In 2019, before the Covid-19 pandemic hit, the government consulted on new proposals for screening people who apply to hold a firearms licence in England, Wales, and Scotland. The numbers of people in the UK with a firearms licence are surprising; almost 600,000 people on the UK mainland have a firearm certificate, shotgun permit, or both. The police play a critical role in the licencing process for people who are either applying to hold a firearms certificate for the first time or renewing an existing certificate. The police vetting process is designed to weed out applicants who might pose a danger to the general public. If the police service believes that the applicant does present a risk, then they will refuse a licence.
One of the key aspects of firearms screening is looking into the medical status of applicants for new or renewed firearms licences. Applicants are asked to declare any medical conditions which might be relevant to their suitability for holding a firearms licence, and since 2016, police have been sharing information with GPs to streamline the process and avoid the situation of applicants failing to declare a relevant medical condition. GPs put a “firearms marker” on patient records, which allows them to flag up any new issues to the police after the initial certificate has been issued. Certificates cannot be issued if medical reports or information remains outstanding.
When assessing an applicant for a firearms or shotgun certificate, the police conduct a range of suitability checks into several aspects of the applicant’s character and background to satisfy themselves that they are suitable. Standard suitability checking usually includes:
- Police background checks – this involves making sure that an applicant is registered at the address on their form and that they don’t have an extensive criminal record. This section of the process is similar to the DBS checking process.
- Home visit – the police will visit an applicant’s home address to ensure that they have an appropriate and more importantly secure place to store their firearms.
- Referee Checks – part of applying for a firearms licence involves providing the names and contact details for referees who know you well and can give a character reference. The police will always interview these people.
Applying for a Firearms Licence
A firearms licence is a credit card sized piece of plastic, with your photograph loaded onto it. Each police force has its own form, so make sure you download the right one. You will also need to give a reason why you wish to own a gun, and if you are applying for a licence to shoot vermin, that you have the landowner’s permission. You need to have your licence approved and issued before you go shopping for a gun or join a gun club. If at any point the police or GP has concerns about your conduct or suitability, then the licence can be withdrawn immediately, without notice. It can take anything between 2 months and 9 months to get your licence issued.