Processes and costs for granting or renewing a firearms certificate could finally be standardised across the UK, after the government said it would publish a draft of statutory firearms licensing guidance this summer.
In a House of Lords debate on the Offensive Weapons Bill, Earl Howe, minister of state for defence, undertook to hold a public consultation on the introduction of statutory guidance to police chief officers “that will apply to issues such as background checks, medical suitability, and other criteria to protect public safety.”
This was in response to a proposed amendment to the bill from the Earl of Shrewsbury, who wanted a legal requirement to be placed on the Home Secretary to open such a consultation within three months of the Offensive Weapons Bill receiving royal assent.
The amendment was withdrawn on the grounds that Earl Howe promised that this would take place anyway without needing to incorporate it into the Bill. “As my words will be printed in large letters in Hansard, the undertaking very definitely stands,” Earl Howe said.
This would end nearly three years of turmoil over the involvement of the medical profession in firearms licensing, which has raged since a GP’s report became an explicit part of the application process in 2016.
Home Office guidance already exists on how this should work, but constabularies are only required to ‘have regard’ to it, which means that in practice, some stipulations – such as the assumption that there are no pertinent issues with an applicant if a doctor’s report is not received with 21 days – are ignored in some areas.
Many applicants have reported being charged extra for the medical work, or that forces wouldn’t progress their application without a medical report even after the 21-day deadline had passed.
Shooting representatives were broadly welcoming of the government’s promise, though they appeared to reserve full judgement until the results of the consultation become clear.
Countryside Alliance chief executive, Tim Bonner, said: “We are pleased that after months of frustration, the Government has announced a timetable for the long awaited firearms licensing consultation. However, the fact that proposals might not be published until the end of July shows that the Home Office is still a long way from getting to grips with the problems.
“The Countryside Alliance will continue to work with the Home Office, the police, and the medical profession, to ensure a fair and consistent approach to firearms licensing, which addresses the variation in how GPs are responding to police requests for medical information and the fees being charged to applicants.”