Countryside Alliance Head of Shooting Liam Stokes writes:

The Government is making changes to our firearms legislation. Some are good, some are bad, but none address the key problem at the heart of the system: the failing medical procedures. In fact, that situation is threatening to get worse.

The good comes in the form of implementation of the eight-week extension to the validity of firearms and shotgun certificates in certain circumstances. As of the 17th April, if you submit your renewal form at least eight weeks before your certificate expires but the police are unable to process the renewal by the expiry date, it will remain valid for a further eight weeks.

This change is the result of campaigning that dates back to the Countryside Alliance first raising this issue, along with a suite of other proposed changes, back in April 2016. It will ease the burden on our struggling licensing system, and it is to be welcomed.

The bad are the reforms hinted at in the recent Home Office announcement of the Offensive Weapons Bill. The Alliance is fully behind proportionate measures that can have a genuine impact on violent crime, but we are opposed to restrictions that disadvantage law-abiding shooters without improving public safety. We have yet to be shown evidence of a public-safety benefit to the new firearm restrictions the Home Office intends to bring forward, and we have serious concerns that poorly worded legislation will have ramifications for the legal shooting community.

We have held meetings with the relevant Home Office minister to express our concerns, and received assurances that clear definitions and careful wording would prevent any new legislation producing unintended consequences for our members. We await the detail of this new Bill, which will allow us to judge whether these assurances have been fulfilled.

None of these changes however address the fatal flaw in our licensing system. The medical procedures continue to flounder, delivering none of the benefits envisioned when they were introduced two years ago. The whole system hinges on the application of a marker to a certificate-holder’s medical records, yet despite GPs levying unregulated charges to participate in the process there is no evidence that these markers are being applied even when these fees are paid. Indeed, the British Medical Association that agreed this procedure now advises its members not to apply the marker even if a fee is procured.

Despite this chaotic situation, the Government seems to have prioritised pacifying the GP’s demands for payment over securing the improvements to public safety. The Government is proposing to enforce a fee for the initial check and the application of the marker, without any mechanism to ensure that actually happens.

The Countryside Alliance will not stand for this. We will need the proactive support of all our members to tell the Government that firearms licensing needs to be fair and consistent, and these new proposals are nothing of the sort.

Liam Stokes
Head of Shooting
Follow me at @LNJStokes

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