Fit For Purpose?

With changes to firearms licensing systems and General Licences in the pipeline, shooters should be prepared for all eventualities, warn shooting groups

Changes to a number of licenses could hinder shooters, but organisations say that reviews will be beneficial

Shooting groups have criticised plans to tighten guidelines on issuing firearms licences. The Home Office plan to put the onus on the applicant to provide a medical certificate, rather than asking a GP to provide details. Although GPs are not obliged to give the information, the move has been called “fundamentally flawed” by those who will be affected. 

Ceredigion-based BASC officer, Meurig Rees, remarked that shooters are being unfairly penalised for having to provide data that should be obtained by the police.

“When we look at it from a shooter’s point of view, it’s a right mess to be honest,” he said. “The medical checks are there already. It’s just the inconsistencies on the medical side of it – certain doctors’ surgeries can charge anything from £20 to £100 for the information and it’s just not right.”

In some instances GPs do not respond to police requests, while some firearms certificates are issued without medical information – in other words, the regulations are not applied evenly. Mr Rees continued: “We shouldn’t be paying but the onus is coming back on us as shooters all the time.” 

The Home Office have said the lack of medical information in some cases is because there are “GPs who feel strongly that no one should have firearms in their homes and decline to comply with the regulations.” 

Speaking on behalf of the British Medical Association, Dr Phil White said this was one of several reasons why doctors do not always provide the information.

He sad: “We are allowed to disclose if the public is at risk from someone who has a firearms licence – putting a marker on their record is a way of doing this.” 

Dyfed-Powys is a case in point. It has the highest number of shotgun licences in England and Wales; last year an additional 15,000 shotgun licences were issued along with more than 4,500 firearms certificates. However, the local police force have said they would not issue a licence without medical information as a matter of “public safety.” 

Deputy chief constable, Clare Permenter, said: “We need a standardised process for the whole of the UK. We are very thorough and have good working relationship with our GP practices – they’re very supportive in providing information but the new consultation would speed up the process for everyone involved.” 

A Home Office statement said: “We have some of the toughest firearms controls in the world and we will do everything we can to ensure it stays this way.”

However, BASC expressed disappointment at the plans to unify firearms licensing practices nationwide, saying the main effect would be to make shooting more expensive. 

Following a consultation, BASC found that – if the government approves the proposals – this could result in: 

  • A potential loss of tens of thousands of firearms owners over the next five years, with serious knock-on impacts on businesses
  • The creation of a multi-million pound medical record-checks industry, funded by the shooting community with no benefit to that community or to public safety 
  • Mandatory GP involvement in firearms licensing nationwide, with no safeguards to protect applicants from GPs refusing to take part or charging extortionate fees
  • Police interviewing applicants’ neighbours on their suitability to own guns, unnecessarily introducing an extra security risk for certificate holders to contend with 
  • Police seeking credit or other financial tests on applicants and considering debt as a factor in decision making 

BASC have concluded that the Home Office proposals are neither evidence-led nor fit for purpose. They argue that this will encourage police forces across the UK to continue to make up their own rules, largely to the disadvantage of firearms owners.

BASC add that existing and prospective firearms owners will be treated poorly and will be regarded as people who may be dealt with in any way that the police or doctors wish.

Welsh Setback 

Welsh shooters are also set to be affected by proposed changes to general licenses. Following the debacle of affecting England’s general licences earlier this year, BASC has earmarked the new plans as ‘irresponsible’ while the shooting community to understand and abide by the new Welsh general licences or risk further restriction.

Attention has shifted towards ensuring that shooters don’t fall foul of the law, and apply for individual licences where necessary as the new licences cannot be relied upon in some areas. 

Steve Griffiths, BASC’s Wales director, remarked: “It is incredibly disappointing that NRW (Natural Resources Wales) have ignored our significant concerns and are currently rubber-stamping their new licences. 

“It is essential that those who are affected by the changes make NRW aware of the impact they are having on their jobs and livelihoods. If issues are not raised with the NRW directly then the licensing body will have little reason to overturn their decision.

“We are urging all members to provide the practical evidence to coincide with the scientific evidence to influence next year’s licence review and ensure it is fit for purpose.

“It is a simple case of use them or lose them. For example, if people refuse to apply for individual licences for the control of rooks to prevent agricultual damage, what chance do we have of seeing them placed back on the general licence?”

Welsh shooters will feel that nothing is going their way, as the latest development follows the decision to curtail shooting on land owned by Natural Resources Wales last year, despite a consultation saying it should continue. At the time, the Welsh government’s environment minister and NRW both appeared to blame each other for this decision.

Now, several species have been removed from certain licences, with the rook and collared dove being taken completely off the licences. Also, the general licence for conservation purposes (GL004) will only be allowed to be used when protecting species of conservation concern, listed as either ‘red’ or ‘amber’. 

These changes are intermediary, as a reaction to legal advice that its old general licences were “not lawful”, though unlike England, no legal challenge has actually been made, nor has the legality of the old licences, which date back to the 1900s, ever been questioned in court. NRW intends to complete a full licensing consultation in 2020.

The new general licences have also been slammed by the National Gamekeepers’ Organisation (NGO), which says its members will no longer be able to carry out important conservation work in the country.

Commenting on the proposed changes in Wales, David Pooler, North Wales chairman of the National Gamekeepers’ Organisation, said: “This will be a disaster for rural Wales, making the jobs of gamekeepers, farmers and pest controllers more difficult at the very time when rapidly declining wildlife in the Welsh countryside needs all the help it can get.

“NRW has run scared of a non-existent legal threat, rushing through a set of ill-considered and over-precautionary licences that will stop people doing what they need to do and harm the very biodiversity NRW is supposed to look after.

“NRW repeatedly ignored our concerns when we met with them multiple times during the summer to explain that their proposals would be counter-productive.

“Just two weeks ago (8 September) we issued a joint press release along with all the other countryside and farming representative bodies in Wales urging NRW to think again. They ignored that too. All trust between NRW and what should be its valued rural partners is now shattered.

“There is no democratic control on NRW. They were given free rein by the Welsh Government to run wildlife licensing and can do with it what they like.

“The only recourse against unlawful changes to the licences is judicial review by the courts, which we and others will now have to consider.

“NRW said they wanted to hear our views but they didn’t listen. Instead of sensible licences that we could support, they have rushed ahead with these botched new versions which we have no choice but to condemn.”

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