With the prospect of a shooting season ahead, many readers will be thinking about acquiring their first shotgun certificate. David Frost offers some thoughts and advice on what to expect when you apply.

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With around 40 pieces of legislation governing the ownership and use of guns, applying for a shotgun certificate is not as simple as all that.The rules for Northern Ireland are even more complicated and not for this article.

If you do not already belong to one of the major shooting organisations, I suggest you join before applying for an SGC. BASC and the National Gamekeepers’ Organisation (NGO) in particular have firearms licensing specialists who can advise members who run into problems applying for a shotgun certificate, which is not uncommon.

Applying for a shotgun certificate – how long does it take?

Sadly, firearms licensing is a postcode lottery. There are 43 police forces in England and Wales and one in Scotland responsible for administering the law. Some do it fairly and efficiently and others are little short of appalling. According to figures published by BASC for 2020, you would wait an average of 164 calendar days to get your certificate in Greater Manchester but only 18 in Bedfordshire and 19 in Hertfordshire and Cambridgeshire. In Durham, where the senior police officer responsible for advising the Home Office on licensing matters resides, it takes 146 days. What sort of example does that set? Inadequate training and the general sloth associated with a government monopoly are the principal culprits but failure on the part of shooters to complain about poor service is a significant factor. Don’t put up with lousy service.

An shotgun certificate (SGC) specifies the guns you may possess but it is important to realise possession is not the same as ownership. Merely holding a gun puts you in possession of it but does not make you the owner. However, a gun you do not own may be on your certificate as well as that of the owner. This will often be the case for anyone under 18 or where two people share the same storage, even if not in the same household. Unless you are borrowing a gun in the short term under supervision you will need an SGC to go shooting.

Many ministers and policemen would like you to believe that ownership of a gun is a privilege and that they’re being hugely generous in letting you have one. Not so. The chief officer of police (of each force) is required by law to grant an SGC to every applicant who meets the statutory criteria, of which there are three. Two of these are pretty much black and white, the third is open to interpretation.

First, you must not be a prohibited person. As I hazard this applies to few SG readers let’s just simplify and say this means you must not have been sentenced to three or more months in jail or its juvenile equivalent. Prohibitions can be lifted by the Crown Court (Sheriff in Scotland) and sometimes are in cases of non-violent crime.

Second, you must have a good reason for possessing a shotgun. Helpfully, the law specifies certain good reasons: sporting (essentially live quarry shooting); competition; and the control of vermin. There can be other good reasons. For example, some sailing clubs use blank firing shotguns to start races. You do not have to intend to use the gun yourself or to lend it to others to use; so you can keep a gun as an heirloom to pass on to another generation. It is up to the police to prove you do not have a good reason – it’s not your responsibility to prove that you have. (Read our advice on the best gun safes to keep your gun safely and legally .)

Third, you must not present a danger to public safety or the peace. This is a broad-brush provision and liable to interpretation. Guidance is given to the police by the Home Office as to how it should be interpreted. A history of intemperate habits, notably if alcohol or drugs were involved, is a definite negative. So is any sort of emotional or physical violence, especially domestic violence. If you are known to associate with criminals this too will count against you. Minor offences, such as drink driving, which might cast doubt on your reliability or integrity, will be taken into account. (Read our advice on alcohol, guns and the law.)

Beware social media

The police will usually look at your social media profile if you have one, although this does not seem to have been done with Jake Davison in Plymouth. You will be scored down for such things as liking, or following, posts about or by people associated with violence, drugs, crime, extreme views, racism or sexism. Posts made many years ago can come back to haunt you, as several prominent sportsmen have recently discovered. Think very carefully indeed about what you post and what your profile, associations and friends say about you.

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Applicants must have a good reason for possessing a shotgun

Age considerations

There is no lower age limit for getting an SGC but few youngsters will be sufficiently mature to justify one before they are 10. There are age limits that limit what you can do with the gun once you have the SGC. Nobody under the age of 15 may have an assembled shotgun with them unless they are under the supervision of someone aged 21 or over, or the gun is in a case such that it cannot be fired. It is desirable, but not essential, that the supervisor be a certificate holder.

Teenagers aged 15 to 17 may be given a shotgun but may not buy one or buy ammunition. Only when you reach 18 are you allowed to buy guns and ammunition in your own right. Different security considerations apply to under-18s as well. If the SGC holder is under 18 the keys to the gun cabinet (the most suitable security for most people) must be held by a parent or guardian. If the parent or guardian is not an SGC holder the cabinet must have two different locks; the key to one being held by the SGC holder and the other by the parent/guardian.

If the police decide not to grant a certificate they must explain why and you then have the option of appealing to the Crown/Sheriff Court. This can be an expensive business and a solicitor specialising in firearms law is a must. Your shooting organisation should be able to help and may be able to sort problems out with the police before they get this far.

Priti Patel, the Home Secretary, recently announced to Parliament that there would be changes in the wake of the shootings in Plymouth. In a written statement to the House of Commons she said: “The new guidance draws on previous lessons learned and will ensure better consistency and improved standards across police firearms licensing departments.”

The principal of these changes is that medical involvement will become a legal requirement although not necessarily involving your own GP as many are reluctant to do the work. Some forces have already been doing this although it is contrary to the law as it stands. I suspect that when the enquiry into what happened in Devon on August 12 is published we shall see lack of training as a factor. The Home Office is doing nothing about that.