New guidance & application forms for firearms licensing published

Three hunters, walking away from the camera in woodland, one carrying a rifle on his back

New statutory guidance for police on firearms licensing has been published, along with new application forms - Credit: Emily Damment

Following a consultation, new statutory guidance for police on firearms licensing and new application forms have been published. Find out what's changed and how it will affect you...

A consultation seeking views on the introduction of statutory guidance for police on firearms licensing, including new arrangements for medical checks, has concluded and the outcome has been published on gov.uk. The consultation ran between 23 July 2019 and 17 September 2019, and was not launched in response to the Plymouth shooting. You can read the government's response to the guidance here, and read BASC's response here.

Revised application forms have now been issued, and both these and the new statutory guidance came into effect yesterday (1 November 2021), allowing police time to prepare. So, what's changed about the firearms licensing process, and how will it affect shooters like you?

Medical verification no longer has to come from your GP
Medical verification no longer needs to be carried out by an individual's GP. Instead, it can be carried out by any registered medical practitioner, using a patient’s individual notes. This helps solve the problem of applicants whose GPs have claimed "conscientious objection" to gun ownership and have refused to complete the verification.

This is a significant step forward, but BASC still has concerns. In its own response to the guidance, it stated: "The latest guidance does not demand that so-called ‘markers’ be placed on the medical records of firearms certificate holders. This is a significant failing that means there is potentially no medical monitoring during the life of the certificate. We would urge government to reconsider this aspect, which would enhance public confidence in the licensing system."

Medical verification is also now a requirement, and the police will not issue a firearm certificate in the absence of the medical information about the applicant; previously, if a GP did not respond within a given time frame, the application would proceed on the assumption that there was nothing to declare. 

Issues relating to paying the GP or medical practitioner for this service has sadly not changed. The new guidance states: "Where the GP requests that a fee be paid in advance of responding to the police request for information, this is a matter between the applicant and his or her GP. It is not an issue that the police should become involved in."

This, coupled with the requirement for the medical verification to be completed prior to issuing the licence, means some could end up with no choice but to pay a unregulated fee for the pleasure of owning a firearm.

Constables now compelled by law to follow the guidance
Surprisingly, previous guidance actually had no standing in law. Chief Constables will now be compelled to follow the new guidance or justify why, on an individual case-by-case basis, if they do not. 

This is a positive step forward which should bring more consistency to the licensing process, and increase public confidence.

Background checks required of the police deem it necessary
The new guidance includes an extensive list of background checks. These are not compulsory for every applicant, but rather will be carried out if the police deem it necessary to assess suitability after initial checks have been carried out.

The list includes but is not limited to:

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  • checks with other agencies, such as health professionals other than the GP, social services, probation services or multi-agency groups;
  • checks with other licensing or regulatory bodies or enforcement agencies;
  • a drug or alcohol test;
  • credit or other financial checks;
  • information obtained from open source social media;
  • interviews with individuals other than the applicant or their referees, for example, neighbours, partners or representatives of shooting clubs attended by the applicant;
  • background or medical checks on partners or other individuals living at, or with unsupervised access to, the applicant’s address; and
  • checks where there is an indication of domestic violence or abuse, as set out in paragraphs 2.45 – 2.50.

Checks relating to domestic violence or abuse are noted as one of the most serious factors to be considered. The new guidance states: "Evidence of domestic violence or abuse is one of the most serious factors that should be taken into consideration in assessing an application. The Government’s definition of domestic abuse is as follows: ‘any incident or pattern of incidents of controlling, coercive, threatening behaviour, violence or abuse between those aged 16 or over who are, or have been, intimate partners or family members regardless of gender or sexuality.’
"Where there is information indicating the possibility of domestic violence or abuse, an interview with the applicant’s current partner or family member should be completed. Where known and proportionate, interviews with any previous partners should also be completed. These interviews should not be in the presence of the applicant."

BASC commented on the changes relating to background checks: "It has been suggested that such checks will only be activated if there are substantial concerns as to an applicant’s suitability to possess a firearm; this seems entirely reasonable and proportionate in protecting public safety. 
"But any shift towards instigating such checks on every applicant would create a wholly unworkable processes, leading to unacceptable delays and increased costs. We do not believe forces have the resources to undertake such wholesale checks."

You can read the full statutory guidance document here and find the newly issued application forms here.