How pride, envy, wrath, sloth, greed, gluttony or lust can lose you your shotgun certificate and firearms licence.
John and Debbie’s divorce was exceptionally bitter, full of spite from the soon-to-be ex-wife. Following a vicious row one evening, Debbie called the police to complain that her husband had confronted her wielding his Remington pump-action shotgun.
He racked the action and pointed it menacingly.
“I’m frightened for my life,” the tearful woman told the police control room. The inevitable followed and a Heckler & Koch wielding, armed response unit rapidly surrounded the house. Once the unpleasant formalities were over and John had proved himself no threat, he invited the ARU team-leader to inspect his gun safe.
When opened this was found to contain a single item – a neatly folded slip of paper.
The officer unfolded this with raised eyebrows. It was a receipt from a local registered firearms dealer for all of John’s guns – dated six weeks prior to Debbie’s complaint!
The names are false but the story is true – one of several cautionary tales related by specialist firearms barrister Peter Glenser.
His talk The Seven Deadly Sins – or how to lose your shotgun certificate was a highlight of the ‘Bisley Live’ event in Surrey in 2011.
A bogus complaint from a spurned partner is surprisingly common. John had an inkling that it may occur. “He was very lucky because he could see trouble coming and took precautions,” said Peter.
“Few people are quite so well prepared, but this is a real danger zone, particularly during an acrimonious divorce. More people lose their shotgun or firearms certificates during divorce proceedings than under any other circumstance – often following an untrue allegation by a former partner.
“You are at risk if someone makes this sort of accusation because it’s one person’s word against another and the Police will err on the side of caution, take away your firearms and it may take a long time to get them back.”
Of course the “sin” in this case was lust (the husband’s for a younger woman), but what of pride, envy, wrath, sloth, greed, or gluttony?
Envy may seem a surprising entry, but there have been cases of people losing their certificates following ill-judged comments on social media, says Peter.
In one recent case, someone very successful in the shooting world was abused on Facebook by another shooter envious of their achievements.
“The attack got more heated and the language increasingly threatening. In due course the Police became involved and the perpetrator is having his ticket revoked and I doubt he will ever get it back.
“People are careless about social media. You never know who is reading it or how long it will remain online. I know of another case where someone added friends on Facebook, but did not realise that some had criminal connections. When the time came to renew his certificates, the Police decided that he had demonstrable connections with members of the criminal fraternity and his ticket was revoked.”
The sin of pride was illustrated by the case of a Northumbrian loader who got shot in the face by a Gun who had moved the safety sticks on either side of his grouse butt.
The Gun was asked to move the sticks back but objected to being told what to do and did not. The result was that he swung through the line and peppered the head of the loader in the next butt.
Had the shot balled it could have killed him.
Sloth, says Peter, is exemplified by the .22 rimfire. “I don’t know what it is about this cartridge, but many people fail to take the precautions that they would with a .243 or a .30-06, for instance.
“Time and again the police visit someone about an unrelated incident, they look in the Land Rover, and sitting in the cubby is a box of .22 rimfire cartridges, probably from lamping the night before.
“Some forces give you a warning letter but others take the view that if you can’t be bothered to lock up your ammunition properly, then you shouldn’t be in possession of a certificate.”
Wrath is probably the most obvious sin. “People who get involved in a road rage incident, or a fight in the pub, may think this has nothing to do with their use of shotguns or firearms.
“However if you come to the attention of the Police this way, especially if it’s a case of domestic violence, you risk losing your ticket.
“If you cannot control your temper, you risk losing your shotgun or rifle.”
Finally there are greed and gluttony. Greed was evident in the case of a West Country man who made his living out of taking visiting Guns duck flighting.
One day, whilst guiding a party of five American visitors, he found there were no duck on his favourite ground so he took them over a fence onto a reserve where there were ducks aplenty.
Unfortunately the local wildlife crime officer was also a keen twitcher, and was sitting quietly in a hide on the reserve. In short order a call was made, an ARU arrived, and the whole party was arrested.
The hapless guide (having committed armed trespass) lost his firearms ticket and his business.
Gluttony is a tricky one. Home office guidance to the police suggests that if you are of “intemperate habits” you should not be trusted with a shotgun or firearm.
“I tried to find out what they meant by intemperate habits, and my local firearms enquiry officer said, he thought anything over 30 units a week.
“So if they speak to your doctor and he says that you drink a bottle of wine a day, then some forces may judge your habits intemperate and refuse your ticket.
“The advice is moderation in all things,” said Peter.
Peter finished his talk by throwing questions open to the floor.
Question: Your shooting party has booked into a hotel where the receptionist demands the guns are locked in the hotel’s safe. What do you do?
Advice: “Unless there’s a staff member on duty who has a valid shotgun certificate and who is the only employee with the keys to the safe, refuse,” says Peter.
“Take other reasonable precautions. I always take the fore-end off my gun and keep it with me while in the hotel. I may also lock the barrels in my room and the action in the boot of the car.”
Question: A shooter from Hampshire was concerned that his shotgun certificate renewal was seven months overdue. The police had reassured him that all would be well because he had applied for renewal eight weeks prior to the due date. His certificate would be back-dated once issued. Was this okay, he asked?
Advice: “They are absolutely wrong. They have no business saying this. If they cannot issue your certificate on time, they should issue a Section 7 Permit, giving you temporary authority to hold the guns until your certificate arrives.
“Without this you are committing a criminal offence. If they refuse to issue a Section 7, contact BASC immediately,” he said, and cited a case where someone had been arrested and charged under exactly these circumstances.
“If the police tell you to send your guns to an RFD [until the renewal is processed], ask them how much they are prepared to pay for storage charges.”
Question: A shooter sometimes leaves shotgun cartridges in his car. Could this be a problem for him or his wife?
Advice: “Not really,” said Peter, “you don’t need a shotgun certificate to be in possession of shotgun cartridges. However, it’s clearly good practice to lock them away, especially if you have inquisitive children in the house. You will come across police officers that do not know this, but the reality is that you can keep a box of Eley No 6 in the glove box of your car.
“It’s odd, because you need to present a certificate when you buy the cartridges, but you could then turn round to your wife and say would you mind taking them home please. She is not committing an offence, and neither are you.”