The Countryside Alliance worked with a number of peers to raise concerns about firearms licensing arrangements, particularly around background medical checks, during the first debate on the Government’s Offensive Weapons Bill in the House of Lords.
Speaking in the debate on Monday 7 January, Lord Shrewsbury noted: “There is no consistency of practice between police forces, nor is there any consistency of the fee charged to the applicant by his or her GP for a medical assessment.” His comments were supported by Lord Caithness, who said problems around background medical checks were leading to a “dislike of legislation”.
Countryside Alliance members have been reporting problems with the medical procedures for a grant or renewal of a firearms licence ever since the Home Office guidance on this issue was introduced in April 2016. The Alliance launched a campaign to address these issues in January of last year, and has sent dossiers of evidence to the Home Office.
The Offensive Weapons Bill contains proposals to ban certain types of rapid firing rifle, although the proposed ban on large calibre rifles was removed from the Bill after a cross party group of MPs raised concerns about this in the House of Commons. Throughout that process the Alliance has consistently called for the Government to stop proposing ineffective and unnecessary restrictions and instead focus on addressing the crisis in the firearms licensing medical procedures.
Home Office Minister, Baroness Williams of Trafford, defended that decision during the debate by saying that these issues were “more complex than they had first appeared” and, while the Government has no intention of revisiting large calibre rifles in the Bill, they will be subject of a broader firearms review.
Baroness Williams also acknowledged the need for reform of firearms licensing law by saying that “the Government and the police, who administer firearms licensing, see the need to make progress in modernising the existing arrangements.”
Countryside Alliance Chief Executive, Tim Bonner, commented: “We fully support the objective of this Bill to improve public safety but the best way that can be achieved, in relation to firearms, is to address the on-going problems around background medical checks. This issue affects everyone who holds a firearms licence, and failing to achieve a fair and consistent approach to how these checks are handled is not only a missed opportunity to improve public safety but also a cause of great frustration to thousands of lawful firearms owners. We urge the Government to focus their time and energy on this issue, rather than seeking to further restrict lawful gun ownership.”