The firearms licensing crisis continues….….

Martin Parker

Martin Parker

Martin graduated in Biochemistry from University of London. Having joined the Forensic Science Service as a forensic firearms expert in 1987, he moved to become forensic science instructor at the UK’s National Training Centre in 1995. Martin was appointed by Cumbria Constabulary as scientific support manager in 2000, before being seconded to the DNA unit at Interpol in Lyon in 2006. Following this, he was appointed as chief scientist at the National Ballistics Intelligence Service (NABIS) where he remained until joining BASC in May 2021.

There is to be no doubt – the firearms licensing system across England and Wales is in crisis. 

Enquiries coming into BASC are increasing exponentially and veteran members of staff believe the delays have never been so bad, nor the system so close to collapse.

The situation has become so bad that some forces have publicly stated that they are unable to issue grants, instead, focusing on the process of renewals. While BASC sought legal advice on this policy, the message we received was that any challenge would fail.

The crisis is impacting our members, but more importantly, it is impacting the grassroots of our sport. There are thousands who are wanting to join our ranks that are being denied through no fault of their own. Some may persist with the process, however, there will be some who unfortunately move on.

So, how did we end up with a perfect storm of problems?

Some are beyond the control of the firearms licensing departments, but others are long-term root causes that require urgent resolution.

Covid has obviously impacted the ability to fulfil work requirements for nearly all professions. Home visits were affected by restrictions and staff shortages – as a direct result of Covid – and it all led to cracks in the system starting to appear.

In August 2021, a tragic shooting took place in Plymouth. Soon after the Home Office announced the publication of new statutory guidance for chief officers. This was a piece of work that had been in process for over two years. The quick introduction left every grant and renewal application having to be verified in advance by a medical practitioner. The priority given to the booster vaccination programme meant getting a medical verification was nearly impossible. 

The question remains; how are some forces still managing to turn round applications in quick time, while others linger for months if not years? Only this week we have been hearing of impressive work from Hertfordshire and Cheshire forces. What are they doing right that so many others are doing wrong?

Fortunately, an opening has arisen that could force about improvements. We have received confirmation that the Home Office is beginning a review into the licensing system and licensing fees. 

This will allow BASC and others to step forward and present a vision of what the firearms licensing system should and could be providing. 

What next?

Our message is clear – it is in all our interests that we have a properly resourced system, but first, it is vital to ensure it is in working order. As it stands it is not.

While this review kicks into action, BASC is advising all those currently impacted by the delays to contact their chief constable and local MP and raise the issue of adequate funding and service. 

Meanwhile, we will continue to raise the issue in Parliament and in the media. Together we will make progress.

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