A combine harvests a cereal crop

Seizures of legally owned firearms on the increase

Over Christmas Martin Winter had an article published in Shooting Times regarding the increase of seizures of legally owned firearms.  The article it appears was somewhat prophetic as on the 22nd December the following piece was published on the BBC’s website – www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-essex-30573417

It was particularly interesting to read  “The force’s approach was “victim-based”, so people could say if they believed their partners or family members should be allowed to keep guns”.

Martin’s article was as follows:

In October 2014, puppy-farmer John Lowe was convicted of shooting dead his former partner and her daughter using a gun that had initially been seized by the police following domestic violence allegations, but later returned to him. Outside Court the victims’ family spoke movingly of their loss. One line had a particularly chilling effect on the police across the country;

John Lowe pulled the trigger, but it was the Surrey police who put the gun in his hands”.

The immediate effect was the suspension of three firearms officers. The wider consequences will be a dramatic change in the approach that the police across the UK will take when deciding who should be allowed to possess guns.

The John Lowe verdict coincided with the publication of new Home Office guidance on firearms licensing controls. This document is the instruction manual for firearms licensing officers and one addition to the guidance emphasises, “the importance of proper assessment, specifically with regard to domestic violence.

Responsible gun owners would agree that anyone who has a propensity to use violence against their partner is not somebody who should be entrusted with a firearm. However, the Home Office guidance does not refer only to domestic violence, nor does it require a conviction to be obtained. The much wider concept of “domestic abuse” is now the trigger that will cause the police to initiate decisions to revoke licenses or refuse applications. Since October, our advisors have noted an increase in calls from shooters who have had their guns seized by the police following minor, non-violent family disputes or allegations subsequently proved untrue at trial.

Between 2002 and 2012 the number of shotguns and firearms held in England and Wales has remained relatively constant at around 700,000. However, the number of shotgun revocations have doubled in the same period with notable spikes following the incidents in Durham and Cumbria involving the notorious murderers Derek Bird and Raoul Moate. I predict that this figure will continue to rise as the police become increasingly defensive in their attitude towards applications in the wake of the John Lowe case.

The process of appealing against revocation is daunting. The applicant must make a written application to the local Crown Court setting out the grounds of his appeal. This must be copied to the Chief Constable whose decision is being challenged. The police will assign a specialist barrister to the case and will make it clear to the applicant that, should the appeal fail, they will ask the applicant to repay all of the legal costs the police have incurred. Many appeals end at this stage because the appellant has often lost the initial enthusiasm to appeal and is put off by the prospect of paying several thousand pounds to the police if they fail.

If shooting is important to you, protect yourself against an unjustified accusation of being unfit to hold a firearms certificate. Appealing a revocation decision can be complicated and expensive so getting good legal advice is essential. Shooters should ensure that they have insurance cover for legal expenses relating to appealing any decisions to revoke or refuse a licence application. Many shooting organisations have this cover as standard for their members, but some do not so it is worth checking.

Gun owners across the UK can expect a defensive approach to be taken by the police as they adopt a “better safe than sorry” attitude and leave it to the Crown Court to make the ultimate decision as to who should possess guns. Not for the first time the actions of a murderous individual will have adverse consequences not only for his victims but also for law-abiding shooters.