Written evidence submitted by Mr Martin Kay (FLR0008)
This document is submitted in response to the Scottish Affairs Committee Call for Evidence on Firearms licensing regulations in Scotland. The content of this response is the result of many years of experience as a private individual participant in target shooting and deer stalking.
To consider each of the Terms of Reference issues in turn:
“How adequate are firearms licensing regulations in the UK, and in Scotland in particular?”
It is often stated by Government ministers, MPs and senior police officers that the firearms laws in the UK are among “the toughest in the world”, and that there is no evidence of a linkage between legally owned firearms and the incidence of armed crime. There is little disagreement with that. There is general agreement among owners of legally held firearms that the present licensing system is bureaucratic, complex, excessively demanding of police resources, and yet at the same time ineffective as our rate of armed crime rises inexorably. There are demanding requirements in place to notify police of all sales of guns and ammunition; however there seems to be little capability to apply the huge mass of data collected over decades to any meaningful statistical or crime prevention function.
As the mass of data regarding transfers of guns and ammunition submitted to Firearms Licensing departments annually appears to have little practical value, what is the sense in submitting and recording it all? There is a huge, costly and time consuming workload imposed on Police licensing departments to collect and archive this data, to no evident benefit to society.
The process of application, granting and renewing certificates is effective at identifying those who do not have genuine reasons to own guns, however there is considerable scope for simplification of the process without compromising public safety or the overall effectiveness on the licensing system. One area which could present a significant saving in police administration effort and consequently cost is the variations procedure.
At present a holder of a Firearm Certificate (FAC) who wishes to dispose of a firearm and replace it with a similar item must first dispose of the firearm, either to another FAC holder with the appropriate authority to purchase, or to a Registered Firearms Dealer (RFD). This disposal must be reported to the police force which issued the holder’s FAC. In order to procure the replacement the FAC holder must submit a detailed application and their existing FAC to the issuing police force, who in turn review the application and if approved issue a new FAC with the appropriate authority to purchase the replacement. This process requires administrative effort, printing and postage costs of the replacement FAC.
This process can take two to three weeks in Scotland, several police forces in England are seriously inefficient as they can take months to process this simplest of FAC related transactions. During the time the application and holder’s FAC is with the police force the holder is unable to purchase ammunition as a sale must be recorded on the FAC. This tedious process also applies to disposal and sale of sound moderators, also known as silencers or suppressors. These devices are simple tubes with internal compartments which slow, expand and cool the firearm shot discharge gasses, reducing the sound of the shot.
They are simply a small version of the exhaust silencer fitted to every internal combustion engined vehicle, yet are subject to the same controls, purchase and sale restrictions as a complete firearm. Removal of these needlessly strict controls and the need to issue variations for moderators would reduce significantly the workload and operational costs of every police force licensing office in the UK, and could be achieved without significant changes to the licensing system.
“To what extent are firearms licensing regulations adequate and relevant to Scotland’s particular circumstances, including it’s agricultural communities and strong connection with countryside sports?”
As previously discussed, the variations process is one area where some changes could have great benefit in reducing the burden and cost to the public purse of administering the firearms licensing regulations, and benefit FAC holders by reducing the time taken to process what should be a simple procedure. If FAC holders were able to simply dispose of a firearm and then acquire a replacement without having to invoke the long winded variation procedure described previously a significant police licensing department workload burden reduction could be achieved.
Disposal of a firearm and acquisition of a like for like replacement by an FAC holder should not need to involve the licensing police force. If a change in calibre of the replacement firearm is desired, a categorisation of firearm calibres in bands as in Northern Ireland could be put in place. FAC holders are at liberty to replace a firearm with one from within the same band without having to go through the variation procedure.
A change in the licensing system to a simpler banded approach and revision of the variation process would benefit both the police by reduced workload and FAC/SGC holders by reducing or elimination of the delays inherent within the system in it’s present form.
“Should the process for obtaining a licence for firearms be changed (for example, to place greater emphasis on applicant’s mental health)?
Controls on possession and use of firearms are both desirable and necessary for public safety, however it must be recognised that legitimate reasons exist for ownership and use of firearms and shotguns. The existing processes for vetting applicants for Firearm and Shotgun Certificates (FAC and SGC) strike a reasonable balance between recognising the need to protect public safety and reasons for legitimate ownership of firearms and shotguns by people resident both in the countryside and urban areas. I see no need for change to the vetting process in it’s present form.
The present requirement for an FAC or SGC applicant to obtain a medical certificate from their regular GP confirming that they are not suffering any of a specific list of medical problems is reasonable, however is unsatisfactory in practice because GPs are free to decide if they wish to participate in the process, and what level of charge they may demand for this service.
There appears to be a level of concern among some GPs that they may be held responsible if an FAC applicant who perhaps many years after being given a clear bill of health develops mental health issues and commits a serious offence. The GP is however simply stating that “The applicant is not at present diagnosed with any of the issues on this list” and undertaking to place a marker on the applicant’s records to alert other medical professionals to the applicant’s ownership of firearms, and instructing them to notify the relevant police authorities should cause for concern in respect of mental health arise.
I have no medical training and therefore cannot comment with authority on this matter, however it is my understanding that anyone can develop mental health issues at any time of life, and that there is no means of predicting the likelihood of this. The present system of GP certification, if implemented as intended, is probably the most reasonable and practicable that can be put in place given current medical knowledge.
It is my view that if the medical certification scheme is to continue, participation by GPs should not be optional, and that the fee should be fixed nationally at a reasonable level.
I am a 70 year old male, resident for more than 35 years in the Ellon, Aberdeenshire area. Originally from Tyneside, I served for 10 years in the Royal Air Force before moving to Aberdeenshire to follow a career in helicopter maintenance. I later transferred to the oil and gas industry, where I worked in equipment reliability and maintenance analysis before retiring. I have been shooting recreationally for more than 55 years, first as an Air Cadet and now as a member of Aberdeen Full Bore Gun Club. I have been an active deer stalker for about 30 years, paying annually for access to land at several locations in Aberdeenshire, Sutherland and Angus.
Aberdeenshire, October 2022