UK: Think Law, Think Safe

Last Updated: 24 April 2002
Article by James Taylor

There has been a lot of reporting of the new Home Office Guidance to the Police in the shooting press, which has focussed on how favourable it is to the shooting community overall. Thanks are due to the shooting organisations that contributed to the consultation and co-operation that took place to compile the guidance. It is to be hoped that there will indeed be a new culture of co-operation between the shooting community and the Police.

There are still elements in the Guidance, and in the law generally which can trip up the unwary. You never could rely on common sense when it came to post 1997 firearms laws, and there are a number of areas which ought to be highlighted again and again, because they will continue to cause confusion and, therefore, convictions.

Every conviction of a normally law-abiding shooter is further ammunition to the anti-gun lobby. Even if it is a technical breach of the law, which does not call the shooter’s safety or suitability into question so far as you or I are concerned. These matters can still result in criminal convictions, to be disclosed on job applications until spent, which will affect household and motor insurances, and will push up the "gun crime" figures of the local constabulary.

The Guidance’s introduction says that it "is intended to assist consistency of practice between police forces ". It has chapters on everything from the law on shooting birds and animals to museum firearms licences, import and export and proofing.

What every shooter should do is to THINK before you go shooting. A basic awareness of the law is all that is required, but translating that into what we actually DO will mean that we are less likely to become another damaging statistic.

By way of reminder, it is illegal to borrow a shotgun if you do not have a shotgun certificate yourself.

You can borrow one: -

  1. At a police-approved clayshooting ground;
  2. From the occupier of private premises to use on those premises in his presence (the guidance states that the occupier should be within sight and earshot of the borrower).

What you can’t do is go shooting with a mate who hasn’t got a SGC, on someone else’s land, and lend him a gun yourself. You have to get him to borrow a gun from the occupier, who must then accompany you.

On an average game-shooting day you should not have a problem, provided you think things through. Out with the tenant of the shooting rights, you can lend the tenant himself a gun, without notifying the Police, for less than 72 hours. If he stays with the shooting party he can then lend that gun or another to your chum.

But if you are out after pigeon, you can’t simply let your chum have a go, without breaking the law, unless the farmer is with you, or within sight and earshot, and lends the gun to your friend.

Your unlicensed friend can carry a gun if you are out shooting, but it must be solely for you to use. If you both had 12-bores identically choked and loaded then the Police might raise their eyebrows. If you had a 12-bore for pigeon and your friend carried a .410 for you to use as a cripple-stopper or on rats or rabbits, then you would have an easier explanation.

Similarly shooters should think hard about security. If someone knows where your cabinet keys are then they have access to your guns. It is YOUR responsibility to secure your firearms "so as to prevent, as far as is reasonably practicable, unauthorised access". My wife never knows where I keep the keys to my cabinet. Even before the case of Mr Farrer in 2000, she never knew.

Mr Farrer lost his certificate because his mother was an unauthorised person who had access to the firearms. Mr Farrer won his case on appeal, but the Police appealed to the Court of Appeal who upheld the Chief Constable’s decision. Even though Mr Farrer, a renowned, respectable and highly experienced Solicitor contended that it was not reasonably practicable for his mother NOT to know where his keys were kept, the arrangement which he had (whereby his mother would open the gun cabinet if the police asked her to) was not lawful.

So think - who else knows where your keys are kept? Do they have a certificate?

During my own recent interview over renewal of my certificate, I was asked the age of my son – "because teenagers or their friends often get Dad’s guns out when he is away and fire them in the back garden ". My son is one year old and the enquiry officer in question had seen him being put to bed. I never knew where my Dad’s keys were until I had my own certificate.

Make sure you either carry your keys with you everywhere, or that nobody at all knows where you keep them. It is as much for their sake as for yours, because they could be said to be in possession of your guns without a certificate if the Police call and your family member tries to be "helpful".

You will have noticed that the application form for renewal asks for your consent to a GP report. You have to say if you have suffered any depression or mental illness. Fair enough, because we don’t generally want mentally ill people to have firearms.

However, there are a large number of reasons why lots of perfectly normal, sane people get down or suffer from depression from time to time. Divorce is but one example. Of course, every divorcing gun owner may be suspect in the eyes of some police because of the large number of domestic incidents that they attend. Again, my helpful firearms enquiry officer wanted to know my wife’s date of birth and maiden name. Explanation: something along the lines of "in case she ever rang the Police to say I was not co-operating with my share of the housework". If my wife rang them, the Police would know that they could potentially be dealing with a firearms incident and take appropriate measures. Of course, I was forgetting that as she doesn’t know where my keys are, her indoors can’t get me to hoover the cat at gunpoint anymore.

Otherwise, bereavement, money worries and of course the increasing attacks on our lovely sport by ill-informed townies and bunny-huggers, not to mention the fact that you can’t read this magazine on the London Underground without feeling threatened by the reactions of other passengers, can all get to us sometimes.

If you, or someone you know is depressed, I’m not suggesting for one minute that if you can’t shake off the "black dog", as Churchill used to call his regular deep depressions, you shouldn’t seek appropriate help. Of course you should, and it would count in your favour if you did so, as it would show that you are a responsible person.

If you do get really down, it is important to lodge your guns with the local dealer and to get help. I just feel that you ought not to do so lightly, and should try the time-honoured tactic of a chat with a good friend first. We are a shooting community after all, and should therefore support and help each other. Mental hypochondriacs be warned!

You ought to be aware that if you do break the law, however technically, and the Crown Prosecution Service did decide to prosecute you, your case will be dealt with by the Magistrates’ Court or by the Crown Court, for the moment with a jury. You would have to convince either a sceptical bench of 3, which is lied to every day, or a group of 12 people (who might all be anti-shooting), that you were in the right. It is not an easy task. The penalties are much stiffer than for the normal driving offences and can involve imprisonment.

In this climate we should stand up for our rights, but we should not give ammunition to those who would take our sport away. The Government says that is poses no threat to shooting, but if it passes further restrictions on our ownership of guns, on the basis (again) of some unfounded public safety argument, it will be doing that by the back door. The more "crimes" the antis can squeeze into the statistics the worse, from our point of view. Don’t let your fellow sportsmen down by being lax about the law.

For further information on firearms law, please contact Mr James Taylor, Firearms Expert at Bevans solicitors.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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