The firearms licensing system appears to be on the point of breakdown as COVID related disruption and changes to guidance create chaos in police firearms licensing teams.
Late last year, North Yorkshire Police announced that it would not accept new firearm and shotgun certificate applications and instead will focus exclusively on renewals. Now Thames Valley, Northamptonshire, Cambridgeshire, Bedfordshire, Hertfordshire and Hampshire Police have adopted the same policy.
Based on reports from readers, a number of other forces appear to be informally operating on the same basis with readers from several different force areas reporting that their applications were not being processed by their local force. One newly appointed land manager told Shooting Times that their application for firearms and shotgun certificates for use in connection with their job had been left in limbo after a police officer said that they were only undertaking renewals.
The individual involved has asked that neither they nor the force is identified, however it is not one of those listed above. He described the effect on his work as ‘crippling’. The problems appear to have arisen due to the collision of multiple factors. Police forces are currently experiencing high absence levels due to COVID, with Police Scotland among the forces currently using probationary officers to backfill for unwell colleagues. Changes in guidance from the Home Office, which forces are obliged to follow, have also added complexity to the process and have mandated the involvement of already overstretched medical professionals.
Finally some forces appear to be taking a more sceptical view of applications following the Plymouth shootings. BASC has committed to using its legal resources to challenge forces which refuse to issue new certificates. Bill Harriman, BASC director of firearms, said: “The discontinuation of grant applications is a failure to discharge the police’s statutory duty. The police cannot switch the law on and off as it pleases them.
“The process of firearms licensing is a public service to ensure public safety, the Home Office is required to act before the whole system collapses.”