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Firearms: Statutory Guidance

Home Office Firearms Licensing Statutory Guidance – 1 November 2021

Firearms: Statutory Guidance

During 2013 and 2014 there was significant discussion within those involved in the management of the licensing of firearms in the UK to have guidance codified, that is legislated, in an effort to achieve a consistency of approach in firearms licensing decision making. This was subsequently reflected in the HMIC report ‘Targeting the Risk’ in 2015. Work was then progressed to introduce legislation which provided for guidance which would become statutory.

Subsequently, the Policing and Crime Act 2017 inserted section 55A in to the 1968 Firearms Act (as amended), allowing the Secretary of State to issue guidance to chief officers of police as to the exercise of their functions under, or in connection with, the 1968 Act. Chief officers of police in England, Wales and Scotland must have regard to such guidance and be able to justify any departure on a case-by-case basis.

It is important to note that this work has been ongoing for many years and predates recent tragedies.

SACS, along with the other shooting organisations in the UK represented by the British Shooting Sports Council and the Scottish shooting organisations were consulted by the Home Office and engaged in meetings with the Home Office and the strategic police managers. It is fair to say that the conversations were direct and to the point.

It is important to highlight a couple of points though. The police are statutorily tasked with administering firearms licensing. They do not have a choice to manage the risk which is associated with the task. Their natural inclination is to minimise the risk to themselves. The shooting organisations wish to have a mature and responsible licensing system, allowing the vast, vast majority of law abiding and responsible people whose employment or hobbies include the use of guns, have access to them.

The challenge historically for the police strategically is that there are 44 police forces in the UK who cannot be controlled centrally and who each may have an individual view of how firearms licensing should be managed. Thus, we have widely different focuses on each individual component on firearms licensing and widely varying service standards. And to be clear, it is a service they supply, for a cost to the person asking for the service.

The statutory guidance, which only deals with suitability, came into force on 1 November 2021 aims to address this inconsistency. In effect it replaces Chapter 12 of the 2016 guidance.

There are several changes. Firstly, a medical check will require to be completed on every application or renewal. Given the advent of MedCert the days of astronomical costs are behind us. There was never supposed to a fee anyway and it was supposed to be a one off process. This has been abandoned.

If you have a non-coterminous firearms and shotgun certificate, or in Scotland, a co or tri-terminous air weapon certificate, the strong advice is to make them coterminous. It will save you lots of money and hassle.

The statutory guidance also sets out quite clearly what the police should be looking at in respect of suitability, however, in reality there is no prescriptive scope in respect of questions which could be asked. If it’s relevant it should be asked. It is also of note that most of the factors stated were already second nature to most forces enquiry structures so nothing significant should change.

The general view is that there will be a short term change whilst forces position themselves to deal with the guidance. It will probably be the case that they become more rigid citing the statutory guidance. It will likely be that as time develops case law will have the effect of amending or refining the first iteration of this guidance.

Our advice in respect of this matter is twofold. Firstly, read it. It’s important and will impact upon how the police will deal with firearms licensing in the future. Applying for a certificate can be a stressful experience however awareness of the guidance will explain and minimise some of the stressors.

The link to the guidance can be found at:

Statutory guidance for chief officers of police on firearms licensing (accessible version) - GOV.UK (

Secondly, if you have any questions, please contact the office who will be able to explain the whys and wherefores. It is your resource so please use it.

- Fraser Lamb