Stop the wrong alarms of the law

Some po­lice forces are putting more and more ob­sta­cles in the way of ob­tain­ing a firearms li­cence and in do­ing so are flout­ing an Act of Par­lia­ment warns David Frost

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Some­times you won­der who makes the law. Is it Par­lia­ment or is it the po­lice? Your MP thinks it’s him but in some cases if your Po­lice and Crime Com­mis­sioner (PCC) doesn’t like what Par­lia­ment has de­cided he makes his own law. I thought it was the re­spon­si­bil­ity of the po­lice to up­hold and en­force the law, not make it, but per­haps that’s an old-fash­ioned con­cept. Sev­eral forces have re­cently in­vented their own firearms li­cens­ing law.

We’re talk­ing about S26 of the Firearms Act 1968, which says your ap­pli­ca­tion is to be made on the pre­scribed form. Your ap­pli­ca­tion is valid in law pro­vided you have com­pleted the form cor­rectly and in­cluded the photo and cheque. De­mands by the po­lice that you pro­vide any­thing else are un­law­ful, how­ever help­ful they may be.

The un­der­ly­ing prob­lem is sim­ple. If there is an in­ci­dent in­volv­ing a shoot­ing by a cer­tifi­cate holder with a med­i­cal prob­lem, the po­lice want the GP to take some of the blame. GPS don’t see it that way. They don’t mind tak­ing money for mak­ing a re­port but they don’t want long-term re­spon­si­bil­ity.

A scheme in­tro­duced by the Home Of­fice in April 2016 ad­dressed some of the ear­lier prob­lems. The GP was told about an ap­pli­ca­tion and in­vited to com­ment. They were also to put a marker on the pa­tient’s record so that the po­lice could be in­formed if a later med­i­cal con­di­tion was di­ag­nosed. The Bri­tish Med­i­cal As­so­ci­a­tion (BMA, the union rep­re­sent­ing about 80 per cent of doc­tors) and the Royal Col­lege of Gen­eral Prac­ti­tion­ers (RCGP, the pro­fes­sional body) agreed there would be no ex­pec­ta­tion of a fee for this ser­vice.

Charges

That agree­ment didn’t last be­yond the ink dry­ing. Some GPS started levy­ing a charge im­me­di­ately while oth­ers abided by the agree­ment. Too few have ap­plied, or in­tend to ap­ply, a marker. The Lo­cal Med­i­cal Com­mit­tee (LMC) in Lin­colnshire went half­way and rec­om­mended the rel­a­tively mod­est fee of £40 £50 plus VAT. Other LMCS have re­fused to make a rec­om­men­da­tion so GPS charge what they like, know­ing the pa­tient will prob­a­bly have no op­tion but to pay. With mod­ern tech­nol­ogy, it should be the work of min­utes and cost pence to search a pa­tient’s record for key words.

If you don’t de­clare a rel­e­vant con­di­tion the least that will hap­pen is re­fusal or re­vo­ca­tion of your cer­tifi­cate. In the GPS can put a marker on a pa­tient’s record so po­lice can be in­formed if a later med­i­cal con­di­tion is di­ag­nosed

worst case you could be pros­e­cuted and get a crim­i­nal record. Don’t take the risk. Declarable con­di­tions are not a bar to get­ting a cer­tifi­cate if they’re prop­erly con­trolled.

Go­ing too far?

Lin­colnshire Po­lice were the first to break ranks and de­mand a med­i­cal in­put. They’ve gone fur­ther than the April 2016 agree­ment autho­rised and won’t grant a cer­tifi­cate un­til the GP has re­sponded to the po­lice re­quest. They’ve had the good sense to talk to their LMC, which en­cour­ages GPS to par­tic­i­pate at rea­son­able cost.

Thames Val­ley has a hy­brid scheme by which some ap­pli­cants are forced to pay a fee while oth­ers don’t. Thames Val­ley, like some of the other forces men­tioned, is a his­tor­i­cally poor li­cens­ing per­former. In May 2018, Mersey­side Po­lice de­cided to dis­re­gard

“I thought it was the re­spon­si­bil­ity of the po­lice to en­force the law, not make it”

S26 and de­mand a let­ter from the GP. They do men­tion that the BMA agreed this should be done with­out charge and give the al­ter­na­tive of pro­vid­ing your med­i­cal records, which you should be able to down­load.

Also in May 2018, Kent Po­lice in­tro­duced a new li­cens­ing pro­ce­dure, which re­quires med­i­cal in­for­ma­tion to be ver­i­fied by a GP. Their press re­lease openly said they were flout­ing the of­fi­cial guid­ance, which had been agreed by po­lice rep­re­sen­ta­tives. They then claim their li­cens­ing pro­ce­dures are in ac­cor­dance with the guid­ance. How can you trust po­lice who make such state­ments?

One reader has been charged £140 by his GP — a far cry from the Lin­colnshire fig­ure but not the high­est to have been re­ported.

Not­ting­hamshire Po­lice in­tro­duced a sim­i­lar pol­icy in Septem­ber 2018. Like Kent they have pro­duced a pro forma let­ter for you to send to your GP. Like Kent’s, it makes no men­tion of the agree­ment struck by the BMA, RCGP, po­lice and Home Of­fice, which said there is no ex­pec­ta­tion of a fee. It’s a force that fails to im­press; it has fac­tual and le­gal er­rors on its web­site.

With these fla­grant breaches of the law why has there been no le­gal chal­lenge from the shoot­ing or­gan­i­sa­tions? The an­swer is no cer­tifi­cate holder has been will­ing to put their head above the para­pet. We need some­body to do so; even if the or­gan­i­sa­tion you be­long to has no in­sur­ance cover, it might well fund an ap­peal any­way.

How you can help

What else can read­ers do? Well, quite a lot. As of­fi­cial­dom isn’t do­ing any­thing to put mat­ters right, the shoot­ing com­mu­nity needs to put pres­sure on the PCC. The PCC’S func­tion is to en­sure polic­ing meets the needs of the lo­cal com­mu­nity. They came into ex­is­tence in 2012 and their pur­pose is not widely un­der­stood.

What mat­ters is that they are elected, and the next elec­tions are in May 2020. Most of them will seek re-elec­tion and they need our votes. The num­ber of cer­tifi­cate hold­ers in Kent and Lin­colnshire ex­ceeds the in­cum­bent’s ma­jor­ity and the gap in Thames Val­ley is not wide. Given the poor turnout in 2016, a push by the shoot­ing com­mu­nity in 2020 could un­seat any PCC who is break­ing the guid­ance or forc­ing shoot­ers to pay a fee to their GP.

You don’t have to wait un­til 2020 to ex­press your view. Nor do you need to be in the process of re­new­ing your cer­tifi­cate. Send the PCC an email now. BASC rec­om­mends writ­ing to your MP as well.

As we were go­ing to press, news came in that Cheshire Con­stab­u­lary is also in­sist­ing on a GP’S let­ter.

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