Im­prove­ments in firearms li­cens­ing are long over­due, and BASC be­lieves an ev­i­dence-based ap­proach will help bring about change

Sporting Shooter - - Contents -

In­con­sis­tent li­cens­ing ser­vices and pro­longed de­lays are among the most un­wel­come fea­tures of firearms li­cens­ing in the UK. Ev­ery month BASC’s firearms team re­ceives com­plaints from mem­bers frus­trated by what ap­pears to be an im­prop­erly man­aged and un­der-re­sourced ser­vice. The sit­u­a­tion is wors­ened by re­cent li­cence fee in­creases – an in­crease that saw no cor­re­spond­ing im­prove­ment in ser­vice. The gov­ern­ment, too, has recog­nised the sit­u­a­tion, with HMIC (Her Majesty’s In­spec­torate of Con­stab­u­lary) bluntly de­scrib­ing firearm li­cens­ing prac­tices as “in­con­sis­tent and in­ad­e­quate” (HIMC, 2015).

BASC re­cently pub­lished find­ings from our li­cens­ing per­for­mance data­base, which tracks the amount of time taken by each po­lice force to is­sue grants and re­newals, in ad­di­tion to a range of other li­cens­ing ac­tiv­i­ties, such as pro­cess­ing trans­ac­tion no­ti­fi­ca­tions and is­su­ing vari­a­tions.

Our ef­forts have al­ready at­tracted a lot of at­ten­tion with strong en­gage­ment from shoot­ers on so­cial me­dia, an ar­ti­cle in Shoot­ing Times dis­cussing our find­ings, and an in­ter­view with Dave Or­ford, as­sis­tant chief con­sta­ble and na­tional firearms lead, in Po­lice Pro­fes­sional which cites the need for im­prove­ment fol­low­ing the re­port.

Cur­rently, our data­base is in­com­plete, but not for a lack of try­ing – ev­ery po­lice force in Eng­land and Wales was asked to pro­duce the in­for­ma­tion vol­un­tar­ily, and those which didn’t were is­sued with free­dom of in­for­ma­tion (FOI) re­quests. Some have still not sur­ren­dered the in­for­ma­tion de­spite their statu­tory obli­ga­tion to do so.

We ini­tially went to pub­li­ca­tion with in­for­ma­tion from 38 po­lice forces. From this, we can re­port the mean av­er­age for a Sec­tion 1 grant to be 91 days, 88 days for a Sec­tion 2 grant, 70 days for a Sec­tion 1 re­newal, 67 days for a Sec­tion 2 re­newal, 26 days to is­sue a vari­a­tion, 33 days to con­duct a suit­abil­ity as­sess­ment, and 15 days to process a trans­ac­tion no­ti­fi­ca­tion.

Only 19 forces pro­vided in­for­ma­tion on trans­ac­tion no­ti­fi­ca­tion pro­cess­ing times. A fur­ther four po­lice forces de­clined to an­swer the ques­tion re­gard­ing cer­tifi­cate vari­a­tion times. In fact, only five forces (Cum­bria, Glouces­ter­shire, Lan­cashire,

‘Ev­ery po­lice force in Eng­land and Wales was asked to pro­duce the in­for­ma­tion vol­un­tar­ily, and those which didn’t were is­sued with FOI re­quests’

Stafford­shire and West Mid­lands) pro­vided data for ev­ery ques­tion asked. We would like to thank th­ese forces for their co­op­er­a­tion and praise their dili­gent aware­ness of their li­cens­ing ac­tiv­i­ties in par­tic­u­lar.

In many re­spects, we find ab­sent data more con­cern­ing than data show­ing poor per­for­mance. Per­for­mance not recorded, or recorded in a fash­ion that makes it in­ac­ces­si­ble, leaves po­lice forces un­aware of per­for­mance is­sues, and there­fore un­able to ad­dress them.

Since ini­tial pub­li­ca­tion, one fur­ther po­lice force, Dorset, has pro­vided data fol­low­ing a sec­ond, shorter FOI re­quest. Avon & Som­er­set has re­fused the sec­ond re­quest. City of London, Cleve­land and West York­shire are yet to re­ply at the time of writ­ing.

Al­though we ini­tially fol­lowed the Home Of­fice in group­ing Eng­land and Wales, we are now look­ing to in­clude Scot­land as well. BASC Scot­land has be­gun mak­ing en­quiries and data will be pre­sented in due course.

While the av­er­ages cause no par­tic­u­lar alarm, the in­con­sis­tency of ser­vice does. Fig­ures dif­fer be­tween forces by or­ders of mag­ni­tude, leav­ing some wait­ing the best part of a year for a ser­vice that would be de­liv­ered in un­der a month, had they a dif­fer­ent post­code.

BASC’s firearms team be­lieves trans­ac­tion no­ti­fi­ca­tion pro­cess­ing de­lays to be par­tic­u­larly con­cern­ing, as there is a po­ten­tial pub­lic safety risk. Firearm hold­ers are re­quired to no­tify their po­lice force within seven days of a change of cus­tody.

We be­lieve this obli­ga­tion should be re­cip­ro­cated by the li­cens­ing author­ity – the same pub­lic safety rea­sons for need­ing to re­ceive the

in­for­ma­tion promptly also ap­ply to need­ing to process it promptly.

BASC’s crit­i­cisms of firearms li­cens­ing aren’t new, nor does our data re­veal any­thing sur­pris­ing. Many forces are con­tin­u­ing to de­liver a sub­stan­dard ser­vice de­spite calls to im­prove. BASC is us­ing the data to guide a cam­paign with the PCCs of the worst per­form­ing forces and Dave Or­ford, in an ef­fort to bring about im­prove­ment.

Each cell in the above league ta­ble shows the rel­e­vant av­er­age, recorded in cal­en­dar days. ‘N/A’ may mean the force had the in­for­ma­tion but re­fused to an­swer, that they aren’t record­ing data en­tirely, or that they record the in­for­ma­tion in an in­ac­ces­si­ble fash­ion (in­di­vid­ual pa­per records). For the lat­est ver­sion of the league ta­ble, visit BASC’s web­site at

‘Per­for­mance not recorded, or recorded in a fash­ion that makes it in­ac­ces­si­ble, leaves po­lice forces un­aware of per­for­mance is­sues’

Through the cre­ation of a na­tional per­for­mance data­base and other work, BASC strives to es­tab­lish good work­ing re­la­tion­ships wih po­lice forces and their li­cens­ing team mem­bers

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