Figures disclosed by the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) reveal that police have made more than a thousand “raids” on the homes of gun owners in a 4 month period – resulting in 28 certificate revocations.
The new policy of visiting gun owners’ homes without obtaining a court warrant or notifying the owner concerned was announced by the NPCC’s predecessor, private company ACPO, in October. At the time a very senior police spokesman insisted to your correspondent: “This is about raising security awareness and engagement, and not about catching people out.”
As disclosed in the FELWG meeting minutes of March 2015, police forces nationwide carried out 1,254 unannounced visits. 107 found security issues and 63 found “other issues”. 83 certificate holders received advice, 25 a written warning, 62 are currently under review and 28 had been revoked.
That makes 368 of the 1,254 visits which raised problems (of any sort) with the police: a rate of 29 per cent. 2.2 per cent of certificate holders visited had their certificates revoked. The three most serious categories – written warning, under review and revocation – account for 9.2 per cent of the visits.
Surely you’re not saying a third of certificate holders are dodgy?
Absolutely not. UK Shooting News’ view is that the police brought this policy in – without any legal basis or permission from ministers – with the explicit intent of evading the legal controls and oversights of the court warrant system, which regulates police behaviour, helps the public hold them accountable for their actions and keeps the police on the right side of the law.
Having established a basis, however shaky, for their fishing expeditions, the police had to get “results” to avoid attracting negative public attention which could have seen them being ordered to stop and explain themselves. Indeed, that nearly three quarters of gun owners visited were doing nothing wrong – by the police’s own admission – bears this out.
We must also remember that because there is no legal basis for these raids, there are no legal safeguards for licensed firearms owners targeted arbitrarily by police employees in this manner. Either you’re a millionaire with a barrister on retainer to launch a judicial review, or you cower and accept that policemen have given themselves the power to storm into your home without notice, permission or anything else, purely because you hold a firearm or shotgun certificate and for no other reason.
Indeed, when the random spot checks policy was announced Chief Inspector Sarah Edgar of Cheshire Police said in a press release from her force: “We will be visiting some registered certificate holders taking into consideration crime patterns within the area to check that weapons are not easily accessible to criminals.”
It is not as if the police lack legal powers to take action against gun owners. There are plenty of types of warrant which can be issued by a judge to enter premises and seize property, and there are plenty of police powers to seize firearms and arrest their owners in cases of genuine concern. If Parliament had intended to give the police powers to demand entry to your home on the sole grounds that you happen to be a gun owner, it would have passed a law giving the police powers to do so.
Parliament has done no such thing.
By pressuring the Home Office into rewriting its Guidance on Firearms Law to be more sympathetic to them, the police have driven a coach and horses through established principles of law and order. Arbitrary actions like these must be condemned and stopped while their legal basis is firmly established. The police must operate in accordance with the law, not evade its controls in a misguided attempt to gain extra powers for themselves.