“So, this masked man walks into a gunshop,” may sound like the start of a bad joke, but it could be about to get deadly serious. Stuart Farr explores some of the issues that may face retailers when they reopen their shutters…
QUESTION: You are a registered dealer in firearms and ammunition as well as selling various other shooting accessories to the public. A person arrives at your premises. They are dressed in shooting camouflage, wearing a surgical face mask, a visor attached to a baseball cap and nitrile gloves. Your experienced eye detects, through the partially unzipped gun sleeve under their arm, what appears to be a side by side shotgun. Do you:
(A) Push the panic button and pray that the Firearms Response Unit gets to you before anything “kicks off”?
(B) Place a socially distant two metres between you and the person, slowly reach under the counter and feel around for “Bertie”, your faithful baseball bat which you optimistically keep there to provide a false sense of reassurance?
(C) Politely ask the person to join the seven other people milling around the car park outside, all wearing similar PPE, and inform them they are number eight in the queue and the average waiting time is twenty minutes for each person in front of him/her.
(D) Lower your own woolly crochet face covering (lovingly knitted for you in forest green during lockdown by an elderly relative), give the person a beaming smile and say; “Hi Bob, great to see you—smile for the camera!—are you here for those Eley 6’s you asked for on the phone yesterday?”
Assuming all goes well and the government are able sufficiently to massage the statistics to enable the smaller retailers to start opening, this could be just one of the dilemmas you are faced with as the lockdown restrictions start to ease even further.
The expression, the “new normal” may now have become a cliché but it is nonetheless a harsh reality. Getting back to the way things were isn’t going to be easy—if, indeed, it is possible at all.
As outdoor sports start to re-commence, the shooters and fishermen will hopefully come flooding back to your bricks and mortar premises soon enough. During lockdown, many of you have not been complacent either.
Taking the time to complete many of those time-consuming chores which were difficult before the lockdown will stand you in good stead. Polishing and tidying up your website, for example—enhancing your on-line offering in order to keep at least some product flowing out of the door has been a constructive occupation for many of you.
Others have boldly adopted strategies exercised by much bigger businesses in other sectors—“click & collect” and local deliveries being just two examples.
The recent change in position over the lockdown has generated its fair share of confusion and head scratching. The distinctions between what is “law” as opposed to “rules” or “guidance” have become blurred—some consider purposely. So let’s start by dispelling a few myths:
- It is NOT a legal requirement to wear a face mask or face covering in public or confined spaces such as on public transport or in some shops where social distancing is difficult. It is guidance.
- The police do NOT have a power to enforce social distancing of two metres because this has not been written into the law. It is guidance.
- It is NOT a legal requirement to avoid public transport. It is guidance.
- The need to have a “reasonable excuse” to be outside was never properly defined in the legislation. The examples provided by the government were guidance.
- If you are on your own property, provided you were not engaged in a gathering which breached the legislative lockdown provisions, the police have NO power to tell you what to do.
- Of course, the vast majority of traders and business owners want to comply with the current guidance in the best way they can, not least for the safety of employees (in respect of whom a legal duty of care is owed by the employer) but also to provide assurances to their customers that safety has been considered and implemented for their protection.
- For those in the gun trade with “bricks & mortar” premises, this presents its own unique challenges. Maintaining social distances is understandably difficult and with most retail premises only having one mode of entry for customers some of you may feel that a “one in-one out” system of entry and exit is the only realistic option available. Other practical issues specific to gun traders include:
- How to properly conduct a face-to-face firearms transaction with a customer who is insistent on wearing a face covering or other similar forms of PPE.
- Customer toilets—generally discouraged unless you are prepared to clean after every use.
- Handling of firearms and similar product by potential customers—“dry mounting” is a common thing but is also an activity which might encourage the spread of virus unless the firearm is properly cleansed after each time it is handled. Similarly, customers do like to see through a scope before they buy. If you need to cleanse, what you don’t want to be doing is wiping down an expensive product time after time with a cleaning product which will cause damage or deterioration in quality.
- Receiving customers’ guns for repairs or servicing—again, do you need to cleanse before it is accepted or handled?
- General and regular thorough cleansing of your premises.
- Implementing a safe system of work for employees generally. Do you install glass or Perspex barriers over or around the counter? Are you going to limit purchases to card payments only so that cash is not handled? Can you make adequate arrangements for two metre social distancing between staff members? Will you stagger their breaks, start and finish times within the already limited hours you may be open?
It must not be forgotten, of course, that different approaches have been taken as between England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland and so a degree of care must be taken to ensure compliance with the legal obligations in your respective jurisdictions.
This overall lack of harmony, coupled with the plethora of different guidance notes being issued by the government, renders it impossible to be definitive. You must review the guidance and implement what is appropriate and justified for you and your businesses.
In addition, bear in mind the activities of RFD’s are monitored by different police forces, each of which will have a different view on what is or is not permissible particularly regarding the sale of firearms and ammunition. Consult them if you need to.
The enforcement powers of the police have not been substantively changed—they need to remain in place in case a full lockdown needs to be resumed due to a second wave. Consequently, the power to close down non-essential business still subsists and will no doubt be exercised if there is a concern that the law and guidance is being flouted. The fines have gone up too.
Therefore even if you find yourself unable to comply with each and every guidance note or recommendation it is important that you make an effort to at least comply with the spirit of them and exercise appropriate common sense.
I realise this adds yet another layer of legal obligation and regulation to what is already an over-burdened sector. Although the predictions of deep recession in the future are rife, it would be a shame to fall at the first hurdle. Good luck all and stay alert.