British Police Turn the Screw on Gun Ownership

U.S.A.-( For at least six gun owners in the UK in recent weeks, the unthinkable has happened. Police have knocked on their door and ask them to surrender their guns and their gun certificates. The police officers give no reason – and the police force concerned has continued to give no reason.

These six gun owners, who have more than 100 years of blameless gun use and ownership between them, are – well, you can imagine the emotions – baffled, confused, angry is just the start.

You may imagine how they feel, but remember that there is a gulf between gun ownership in the UK and the US. Where Americans believe in self-defense and the right to bear arms, Brits believe in target shooting and the privilege of going hunting. You may not use a gun in self-defense in the UK. British police only carry guns for specific operations. The British bobby is typically unarmed.

It would be hard for Alec Baldwin’s accident on the set of Rust to take place in the UK. Studios make war movies in the UK, but nobody would be able to use the guns to plink at targets after work. That has to take place on a range or on land with permission of the landowner. Ammunition is as restricted as guns.

I can almost hear American gun owners grind their teeth and spit the word ‘snowflake’. They are correct – we Brits have given up gun rights in a manner unthinkable in the USA. I would not wish our gun laws on the USA but, strangely, we have grown to find them workable, and for these reasons:

To get a gun certificate in the UK is a badge of citizenship. Shotgun and Firearm Certificate holders have to pass certain tests of character with their local police forces. For example, I asked one police firearms inquiry officer what he looks for when he makes a home visit to a shooter to check their gun security. “Bruises on the wife,” he answered candidly.

It is difficult to get a gun certificate if you have committed a crime, and the police remove it if you go on to commit a crime. That includes drink driving. Gun owners in the UK are fabulously law-abiding. Nobody wants to lose their license.

Gun safety is spectacular and we are obsessive. We record statistically zero deaths from sporting shooting accidents per year. Actually, there are one or two, but out of 650,000 firearms and shotgun license holders and an estimated 12 million pellet guns in circulation, the figure is tragic but insignificant. A few years ago, shooting sports in the UK recorded a safer year for deaths than the sport of table tennis. As you can see above, our reaction to the Rust accident is, ‘It couldn’t happen in the UK’.

We have nutters. In August a licensed gun owner in the city of Plymouth, Devon, shot dead five people before turning the gun on himself. But they are few and far between.

We also have a serious illegal gun crime problem. In 1997, Tony Blair’s government restricted handguns. Within three years, gun crime had risen 40%. Apparently, he hadn’t thought to take the guns out of the hands of criminals – only legal gun owners. He was never a details man.

All this makes the situation of the six gun owners even worse. Nobody in the shooting community knows what’s going on.

These men are people like us. They are deer hunters and varminters, who have not put a foot wrong all their lives, partly to preserve their gun certificates.

The only reason we can conclude is that local police are overreacting to the August shooting. All of them live in the Devon & Cornwall Constabulary area, where the Plymouth shootings took place.

This week, we are expecting a report on the shooting which will allow our Home Secretary to blame the firearms inquiry officers at Devon & Cornwall Constabulary for letting the Plymouth shooter have guns in the first place.

So, we believe that grabbing these six people’s guns is pre-emptive action by Devon & Cornwall police officers. It is a poor-quality attempt to pretend they have ‘taken action’, in order to save their jobs. We don’t know this. Devon & Cornwall Constabulary is not saying anything to anyone.

Our shooters have had to complain for up to three months to the equivalent of the local mayor’s office, and even that is only producing vague promises of an explanation – presumably, next week after the Chief Constable has made some bland remarks to the local media about his or her ‘tough stance on gun crime’. This week, they, at last, had official communication from Devon & Cornwall Constabulary: their gun certificates are to be revoked, say police, and they have 21 days in order to appeal.

One of them, Andrew Alger, looks after 1,000 acres of deer management. He has to have his rifles if he is to keep his deer population under control. Another is the captain of his local pheasant shoot, and it is the height of the UK’s pheasant shooting season.

The police action produces two problems that would not occur in the USA.

The first is the manner in which officers removed the firearms. They sent armed police and they didn’t telephone beforehand. Armed police attend incidents including acts of terrorism, not visits to people who display the kind of citizenship and responsibility that allows them to own guns. The message that Devon & Cornwall Police is sending out is ‘British gun owners could start shooting at any moment’ – which is the opposite of the truth.

I was delighted to hear from one of the gun owners that armed police turned up at his home while he was at work. He said he would be able to come back home and meet them immediately, but Devon & Cornwall Police said that armed officers wouldn’t be available to meet him. Any terrorists reading this, make a note: if you are planning to strike in the Devon & Cornwall area, find out first whether armed police have the day off.

The other problem is more pernicious. Faced with a request to ‘surrender’ their guns and gun certificates, all three shooters had to do so. The alternative would be for the police to ‘revoke’ their gun certificates and seize their guns. Revocation would mean it would be harder for the three to re-apply for a gun certificate at a later date. However, surrendering your guns voids your legal insurance, so if you want to appeal, you have to fight your court case yourself. It’s a nasty Catch-22 situation that the police have, probably unwittingly, introduced to the UK shooting community. The only silver lining is that the police have clumsily written to say they are revoking the surrendered certificates. Although the police can’t have it both ways, they may have reopened the door for legal insurance.

One nickname we give British police is ‘plod’. This whole sorry saga makes the police look plodding.

Whatever is going on, we don’t like it, and now the police are going to feel our anger in the courts and the media.

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About Charlie Jacoby

Charlie Jacoby is co-founder of Fieldsports Channel, the UK-based TV network that covers hunting, shooting and fishing. He has edited hunting magazines and has been writing about countrysports since the 1980s.

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