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Firearms are heavily regulated in the UK. Those who wish to own guns must obtain a license from the police. The police conduct several checks to ensure the applicant has good reason to own a gun, is fit to own a gun and can safely own the gun. Firearms license holders are required to follow license conditions specified by the police. These including conditions relating to the safe keeping of their guns.

Firearms law is complex. It can be difficult to find and understand. The Home Office maintains a collection of resources relating to firearms licensing. Amongst these resources is the Home Office guide to firearms licensing law (published April 2016) and the firearms security handbook (published January 2021). The guide is out of date but is designed to help people understand firearms regulation. The security handbook provides advice to gun owners on the safe keeping of their weapons.

New statutory guidance for police forces in 2021

The Home Office published new statutory guidance for police forces on firearms licensing in October 2021. The guidance comes into force on 1 November 2020.

The guidance was introduced after a 2015 inspection raised concerns that police force practice on licensing was inconsistent. The Inspectorate said the pre-existing guidance was too discretionary and recommended its status be “enhanced”. In response, the Government introduced legislation which gave it powers to publish statutory guidance to police forces. The legislation (section 133, Policing and Crime Act 2017) required it to consult with police leaders before issuing the guidance.

A public consultation on draft statutory guidance began in Autumn 2019. Proposed arrangements for medical information about applicants to be shared between GPs and the police proved very controversial. Gun owners worried that GPs would either not engage in the process or charge high prices for their services. The medical community raised serious concerns about the lawfulness of sharing patient information with the police. In response, the Government began negotiations with all the interested parties about the proposed guidance.

In August 2021, whilst the Government was still working on its response to the public consultation, a shotgun license holder used his licensed weapon to shoot and kill six people (including himself) in Plymouth. The incident raised concerns about the licensing system. The Government reassured people that the new statutory guidance would be published in the coming weeks.

Government consultation on firearm safety

The Government committed to running a public consultation on several aspects of firearms safety during the passage of the Offensive Weapons Act 2019 (OWA). The Government opened its firearm safety consultation on 24 November 2020. It closed on 16 February 2021. The consultation webpage says the Government is still “analysing responses”. On 18 October 2021 the Government said it would “publish its response to the consultation in due course”.

The consultation asked for views on:

  • new secondary legislation required by the OWA concerning the safe keeping of high-powered rifles. The Government is proposing to set rules based on the level three security measures in the firearms security handbook.
  • amending air weapons regulations. The Government is proposing to further prohibit children from possessing air weapons. The proposals are discussed in the Library paper air weapons.
  • amending the regulation of miniature rifle ranges. The Government is proposing to introduce licenses for those who run rifle ranges/ shooting galleries where only miniature rifles are used.
  • creating a new offence related to the illegal manufacture of ammunition. The Government is proposing to make it an offence to hold the component parts of ammunition with intent to manufacture.

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