11 April 2016 – Despite the UK Shooting News report last week on proposed changes to the law which appear to cut shooting organisations out of gun law updates, the Scottish Association for Country Sports has been in touch to say that isn’t the case – and that these changes would help the shooting sports.
Alex Stoddart, director of the SACS, sent a very helpful and detailed email explaining the background. He said:
The purpose of Licensing Guidance is to act as a reference point for licensing teams during the review of applications. The change at [clause 81 of the Policing and Crime Bill 2016, which will become section 55A of the Firearms Act 1968 once enacted] is something we and other shooting organisations, including the British Shooting Sports Council, have been fighting for years to achieve. Far too often regional licensing teams, under their Chief Officer, have disregarded or manufactured their own local firearms licensing policy and far too much of SACS time and capital has been spent on advocacy work in such cases. As such, we look forward to standardisation of licensing practices across GB – NI of course having a different Firearms Order, though we and others are supporting positive changes to licensing practices over there too.
Some regional forces in E&W were ignoring not only ‘practice’ conditioning, but also ‘any other lawful quarry’. Forces were ignoring Licensing Guidance for their own silly wee policies. It is vital to understand that 55A does not force certificate holders to follow HO Licensing Guidance. The licensing guidance document was created to help licensing teams fulfil their duties and is not a best practice document for shooters that can be turned into law, though we advise shooters to read it and thereby understand current licensing ‘thinking’. 55A simply places a legal duty on chief officers (basically licensing teams as they work for the chief officer) to have regard to Home Office Licensing Guidance. It does not make specific wording within the guidance mandatory, but it allows for legal challenge where licensing departments do not have regard to guidance and ignore condition wording such as AOLQ and ‘practice’ or have their own local policies for ‘good reason’ or calibres permitted. 55A has the power to force regional licensing teams get back into line; it is a positive.
Shooting organisations are working together to bigger and better outcomes for all lawful shooters. Some are better resourced than others and some have different structures, but we get on well, respect each other and do what we can, not just for our own members, but for all. SACS is delighted have been elected to the British Shooting Sports Council this month and within that body we look forward working even harder with our dedicated colleagues in other shooting organisations.
So, I asked, where does that leave us given that large parts of the Home Office Guidance are effectively enforced as if they were law? Wouldn’t this bill, as written, cut the shooting organisations out of the picture altogether?
The answer is effectively no. As Alex explained:
Shooting organisations are widely consulted. The FELWG practitioners group includes representatives from British Shooting Sports Council, but we [SACS] have always had input even out with BSSC. The position with the police is that they want the easy and non-resource-intensive way forward. In most cases that means full engagement with shooting representatives. That’s not to say we always agree, though there have been times of recent note that the police have sided with shooters against the Home Office. The Policing and Crime Bill is a classic example.
I think there is an issue with non-statutory bodies being written into law. However, there are clear rules for new legislation or changes to legislation. One of them is open consultation. I think the main thing is that 55A forces licensing units to “have regard” to Guidance. It doesn’t make any of the wording mandatory, but if they vary from Guidance it may allow a legal challenge, which is most helpful.
So there you have it: far from how it appears if you read the law on its own, the proposed changes will ensure greater consistency in licensing across the land and won’t result in the shooting organisations being cut out of the picture.
I could be uncharitable and ask why nobody thought to say publicly “by the way, this is appearing in Parliament soon, it looks bad if you read the wording alone but in reality it’s a good thing and here’s why”, but this just a blog, after all.
A petition has been started by someone not connected to UKSN, and at least a few people I’m aware of have written to their MPs. On the positive side, at least the shooting community hasn’t descended into complete apathy.