If the police do their job properly and only grant certificates to responsible and honest citizens, then there is no need for further conditions, says George Wallace

I’m the one with the sharpened pencil who gets called in when victims of the licensing system can’t get any sense out of their local lot. That should not happen, but I’m afraid that all too often
it does, despite agreed conditions, despite circulars from the Firearms and Explosives Licensing Working Group (FELWG), despite advice from the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO), despite guidance on correct procedure from the Home Office and despite their own training courses for licensing staff (which are of doubtful utility and which, in any case, very few have ever attended).

So, with apologies to the many firearms licensing staff who really are doing their best under a pretty crappy system, this article concerns the others, some of whom don’t give a damn about their certificate holders and some whom actively dislike us and go out of their way to make our lives difficult.

Four statutory conditions for firearms certificates

A firearm certificate is issued subject the four statutory conditions, which appear on the front below your photograph and signature, and to other conditions (if any) imposed by the police. That “if any” is the wording from the Act and implies, I suggest, that there would not normally be any. Home Office guidance tells them that extra conditions should only be imposed if they help the correct working of the legislation or if they contribute to public safety. Have a look at yours and see if they fulfil those criteria.

The bottom line is that if the police do their job properly and only grant certificates to honest and responsible citizens, there is absolutely no need for further conditions, let alone those oh-so- common ones that impose unenforceable restrictions with regard to land.

rifle shooting

A firearms certificate is issued subject to four statutory conditions

It is an offence to fail to comply with the conditions on a certificate so the licensing authority has an obligation, if they feel the need to add any, to write them in clear, understandable English. Or perhaps in all the 57 languages which, I understand, are available for the national census form? Just joking.

Compared to some, my own certificate is a model of good practice. I have seen very many with conditions which are illiterate, incomprehensible and contradict each other. There should surely be at least one person in each firearms licensing department who can read and write common, understandable English and spell the words correctly? Joined-up writing may be asking a bit much, but they don’t actually have to write anything nowadays, so that doesn’t matter any more.

Officers are supposed to walk the land with a new applicant

Sorry if I sound a bit cynical. I’ve been doing this for more than 27 years and one can become very disillusioned by the activities of what is so often praised as the world’s best police service.

“Land deemed suitable” is often a cause of frustration. It is so often “inspected” by an officer who doesn’t want to get his shoes dirty and who knows little or nothing about the use of sporting rifles in the field. They are supposed to walk the land with a new applicant to make sure he knows the safe – or more importantly the unsafe – places where a shot might be taken. They then impose a condition limiting him to land deemed suitable by the chief officer and often limit the permission on that land to a maximum calibre, which then applies to everyone else with that condition on his or her certificate.

Why? A safe backstop is a safe backstop regardless of calibre, so just pass the land for rifle shooting and leave it at that. Those words were spoken to me many years ago by one of the FEOs in West Mercia, so it’s not just me being militant.

safe backstop

A safe backstop is a safe backstop, regardless of the calibre

I also remember a chap who wanted to swap his .270 for a .308 and applied for a one-for-one variation. It was refused on the grounds that the more curved trajectory of the .308 might cause him to miss the backstop. And they wonder why I sometimes get a bit irritated.

If the applicant can identify safe and unsafe places to shoot on his named land, why cannot he do the same on any other bit? There is absolutely no justification for the “land deemed suitable” clause; it’s just a waste of everyone’s time.

If you feel you are being treated unreasonably, don’t just lie down under it. New rifle shooters are stuck with the “land deemed suitable” business for the moment but the police are not supposed to refuse land based on the judgement of an officer who may know little or nothing about using sporting rifles in the field. In cases of doubt they are supposed to consult someone with experience, such as local stalkers or gamekeepers but they really hate doing that and may, in any case, have a yes-man who will support them regardless. I have come across a couple. But don’t be put off; if you really feel hard done by, persist with it and seek advice from other knowledgeable shooters and from your association.

(You really ought to be a member of one, you know, otherwise you are on your own in an often hostile world).