Firearms Licencing - Guns Under Fire

8th April 2022 Business Crime

Towards the end of 2021, the Home Office brought forward the release of new statutory guidance which seeks to improve how people applying for a firearm or shotgun licence are assessed in the future.

What is a firearm?

A firearm means a lethal barrelled weapon of any description from which any shot, bullet or other missile can be discharged. Some firearms, shotguns and rifles may be licensed with shotguns and rifles being the most common licences obtained with their primary use being for clay pigeon shooting, game shooting and deer stalking. It should however be noted that low-powered air guns, rifles and pistols are legal but do not require a license in England and Wales, which highlights the lack of consistency in guidance across the UK as a licence is in fact required for these types of firearms in Scotland.

Who can obtain a firearm?

Current requirements state that any person aged 14 or over can obtain a firearm and those aged 15 and over can obtain a shotgun certificate. It should be noted however that those below the age of 18 cannot buy or hire any firearm or ammunition.

The majority of civilian gun certificates are issued to people who are using for sport, wildlife management and pest control.

Firearm and shotgun certificates are a type of licence issued by the police which allow a licence holder to possess a firearm or shotgun for a period of 5 years. When a licence expires it is also necessary to apply for a renewal.

As of 31 March 2021, according to Government statistics there were; 156,033 firearm certificates on issue, 548,521 shotgun certificates on issue and 565,929 people held a firearm and/or a shotgun certificate. These figures represent a significant proportion of the population within England and Wales.

Rationale and Intent of guidance

This latest statutory guidance which has been issued to all police forces in England and Wales imposes a requirement for every force to review their current firearms licensing processes, with the rationale for higher standards of decision making around applications. This has come in the wake of the tragic mass shooting that occurred in Plymouth on 12 August 2021.  

Implementation of the guidance

When issuing a shotgun or firearm certificate, the Chief Constable must be satisfied with the following criteria:

  1. The applicant has good reason or being in possession of the firearm.
  2. The applicant is fit to be entrusted with a firearm.
  3. The public safety or peace will not be endangered.

If the Chief Constable is not satisfied that an applicant can meet the criteria for the grant or renewal, then an application may be refused. It should be noted that the reasons for a refusal must be clearly justified and explained. An appeal lies to the Crown Court and must be made within 21 days of the decision.

The most prominent and significant addition to this new legislation is that an individual can now only become a licence holder once their doctor has confirmed to the police that there are no relevant medical conditions. Applicants should be aware that a note will be placed on their GP record, giving their GP the opportunity to contact the Police, should they have concerns about the applicant’s fitness to own a gun whilst in possession of a license.

On top of this there are a broader range of factors that will now be taken into consideration:

  • Previous convictions, cautions and any other disposal, for any offence (including speeding but not including parking offences or fixed penalty notices);
  • Any intelligence information that may be relevant in indicating criminal or possible criminal behaviour will include all overseas convictions and disposals; and
  • The Domestic Abuse Act 2020 states that - ‘any incident or pattern of incidents of controlling, coercive, threatening behaviour, violence or abuse’. Officers should perform their risk assessments based on the definitions as set out in the new Act.

In addition to the aforementioned, two people, of good character, who have known the person for at least two years (but are not related) must act as referees. Specialist officers will undertake home visits whereby they interview the applicant and consider their security arrangements for keeping the gun (fixed wall cabinet with the keys placed securely elsewhere).

Impact of the guidance

It is paramount to note that this matter is not just a matter of politics, it is ultimately, a matter of humanity. It can be said that this new guidance was in need of implementation owing to how prominent mental health issues are within modern day society. It is however arguable as to the impact and how influential this guidance will be. Given the more stringent requirements now required for new applicants and pre-existing licence holders it is likely to lead to an increase in refusals including the delay in the issuing of new licences.  

If you require assistance, contact our specialist lawyers through 0345 241 5305 or 




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Jonathon Enston is a Senior Associate located in Manchester in our Business Crime & Regulation department

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