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Something needs to change in our firearms licensing system

The sorry state of the UK’s firearms licensing system is one of the biggest issues facing the future of shooting — something has to change, says Alasdair Mitchell

firearms licensing

Any journalist knows it is easy to ask a good question, but much harder to provide a good answer. Yet part of the process of solving a problem is recognising that it exists. And one of the biggest issues facing the future of shooting is the state of the firearms licensing system. Sorry to harp on about this, but the more I know about it, the more it worries me. And it strikes me that the very nature of the shooting community means we are far too easy to bully.

We all pay the same for our certificate processing, whether our local force provides a service that is good, bad, indifferent — or bloody awful. If you are unlucky enough to live within one of the latter force areas, you could wait nearly two years for a first certificate or a year for a simple renewal. That is an utter disgrace to public service. And if it is allowed to continue, let alone spread, it will kill the shooting community.

In a blistering report on the firearms situation over the past two years, issued earlier this year, BASC calculated that about 24,000 new certificate applications are being held up. Given the average age of Guns in the UK, the implications are grim. As a community, we need constant replenishment or we will literally die out. (Read what are the latest waiting times for shotgun and firearm certificates.) 

Situation worsened

It’s like a bucket with a hole in it. If the tap is turned and even slightly less water pours into the bucket than is lost through the hole, then sooner or later the bucket will run dry. This is already happening. And the situation has actually worsened since the BASC report was compiled.

I note that the statistics BASC used were based on Freedom of Information Act requests. Yet, of the 42 forces contacted, 10 reportedly failed to respond. Next time, any forces that don’t respond without good reason should be reported to the Information Commissioner’s Office. The police are not above the law.


Part of our problem is that we Shots are stoical. We have put up with the vagaries of political and media behaviour for years. As people who have guns, we are disinclined to do anything that seems militant or aggressive. We are law-abiding souls. But the brutal truth is that the meek don’t inherit the earth. They just get buried in it.

None of us wants to be seen by our local licensing team as an agitator. So, we keep our heads down and heave a sigh of relief that we live in, say, Cleveland, as opposed to neighbouring Durham. In certain failing force areas, we may be asked by our association to write to our local Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC). But how many of us do so? We’d prefer our association to do that. Yet the association needs to show genuine, local examples to the PCC.

Proper service

Frankly, I wouldn’t object to paying a higher fee for my certificate if it meant I got a proper service, with defined standards and timescales. At the moment, the worst police forces are being paid the same as the best, so they have zero incentive to improve. They have a statutory duty, yet they operate a monopoly. Something fundamental has to change.