Shooting sense

These days, it can seem that all law-abiding shooters are constantly walking a licensing tightrope. David Barrington Barnes outlines how a sensible approach can avoid the worst problems

If I am recognised by other deer stalkers these days, it is as a contributor to Sporting Rifle. I value these connections and the contact they give me to the wider stalking world. Sometimes it is good to be reminded that in parts of the UK there are no fallow deer, while in others herds of sika are to be found. It’s interesting to find out how my colleagues in East Anglia tackle the fallow population and to learn that none of us who manage fallow does find our quarry inclined to join the cull plan.

While deer management is now my primary enthusiasm, my first written contributions were on the subjects of firearms and deer law. When I first wrote about these subjects, I was educating a generation of deer stalkers about the intricacies of these two branches of the law. To get the attention of my readers of the now-defunct Stalking magazine, I created a fictional character called Mr Field Sports Solicitor, whose role was to advise a variety of imaginary characters in the shooting and stalking world, the advice based on the relevant legislation and decided legal cases. While they remained fictional, these cases were quite amusing, but behind readers’ smiles was the fear that they could all too easily become involved in real-life equivalents.

Many of those cases are still applicable today. A refusal to grant or renew a Firearms Certificate (FAC) or Shot Gun Certificate (SGC) and the revocation of one or both of these was then, and is now, the cause of much anxiety and expense.

You can easily find yourself on the back foot when in a legal situation fighting a revocation

When a police Firearms Licensing Department (FLD) refuses to grant an FAC or SGC, it is often because the applicant has a criminal record. An applicant who was a serious criminal may be prohibited for life from possessing firearms if he has been sentenced to more than three years’ imprisonment, including suspended sentences. Such a person can apply for the removal of the prohibition under Section 26(1) of the 1968 Firearms Act. Believe it or not, I have known of cases in which the applicants were long-retired armed robbers who had reformed. Such applicants were successful in having removed the prohibitions on them possessing firearms and were then able to apply for FACs and SGCs. The grant or refusal of these was considered separately by their FLD.

Persons sentenced to immediate and suspended terms of between three months and three years can also make an application under Section 26. If their convictions were for white-collar crimes then they would likely be successful and, if so, they could then apply for FACs and SGCs. In one such case that I handled, the local Firearms Enquiry Officer (FEO) attended the Crown Court hearing with a blank SGC application form in his pocket.

A refusal to renew an FAC or SGC – or both – usually happens when the holder comes to the adverse attention of the police shortly before their expiry. The reasons given will be similar to those supplied to support a revocation, so what I say about revocations applies also to refusals to renew. If we take a step back, we can readily remind ourselves that a person may have an FAC and or an SGC if he needs to possess the guns and rifles authorised by them, and if he is a suitable person to hold firearms. His Chief Constable must grant his application for FACs and SGCs unless he is not satisfied the applicant can do so without danger to the public or the peace.

Sensible storage is a cornerstone of firearms ownership, and not an area to cut corners

In revocation cases, the FAC and/or SGC holder can come to the notice of the FLD
in a number of ways, any one of which can lead to revocation. Few of these relate directly to the use or misuse of firearms and shotguns. Readers will see what I mean if I give a few examples of incidents often leading to revocation.

Top of the list are domestic disputes. If the non FAC/SGC holder (invariably the wife or partner) calls the police during an argument, they will come and take the holder’s firearms, shotguns and certificates away. In due course, months later, they may or may not be revoked. This process, sadly, is abused by complainants who use the willingness of the police to take their side as a way of perpetuating their personal differences. FLDs are risk-averse and, after previous high-profile cases in which police negligence was brought to light, are now just as interested in protecting their own backs as those of the public. The FAC and SGC holders involved in these cases will tend to be regarded as ‘high risk’ and often won’t even get a hearing regardless of the merits of the wife or partner’s case.

Neighbour disputes are another cause of revocations. It’s easy to have an argument with a neighbour, perhaps addressing him with a few expletives on a bad day. It’s best to resist the temptation to give him an earful. He or his wife (who will probably have witnessed the altercation) could call the police with those fatal opening words: “He’s got a gun and threatened to shoot me. I’m frightened!”

Similarly disputes over car parking spaces, driving and so on can give rise to revocation. (I have even got knowledge of cases in which the victims of crime have had their certificates revoked for fear that they might retaliate against their criminal offenders). Whatever the situation, it’s best not to give way to bad temper. Be smart and walk or drive away.

Bad security is another cause of revocation. Readers are advised to revisit Condition 4(A) and 4(B) of their FAC and SGC. Breach of either one of these conditions can result in prosecution and revocation. Understandably, the police will be unhappy when a stolen gun ‘gets on to the street’.

I will need to revisit this topic to deal with other reasons for revocation. Those such as mental health issues, medical conditions, drug and alcohol abuse, to name but a few, need to be gone into in more depth than there is room for this month. I will also need to set out a stall for revoked FAC and SGC holders so they can see the best ways of avoiding revocation and, if they are revoked, what they need to do to appeal successfully.

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