present to give the guests’ guns a little holiday attention of their own.