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Scottish Affairs Committee publishes report on firearms licensing  

Published date : 21 December, 2022



News Release from Pete Wishart MP


Scottish Affairs Committee publishes report on firearms licensing


The Scottish Affairs Committee today sets out a number of areas that can potentially save costs, streamline rules and mitigate against mental health concerns of firearms licence holders. The Committee’s short inquiry was opened in the wake of the tragic shooting on the Isle of Skye.


The Committee has heard that firearms laws in the UK are among the strictest in the world, and as such, firearms offences are extremely rare. Scotland’s system for processing firearms licence applications is “among the best in the UK”, with fewer delays due to its automated renewal system.


However, the Committee was concerned to learn that the cost of an individual firearms application can cost police forces – in certain cases – over £500. The Committee argues that police forces should not have to foot this bill for all licence holders, and that a two-tier system should be introduced by the UK Government. Individuals who use firearms for leisure should pay the full cost of their applications, and others to use firearms for work purposes, to be defined by the UK Government, could continue to have their applications partly funded. 


Within the application system, applicants must give the police character references. However, the Committee raised concern after taking evidence that applicants can canvass for referees and that there is often no consultation with people closest to the applicant. To ensure the referee system is fit for purpose, the Government must review it.


The Committee heard that legislation governing the licencing of firearms is outdated and complicated after years of ‘added on’ laws. It is also inconsistent with shotgun licences. As a result, legislation related to shotgun licences should be made consistent with firearms and air weapon licences, with shotgun applicants needing to demonstrate that they are ‘fit to be entrusted’ and to provide character references from two individuals. This would make the system clearer for applicants and for police forces administering the licensing process.


The UK and Scottish governments should work together to examine whether the system of medical practitioners assessing an individuals’ mental health can be strengthened, such as the GP flagging system, and whether it is appropriate for medical practitioners and police to conduct interim checks on firearms licence holders. Mental health services should also have improved advertising and a ‘buddy system’ should be rolled out to enable individuals to recognise and raise concerns about their ‘buddy’s’ mental health. 


Scottish Affairs Committee Chair, Mr Wishart, said: 


“While communities across Scotland – and indeed the UK – are reeling from the recent tragedy on the Isle of Skye, it is imperative to consider whether firearms licencing rules are fit for purpose. Our Committee found that overwhelmingly, it works well which explains the very rare instances of offences involving a firearm.


“But improvements to the system can be made. The recommendations we are making to the UK Government are practical steps that can protect public finances, streamline complicated legislation and put a much greater emphasis on mental health support for licence holders. It is unacceptable that the taxpayer should help foot the bill for every firearms application, and a two-tier system should be rolled out to largely address this. There is also no need for additional confusion to an already complicated area of legislation: rules governing shotguns and firearms should be aligned. 


“All too often, the mental health of firearms licence holders is not being adequately assessed or addressed. Our governments should work together to consider whether the current system of ‘GP flagging’ is working as best as it can. A ‘buddy system’, perhaps within recreational shooting groups, should be rolled out where individuals can spot and report any concerns they may have with their buddy’s mental health.”


Notes to editors:

  • The full list of conclusions and recommendations can be found on page 32 of the report.

The report will go live at 00:01 on Thursday 22nd December and can be accessed here:

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