Fitness to be Entrusted with Firearms

This section offers guidance on the issues of a person's 'fitness' to be entrusted with a firearm. It follows Lord Cullen's recommendation in his report into the shootings at Dunblane. It is issued without prejudice to what a court may decide constitutes "fitness" and contains a list of factors which are not intended to be exhaustive or prescriptive.

Legislative provisions

Section 27(1)(a) of the 1968 Act (as amended) states that:
"A firearm certificate shall be granted where the Chief Officer of Police is satisfied that:
a) the applicant is fit to be entrusted with a firearm to which Section 1 of this Act applies, and
b) is not a person prohibited by this Act from possessing such a firearm."
Section 30A(2)(a) of the 1968 Act (as amended) states that:
" The firearm certificate may be revoked if the Chief Officer of Police has reason to believe:
that the holder is of intemperate habits or unsound mind or is otherwise unfitted to be entrusted with a firearm."

Determining "fitness"
 
The Chief Officer of Police must, when assessing an application for, or revocation of, a firearm certificate, consider the following factors:
 

Prohibited persons and others known, or suspected, of criminal involvement

The matter of prohibited persons is explained elsewhere.

Consideration must also be given to any previous convictions or cautions held by applicants and, in particular, any convictions which involve the use of a firearm and offences involving violence, or offences involving dishonesty or a disregard for public safety, or cautions held by such persons for offences such as failure to comply with conditions on a Firearm Certificate.

Information contained in criminal intelligence will be assessed paying particular regard to alleged or known involvement in criminal offences, particularly those involving the use of violence or threat of violence, or firearms, or evidence of associations with known criminals.

Where an applicant is a foreign national or has lived several years overseas, enquiries will be made with authorities of the country concerned that the applicant has no criminal record overseas that would have a bearing on their 'fitness'.

Intemperate habits

Evidence of alcohol or drug abuse may indicate that a person is unfitted to possess a firearm due to the possible impairment of judgement and loss of self control.

Evidence of aggressive or anti-social behaviour which may include domestic disputes or evidence of hostility likely to lead to violent acts against particular groups categorised by, for example, race, gender, sexual orientation, religion or class.

Evidence of disturbing and unusual behaviour of a kind which gives rise to well-founded fears about the future misuse of firearms. A pattern of abuse will generally be regarded more seriously than a single incident, although isolated incidents will not be disregarded in building up an overall picture of the person concerned and their fitness to possess firearms.

Unsound mind

This is a particularly difficult and sensitive area and it is not possible to provide a definition which covers every eventuality. It is simply not practical for a psychiatric assessment to be carried out on each applicant, to check on a state of mind with particular attention to that person's suitability to possess firearms.

However, a Chief Officer of Police must be alert to any situation where an applicant or existing certificate holder has exhibited, or is exhibiting signs of depression, suicidal tendencies, long-standing or intermittent periods of either emotional instability or unpredictable behaviour. This would include persons who had been detained under the civil powers of the Mental Health Act 1983 on the basis of their behaviour posing a risk to the public. Particular attention will be paid to anyone who has previously been subject to a hospital order, guardianship order or restriction order, under the provisions of the same Act, following the commission of offences. Although there is no correlation between periods of imprisonment and periods of detention under the Mental Health Act, it is important for the nature of such offences and the length of such orders to be examined in depth, in these situations.

It should be borne in mind that simply because a person has received treatment in the past for certain illnesses such as depression, it does not automatically follow that they are unfit to possess a firearm now. It is simply one of the many factors to be considered in the light of all other evidence relating to the applicant's character and history.

Safekeeping and handling of firearms

Consideration will include any evidence that unauthorised persons, such as known family members or associates, who may themselves present a danger to public safety, might have access to the firearms, notwithstanding any arrangements for the security of the firearms which may have already been made. Any history of serious mishaps involving firearms, or careless approach to the handling of other potentially dangerous items, will also receive close consideration.

Co-operation with Licensing Authority

In order for any application to be processed properly, there is a basic and fundamental requirement for the applicant to co-operate with the licensing authority concerned. The following examples may indicate that a person has not complied with this need to co-operate:

  • The making of abusive or threatening telephone calls.
  • Refusal to permit a Firearms Enquiry Officer to inspect firearms or security provisions.
  • Failure to respond to requests for information or to reply to correspondence.

 

Further information

Where applicants have previous convictions, or where criminal intelligence has cast doubts on the suitability of that person to be entrusted with a firearm, the Chief Officer of Police will consider whether to seek additional information from other agencies likely to have had involvement with them, such as the probation services or social services.

The Chief Officer will ensure that the reason for the enquiry is to ascertain whether there is any further evidence that the person would be unfit to possess a firearm.

Where an applicant's reason for possessing the firearm concerns its use on a farm or at a club, for example, the Chief Officer of Police will consider whether to seek additional information from persons such as the relevant farmer or secretary of the club, who may have knowledge of the applicant's character.

Where the applicant has declared on the prescribed form that they have suffered from a mental or nervous disorder, including depression, and have consented to an approach being made to their G.P. or medical adviser, the G.P. may well be asked, in writing, to provide factual details about the condition.

Decisions on applications and revocations will be made on an assessment of all the relevant information and on the individual merits of each case.

Evidence of previous convictions or intemperate behaviour, for example, might not result in an automatic refusal if, since that incident, the applicant has led a law-abiding life and shown a capacity to be entrusted to possess a firearm. Naturally this would not apply in the case of a prohibited person.