How shotgun and firearms licences are granted was placed under the spotlight following the high profile shootings involving Derek Bird in West Cumbria in 2010.
The process and law relating to Firearms Certification is covered by the Firearms Act 1968. That Act makes it an offence for any person to have in their possession, purchase or acquire a firearm to which the Act applies without holding a firearms certificate. A similar offence exists if a person possesses, purchases or acquires ammunition covered by the Act.
In order to apply for a Firearms Certificate a person must apply to the Chief Officer of the police area in which the applicant resides. In Cumbria the Constabulary guidance and forms associated with such an application can be found here.
The test applied by the Constabulary in order to determine those persons who are granted firearms certificates is three-fold and derived from section 27 of the Firearms Act 1968:
1. The applicant must be fit to be entrusted with a firearm and not prohibited by the Act from possessing such a firearm;
It can be particularly difficult to assess whether an applicant is fit to be entrusted with a firearm. Persons sentenced to custody for life, preventative detention or to imprisonment for a period of three years or more (including Youth Custody) will be excluded from holding a firearms certificate.
Other considerations that the Constabulary are entitled to consider include an applicant’s mental health, alcohol and drug abuse or evidence of other behaviour that may suggest that they are not fit to be entrusted. Such behaviour may include matters of violence, public order or antisocial behaviour.
Should the constabulary have concerns about an applicant’s mental health this concern should be based on enquiries with the applicant’s GP and disclosure of their medical records. Mental illness will not automatically prohibit an applicant from obtaining a certificate.
2. The applicant must have a good reason for having in his possession, or for purchasing or acquiring the firearm or ammunition;
Every application should be considered separately as to what constitutes a good reason for possessing a firearm. Government guidance does suggest that a desire to own a firearm will not in itself be sufficient to become a good reason and any application should be supported by other evidence.
Target shooting, club membership and the shooting of animals can be considered good reasons.
3. The applicant can be permitted to have the firearm or ammunition in his possession without danger to public safety or to the peace.
The constabulary will take account of any information suggesting that an applicant may pose a risk to public safety or the peace.
An application form should be completed according to the guidance issued by each relevant police force area.
Following receipt of the relevant forms it is normal practice for a member of the constabulary to attend on the applicant for the purposes of an interview. This can include a home visit to consider the security of the location where the firearms are intended to be stored.
The interview process is designed to allow the Constabulary to assess the three stage test outlined above on a face to face basis with the applicant.
Should an application for a Firearms or Shotgun Licence be refused, the Chief Constable for the force area where the application was made will write to the applicant to inform them of the refusal and the reasons for it.
Equally, a Chief Constable may revoke a Firearms or Shotgun Licence if he has reason to believe:
(i) The holder is of intemperate habits or unsound mind or otherwise unfit to be entrusted with a firearm;
(ii) The holder can no longer be permitted to have the firearm or ammunition without danger to public safety or peace;
(iii) The holder is prohibited by the Act from having possession of the firearm
(iv) There is no longer a good reason for the holder to have possession of the firearm
(v) The holder fails to delivery up his certificate upon request.
An Appeal process exists whereby an applicant may appeal to the Crown Court within 21 days of receiving notification from the Chief Constable. Similarly an appeal can be made where an existing licence has been revoked.
This area of law can be complex and if you have concerns about an application or you have had your firearms licence revoked and wish to appeal, specialists at Milne Moser can assist.