Written evidence submitted by Mr Andy Spence (FLR0006)
I am currently going through a renewal for co-terminus Firearms and Shotgun certificates. I have been shooting since I was a child in the countryside and have had my own certificates since the mid ‘90s.
I wanted to provide a users perspective free of organisation’s political objectives.
There is a lot of comment in the media at the moment regarding failures in the certification system and delays in processing. Much of this relates to the English constabularies possibly as a consequence of the licensing failure in Plymouth and the Home Office reaction to this by issuing updated guidance. These procedure omissions have not been evident from experience with Police Scotland and I would not like these issues to be carelessly imported into the debate for whatever reason.
My observations would be
• All of the recent proposals in the Home Offices updated guidance were carried out by Police Scotland in my renewal 5 years ago, as far as I can be aware. I obviously do not have visibility of social media checks and police intelligence checks. So I do not see the process updates required in England being required here.
• The process this time is essentially the same as it was previously despite me having moved address, so I am confident that this process is applied consistently over time and varying locations.
• My personal circumstances have been a bit complicated but the Police have been perfectly capable of establishing that all firearms are securely stored, tracking my current address and fulfilling the process properly.
• Police Scotland collaborate rather than simply police. A lot of the time it isn’t entirely clear to licence holder what is required but an email always gets a quick response with clarification. There isn’t a combative attitude that you hear many shooters complain about. There is flexibility in trying to help achieve my objectives while obviously adhering to process and the law.
• The key point being that many of the failures of the English processes have not been my experience.
• The process is perhaps a bit slow. I submitted my documents in May and will get a certificate issued late October but there are a number of elements required and it hasn’t always been easy to contact people to check information or take references. I get feedback from the people involved so I have visibility of what is happening and when.
• The biggest issue last time was getting the Medical Questionnaire completed by my GP. In that case I think it was down to individuals in the practice not doing their job very well. This time round I “managed” it more carefully and with a bit of subterfuge got it processed in about 4 weeks. That’s fine for me but I had people who were willing to help and I have some people skills to get it done. It’s not really fair on others that this is required to get a decent response out of the GPs.
• Continuous monitoring of the licence holder has to be the way to go as it should allow faster response to issues rather than more frequent renewals. Reducing renewal rate really just means that the doctor reads your file more frequently which, provided the marker system works, actually does nothing to enhance public safety.
• From a users point of view there are some obvious frustrations which also create more work for the Police without necessarily doing anything for public safety.
• The one for one variation process where a firearm is sold and replaced with another identical or similar calibre requires processing for every change. This requires paperwork to be generated by the applicant but more importantly by the Police. For what? For me to sell one rifle and buy one that is essentially the same. From a public safety perspective this is a waste of everybody’s time. There is a notification process in place that allows the police to track sales and purchases which ensures licence allocations are not breached. It would be much more efficient to have calibre groupings as per Northern Ireland and the freedom to buy and sell within the allotted grouping as and when for the duration of the certificate. Public safety is not compromised as the existing tracking system is in place and Police time is freed up from processing variations to focus on higher risk activities such as grants, renewals, breaches etc etc.
• The GP’s right to conscientious objection or to name their own fee is unacceptable. This is a public safety issue and the people who are most likely to have personal contact with the applicant should be legally required to provide the information to the Police and for a consistent price. The current situation forces some applicants to use a third party to review their files. Not only is this an unnecessary delay in the process but quality of the information contained in the questionnaire will be much higher if it is completed by the GP with direct, continuous knowledge of the applicant. To maximise public safety we must ensure we get the best possible feedback from the GP.
• If GP’s refuse to complete the medical questionnaire is a marker actually placed on the applicants file? If a third party completes the questionnaire what process is there to ensure a marker is in place ? How can we be sure, do the police receive any written response from the GP at all in the event they refuse to complete the form?