A number of police forces have stopped issuing new gun licences, it has emerged, amid claims the system has fallen into chaos.
“Untenable” delays to the processing system mean that in some areas, firearms holders are waiting more than six months for their five-year licence to be renewed.
Several forces including North Yorkshire, Thames Valley, Northamptonshire, Cambridgeshire, Bedfordshire, Hertfordshire and Hampshire have all announced temporary pauses to new licences in recent months.
In South Wales, police have warned new applicants that processing could take two years.
In the case of renewals, if someone is unable to get their new certificate in time, they risk having their firearms confiscated by police or having to pay to have them kept by a registered dealer.
Cambridgeshrie, Hertfordshire and Bedfordshire Police, who run a joint licensing operation, have called for “all applicants to consider very carefully not renewing their license if this is at all possible”.
Police added: “If you are a shotgun holder, who has no guns, or who can lodge them easily with a friend until pressures on the NHS are eased, we would ask you to consider these options rather than renew.”
Act ‘before the whole system collapses’
The backlog has largely been blamed on Covid and the delays caused by a new requirement which came into force in November for all applications to come with a GP’s report.
But the British Association for Shooting and Conservation said the record delays are causing “significant complications”. It is taking legal advice over the decision by forces to pause new licences altogether.
Bill Harriman, director of firearms at the organisation, said that whilst it was “nearly impossible” to plan for Covid disruptions, forces “should have been prepared for the peak renewal period and the introduction of medical verifications”.
“Their failure to correctly resource has led to significant delays and thousands of certificate holders edging closer to holding firearms illegally,” Mr Harriman said.
“The licensing departments are monopoly providers, leaving applicants nowhere to turn when faced with months of delays.
“The discontinuation of grant applications is a failure to discharge the police’s statutory duty. The police cannot switch the law on and off as it pleases them.”
He called on the Home Office to act “before the whole system collapses”.
Decision to pause to ease pressure on NHS
More than 600,000 people hold firearms licenses in England and Wales, including those that need them for their livelihoods – from pest controllers to professional athletes
The decision to pause new licences is to ensure that backlogs in applications are cleared safely and “to alleviate pressure” on the NHS, it was said.
Decisions to pause are under constant review, forces said, with North Yorkshire saying it has already been lifted. All argued that they were complying with their statutory duty by processing renewals before certificates expired.
A Home Office spokesman said: “Firearms licensing is an operational matter for individual police forces.
“Some applications for firearm certificates are inevitably being affected by the Covid-19 pandemic, but normal procedures are being maintained as far as possible.”