Having your firearms certificate revoked is easier than you might think. Helena Venables finds out what all FAC holders need to know…
Getting a firearm certificate (FAC) is, perhaps rightly, not an easy task. Forms must be completed, referees sought, medical problems admitted, previous convictions disclosed, security inspections made, conditions agreed and reasons for acquiring firearms given.
Once you are in possession of your certificate revocation will be the last thing on your mind. But doing something that may lead to the loss of your FAC is pretty easy. If you argue with your partner, have one too many before driving, use social media, or get punchy after a pint then your certificate will be at risk.
The 1968 Firearms Act states five reasons by which the police are entitled to revoke, partially revoke or refuse to grant, a firearm certificate:
- if they believe you are of intemperate habits or unsound mind or are otherwise unfitted to be entrusted with a firearm;
- if you are deemed a danger to the public safety or the peace;
- if you are prohibited by the Firearms Act 1968 from possessing firearms (ie you have been sentenced to prison for more than three years);
- if you don’t have or no longer have good reason for possessing, buying or acquiring the firearms on your certificate;
- if you fail to comply with a written police order to deliver your certificate to them for a variation of conditions.
Intemperate habits include evidence of drug or alcohol abuse; prejudicial attitudes particularly when expressed in violent terms; and aggressive or antisocial behaviour, including domestic disputes.
Lachlan Nisbet, Solicitor-Advocate and Partner at Brabners in Liverpool, has a specialist knowledge of firearms law. He acknowledges that many revocations take place due to relationship disputes, where the police have to err on the side of caution.
“The relationship is going south and wife/partner decides to make up an allegation of violent behaviour and/or say her hubby has said he will kill her or himself, or that she fears for the safety of her children. Allegations of this sort, perhaps understandably, may lead to extreme reactions from the police. Sometimes entry is forced to secure the firearms. At the very least the police require a ‘voluntary’ surrender, with revocation swiftly following.”
Peter Glenser, a specialist firearms barrister at 9 Bedford Row in London, agrees. “Complaints from fed up spouses are common. Some people see this coming and take precautions, such as putting their guns into storage with an RFD. Others aren’t so well prepared. The real danger is during acrimonious divorces: probably more people lose their shotgun or FAC during divorce proceedings than due to any other circumstance, and this sometimes follows an untrue allegation by the former partner.”
Intemperate habits also include disturbing or unusual behaviour which gives rise to “well-founded fears about the future misuse of firearms”. So while you may think it normal to regularly shout the lyrics of Eminem’s ‘Kill You’ at the moon while standing naked covered in Swarfega, your neighbours and the police may disagree.
Mike Eveleigh, a Senior Firearms Officer at BASC who advises members on licensing issues, points out that people regularly involved in fighting have a serious chance of losing their certificate. “The police will often consider the occurrence to be the tip of the iceberg and that the guy who has swung a punch may well have done it several times before – so it’s vital FAC holders behave reasonably at all times.”
Defining what constitutes unsound mind is tricky and of concern to BASC’s Mike Eveleigh who notes that severe depression is very different from melancholia: “The irony is that many FAC holders who become depressed may be discouraged from seeing their GP for fear of losing their certificate. That in turn can mean they may become more ill and potentially then a risk.” It remains to be seen what will come of proposals for the mandatory investigation by police of the medical records of all shotgun and firearm certificate applications.
Otherwise unfitted to be entrusted with a firearm
Fitness to be entrusted with a firearm covers several areas. Those deemed unfit include prohibited persons – those sentenced to a prison term of three years or more. Other areas include offences involving violence, dishonesty, disregard for public safety, and failure to comply with certificate conditions. Hence, a drink driving conviction, while nothing to do with shooting, may be deemed to show a disregard for public safety.
While the semantics of intemperate habits, unsound mind and unfitted to be entrusted can be debated until the proverbial cows return to the fold, there are many things FAC holders should be aware of to reduce risk of revocation.
Lack of cooperation with police licensing departments
Certificate holders are expected to provide basic cooperation with the police. Failure to do so may form a part of a revocation decision so maintaining good communication with your licensing department is wise, despite any frustrations you may have.
Lachlan Nisbet comments that a certificate holder’s demeanour is vital. “Demeanour covers a spectrum ranging from being downright obstructive to just a little rude. So angry calls to the constabulary complaining of delays won’t help, nor will being rude when the police appear on your doorstep wanting to check security. I deal with lots of revocation cases that stem from fallings out between firearms licensing managers and officers and the certificate holder.”
Nosy neighbours often cause FAC holders problems and many revocations have occurred when neighbours call the police to say you are waving a gun around in your back garden. This may be justified, but depending upon how it’s put it can result in helicopters and armed response vehicles being deployed with the worry being that once that sort of budget is spent then something has to be seen as a result. Aside from the waste to the public purse, mistakes can be made and in this context the consequences could be horrendous.
Breaches of security
It is a condition of an FAC that the firearms and ammunition to which it relates must be stored securely to prevent access by unauthorised persons. As it is a criminal offence to not comply with a certificate condition, lax security could lead to prosecution and to the police believing you are unfit to hold a firearm – resulting in revocation. Leaving your guns outside the cabinet or telling someone where the keys are, are very prevalent issues that lead to revocations so, however tired you are after a long day stalking, be sure to lock everything away.
Only shoot where you are allowed to shoot
Knowing where you are when you are out shooting and shooting only on land where you have permission is vital. As Peter Glenser tells, a revocation occurred when a shooting guide took a party of shooters onto land where he didn’t have permission to shoot. He was reported and the party was arrested. Because he had committed armed trespass the guide lost his firearms certificate and his business.
Hyperbole and idle threats
Even in private correspondence and where there is no evidence of an intention to carry out the threat making threats can still form the basis of revocation. “‘I’ll kill them if I get my hands on them’, or ‘your department needs a bomb under it’, are good examples of hyperbole,” says Lachlan Nisbet. “Here the FAC holder is just venting his spleen and has no intention of carrying out the threat, but this is enough for the police to press for a revocation.”
Making threats or jokes referring to firearms on social media is not wise either, as Peter Glenser explains. “Users of social media are often careless and don’t know who is reading their posts and how their comments may be interpreted.” In addition, while some of us may know all our Facebook friends, many social media users are connected to people they don’t know at all. If the police can show you have demonstrable connections with criminals then your FAC could end up being revoked on that basis.”
In conclusion, the most important point to take from all this is that FAC holders must behave responsibly and reasonably at all times. Moderate habits, sensible behaviour, courteousness to the police, plus a good knowledge of the basics of firearms law, should keep you out of trouble – and your firearm certificate safely in its wallet.