A new report by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) has found that inconsistencies in firearms licensing may pose a risk to public safety.
The Home Secretary gave HMIC permission to carry out an inspection into gun controls in May 2013, including how well police forces had responded to concerns raised about firearms licensing in previous reports on gun controls in the UK.
The inspection gathered information from all 43 police forces in England and Wales – and examined in detail practices for firearms licensing in 11 representative forces: Dyfed Powys Police, Dorset Police, Warwickshire Police, West Mercia Police, Cumbria Constabulary, Durham Constabulary,
North Yorkshire Police, Lincolnshire Police, Surrey Police, Sussex Police and Essex Police.
Inspectors looked at the policies and procedures in the management and provision of more than 150,000 section 1 firearms licences on issue, which cover more than half-a-million firearms – as well as more than half-a-million shotgun certificates on issue, covering nearly 1.5 million shotguns.
HMIC inspectors found that the overall time span taken by police forces to grant both firearm and shotgun licensing applications ranged from an average of five days to 165 days – and the average time taken by forces to complete the application process also varied.
A total of five forces took in excess of an average of 100 days to grant a section 1 firearm certificate – whereas 13 forces took an average of 40 days or less, the inspectors found.
In the case of shotgun certificates, a total of 18 forces took in excess of an average of 60 days – whereas five forces took an average of less than half of this time.
The report says that some certificate holders also claim their referees had never been contacted – of the total 43 police forces surveyed, only 28 contact referees for all new grant applications, with only 14 of these contacting all referees for renewals.
The inspectors found that all forces undertake home visits when certificates are initially granted – but 11 forces do not visit applicants for the renewal of a section 1 firearms certificate, and 20 forces do not visit all applicants for the renewal of a shotgun certificate.
HMIC also found that seven of the 43 forces had not undertaken a review of current certificate holders’ suitability, as advised by the national policing lead for firearms, based on revised guidance from the Home Office.
More than 7,000 cases were reviewed by 21 forces, however, which led to 260 firearms licenses being revoked.
Lead inspector HMI Stephen Otter said:
“Firearms licensing is not an area which police forces can afford to get wrong – public safety relies on it. Examples of good practice exist, but these are the exception.
“We found that, too often, forces are not following the Home Office guidance that is in place, sometimes inexcusably compromising public safety.
“Lessons from past tragedies have not always been learned – and this fails the victims of those events, including their families, unacceptably.
Unless things change, we run the risk of further tragedies occurring.
“Central to the improvement of the licensing process is the establishment of a set of clear rules – carrying the weight of the law – that chief constables should be obliged to follow.
“This must include applicants providing a report from their GP of their medical suitability – including their mental health – to hold a firearms licence.”
Duncan Lewis Crime Lawyers
Duncan Lewis crime lawyers can advise at any stage of a charge involving firearms offences, including criminal charges relating to owning a firearm without a licence or importing firearms or controlled goods without a licence.
There are Duncan Lewis offices nationwide and a criminal defence lawyer can usually reach a police station for interview under caution within an hour.
For expert legal advice on firearms offences and gun crime, call Duncan Lewis crime lawyers on 020 7923 4020.
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