Now the season is fully under way, I think a timely reminder about gun security in the car would not go amiss. Im told by my colleague Richard Kennett, of the Suffolk police, that recently there have been a small number of thefts of shotguns from cars in East Anglia. Certificate holders are responsible folk, and gun thefts from cars are very rare (only 23 in 2006-2007), but we must not become complacent.
Every shotgun certificate carries a statutory condition that imposes a duty on the holder to look after the shotguns to which it relates. It is a criminal offence to fail to comply with a condition on a certificate. The penalties are draconian; up to six months in the clink, a fine of up to £5,000; or both. In my experience, magistrates tend to deal harshly with certificate holders who transgress, so expect more than a smacked wrist.
Condition 4 (b) on your certificate states: When a shotgun to which this certificate relates is in use or the holder of the certificate has the shotgun with him for the purpose of cleaning, repairing or testing it or for some other purpose connected with its use, transfer or sale, or the shotgun is in transit to or from a place in connection with its use or any such purpose, reasonable precautions must be taken for the safe custody of the shotgun. The most important words in this are reasonable precautions. There is no legal definition of what this means; but the Oxford English Dictionary defines reasonable as Not greatly less or more than might be thought appropriate. Reasonableness is a middle course between two extremes.
The Home Office has issued some helpful guidance about leaving guns in cars: Any guns should be hidden, preferably in the locked boot or other secured load carrying area of the vehicle where practicable. If the vehicle is left unattended for any reason, firearms should be concealed, preferably in the locked luggage compartment and (where practicable), an essential component such as the bolt or fore-end removed and kept in possession of the responsible person. Where possible, any ammunition should be stored separately from the firearm and this too should be concealed from view. The vehicle should be locked, and any immobiliser or alarm should be set. If possible, the vehicle should be parked within the sight of the responsible person.
It is better not to leave a gun in an unattended vehicle but that is a council of perfection. You might need to go to the shops on the way home, and most shoots repair to the pub at the end of the day. Ask the landlord if you may bring your gun inside. Most country pubs will be happy with this.
Park close to a wall to prevent access to the back of the car; consider securing your gun with a cable and lock or use a specially designed slip such as the Napier Protector 2 Secure; shooting association window stickers may attract a thief.
If you follow this guidance, I think you are bombproof. It would be difficult to mount a prosecution and any revocation would be unjustified. Look upon it as a minimum standard and do better if you can. Often the police regard someone who has had a gun pinched from their car as a criminal rather than a victim. If you follow the guidance and go the extra mile, then you can put Mr Plod on the back foot and give him a hard time for not preventing car crime on his manor.
The theft of a shotgun is a grave matter, and the police will always view it as a very serious incident. The prospect of a lethal weapon in the hands of a petty thief is bad enough; the consequences of it ending up in an armed robbery do not bear thinking about. If there has been any negligence or recklessness on your part, then your certificate will be revoked and you may be prosecuted as well. The loss of a gun is not just a personal catastrophe; it is also a PR disaster for the sport. It only takes a single theft reported in a local paper to make the public think we are all irresponsible slackers. Dont let the side down.