New Home Office guidance supports the police in making unannounced visits on firearms owners

Police across England and Wales are calling for firearm owners to make sure that their guns are being kept securely, as from 15 October 2014 police will be commencing home visits where there are concerns about security or risk.

The new Home Office guidance states: “Where it is judged necessary, based on specific intelligence in light of a particular threat, or risk of harm, the police may undertake an unannounced home visit to check the security of a certificate holder’s firearms and shotguns. It is not expected that the police will undertake an unannounced home visit at an unsocial hour unless there is a justified and specific requirement to do so on the grounds of crime prevention or public safety concerns, and the police judge that this action is both justified and proportionate.”

Over the last five years 3,296 firearms and shotguns have been reported as stolen or lost, although the number is falling with the figure just 415 in 2013. That total figure represents just 0.18 percent of licensed firearms. For stolen firearms that figure is just 0.025 percent. Furthermore, the figures do not state whether stolen guns were taken from private residences, commercial environments or the military.

National Policing Lead for Firearms and Explosives Licensing, Chief Constable Andy Marsh said: “Our aim is not to catch gun owners out… We want to work with the shooting community to ensure gun owners are aware of how to keep their firearms secure… A lost or stolen firearm could end up in the hands of criminals who would pose a clear threat to the public.

“Certificate holders who are clearly not complying with security measures may face having their certificates revoked. However, this is a last resort and where appropriate, support and advice will be provided.”

No new powers of entry have been conferred on the police or police staff and there is no automatic statutory right to entry. The police must give a “clear and reasoned explanation” for any visit.

BASC’s chief executive, Richard Ali, said: “BASC supports the police in their efforts to help firearms certificate holders maintain the excellent record of safety and security in England and Wales. Where there is specific intelligence of threat, risk or harm, the police should act. This guidance provides that framework and ensures that police give a clear and reasoned explanation at the time of the visit.”

However, BASC described the new Crimestoppers hotline to encourage members of the shooting community and general public to report concerns about legally held firearms as “unnecessary and inappropriate.”

One shooter, who wished to remain anonymous, expressed concern that the new legislation would provide an open season for antis to cause trouble by reporting or falsely accusing lawful shooters with impunity. “By mentioning terrorism and extremism, the police are preying on very real public fears but the evidence of a link between lawful UK shooters and extremist behaviour just does not exist.”

The Countryside Alliance director of campaigns, Tim Bonner, while reiterating the CA’s support for checks where there is specific intelligence of risk, described the campaign as a “knee-jerk reaction to an unrelated problem. It is unjustified and ill-judged and will serve only to waste police resources and alienate a large and law-abiding section of the community.” He went on to suggest that the Crimestoppers hotline “will encourage malicious complaints.”

What are your views? Do you think it is right to report a certificate holder if you have suspicions about gun security? Or is this just another excuse to marginalise lawful certificate holders? Drop us a line at the usual address.