Gun licensing plan “ill-advised”

A MONEY-saving plan to stop home visits for some shotgun licence renewals have been slammed as “both premature and ill-advised” by a gun control expert.

Plans to halt home visits for the five-yearly renewals as part of the collaboration between Bedfordshire Police and Hertfordshire Constabulary will be put forward later this month.

If they are approved it will mean that gun users may be able to keep their licences without assessment by police officers.

The plan has been criticised by Peter Squires, professor of criminology and public policy at the University of Brighton, who is a member of the Gun Control Network.

He said: “In the wake of the murderous Cumbria outrage - which involved a licensed shotgun - and at a time when the House of Commons Home Affairs Select Committee is still sifting through evidence submitted about firearm security, from GCN and additionally from myself, amongst others, I would have thought that the plans of the Hertfordshire and Bedfordshire Police proposal to stop home visits for some shotgun licence renewals is both premature and ill-advised. “Owning a firearm should be an onerous responsibility and subject to tough scrutiny, and part of the purpose of the home visit on licence renewals is to check weapon safety and security and personal suitability. You cannot do this on paper.

“My hunch is that maybe the police are playing a little brinkmanship in view of impending budget cuts, they might think this could be a way of waking politicians up to the consequences of policing cuts.

“At the end of the day, Parliament has to legislate further.

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“Really, the cost of the licensing system should be borne by gun owners not the public and further suggestions for tightening gun security in the home by myself and GCN colleagues in our evidence to the Home Affairs Select Committee.”

If the proposal is accepted, the shotgun licence plan will go out to consultation before being put into practice.

Gun licence owners would still have to meet certain criteria in order to be eligible for the home visit to be skipped. A spokesperson for Hertfordshire Constabulary said: “Firearms licensing is one of a number of functions currently being advanced with a proposal regarding future joint working due to be considered in the near future.

“As part of the search to carry out this function in the most effective and efficient way possible, the proposal includes the withdrawal of blanket home visits to people renewing their licences, an approach already adopted by a number of forces across the country.

“This will be replaced by a risk-assessed process whereby enhanced intelligence checks will identify those who ought to receive a home visit, without waiting for the expiry of their current licence. The process will be designed by experienced professional leads from the two forces.

“Research has shown that across a sample of representative forces only 0.2 per cent of licence holders had their licence revoked for any reason.

“Hertfordshire, in 2009, had no examples of a routine home visit revealing a licence holder being unfit to have their licence renewed in circumstances which an enhanced risk assessment would not have identified.

“This is a time of considerable change throughout policing, including firearms licensing.

“Not only are fees for licences being examined by the Home Office, as they only provide for 16 per cent of the cost of providing the service, but the effectiveness of the current process is also subject to reviews post-Cumbria.

“The approach suggested by the proposal is designed to address the need to make best use of authority funds, whilst taking advantage of improved intelligence to deliver more timely, risk-assessed interventions to continue to ensure public safety.”

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