When you first start shooting, you are often regaled with numerous stories about how difficult it was to get a firearms licence. Common myths include:
- “You need land in order to get a firearms licence”
- “You won’t get one if you have any history of significant physical or mental health”
- “You’ll need to set up Fort Knox to keep your guns safe”
- “It’s very expensive”
Below is a step-by-step guide to applying for your first firearms and/or shotgun licence that dispels some of the more common myths and pitfalls.
Updated for 2018.
The forms for Shotgun and Firearms Licence applications are largely identical, however with firearms you must prove you have a reason to own one; with shotguns the police must prove there is a reason for you not to have one. In this article we will cover a Firearms Licence Application and will cover the Shotgun Licence Application in a separate article.
Visit the BASC website or your local police forces website and download the Firearms Application Form and/or the Shotgun Application Form – it’s worth mentioning that you can apply for both at the same time in order to save cost and make the renewal of your certificate simpler (in 5 years time).
The first box you will need to tick on either form is the “Grant of a Firearm Certificate”.
Questions 1-13 are simply your personal details; so complete these in clear block/capital letters in a black pen (which makes it easier for you to photocopy for your records). Some forms allow you to type the information online and print it out.
Question 14 relates to whether you’ve been convicted of any offences, including driving offences. Be completely honest, even if it was many years ago or you felt wrongly convicted. It is unlikely you will be granted a firearms licence if you have been convicted of a violent crime, or any offence that demonstrates poor character. However, each case is dealt with individually so it will depend upon the circumstances.
Questions 15a and 15b relate to medical conditions and drug and/or alcohol related problems – again be completely honest. If you are undergoing current treatment for a serious problem it is unlikely you will be considered suitable to have a firearms licence; however a past problem will be considered under its own circumstances.
Question 15c asks if you have any history of depression – 1 in 3 people will experience some form of depression in their lives so this is not automatically a barrier to you having a firearm or shotgun licence. If you have ever suffered from depression it is worth including a cover letter with your application explaining the reason and discussing it with your Firearms Licensing Officer when he/she visits.
Question 16 asks for details of your GP. Some GP’s (though it is highly unprofessional to do so) will refuse to have anything to do with firearms – including confirming their patients are healthy enough to possess a firearm or shotgun. It is worth notifying your GP that they may receive a call/letter, especially if you have answered, “yes” to 15a/b/c. MAKE SURE YOU SIGN!
Question 17 asks for details of firearms in your possession – hopefully you will write “NONE” where indicated as having an unlicensed firearm is a serious offence.
Question 18 should also be “NONE,” as it is also illegal to be in possession of ammunition if you are not a firearms licence holder.
Question 19 asks what you would like to purchase – avoid writing a wish list! You should have done research on suitable calibre or calibres for your intended quarry. A “. 17hmr” or “22lr” are common and popular rifles for rabbits/vermin control, and the .243 Winchester is a popular deer and fox rifle, so these will be used as examples.
- Calibre – this must be suited to (and lawful for) the reason you will state later. I.e. a .22LR is suitable for mid-range rabbit/vermin shooting and not long-range deer shooting.
- Type – Pistols are not used for hunting (unless for dispatch in very rare circumstances), so you will simply state, “rifle”. If you are a member of a target club you can of course apply for a target pistol, but that’s worthy of another article.
- Reason – “in case of zombies” or “self defence” are not suitable answers! Firearms are tools for hunting or target shooting, NOT weapons! Think about the reason why you want one and state this simply on the form. If you apply for a target rifle this is what you will be licenced for – you will not be able to use it for vermin control (and vice versa). If you want to use your rifle at your rifle club for target shooting and on a farm for vermin control you must state, “target shooting and vermin control”.
- Where will it be used – the land on which you will be shooting must be police approved. Most land in England has a code that allows the police to check to see if it has been inspected for suitability for firearms use. If it has not been approved the police will send a Firearms Enquiry Officer (FEO) to inspect it. It is often worth emailing them a Google Earth map with the borders and safe lines of fire drawn on – the FEO can then assess it and your intentions at the same time. You will need a signed permission form for each piece of land you intend to use your firearms on, or proof of membership to an approved rifle club. If you do not have land and you are not a member of a rifle club you have two options – you can book several “paid stalks/shoots” and apply for a rifle to use on paid outings, or you can pay to join a syndicate. In certain cases if you have enough letters from friends who will take you out with them this can also be used as a legitimate reason for having a firearms licence.
Questions 20 and 21 ask how much ammunition you wish to have in your possession and how much you wish to buy at any one time of each calibre – this is where you need to do your research: How many do you need to buy from your local Registered Firearms Dealer (RFD) to get a discount? How many rounds per pack? How many will you shoot of each calibre? How far away is your RFD? You should list a sensible amount that is convenient for you but does not look like you’re stockpiling for World War 3! Be prepared to justify your requirements to your FEO.
Question 22 asks where the firearms will be stored. There are only guidelines provided by the Home Office, however most licensing forces insist on an approved safe or strong room that will be inspected for suitability during your interview by the FEO, not just simple in its gunslip. If you have another licence holder in the house with a storage facility that you wish to share, you should discuss this with your FEO in advance – it is illegal to knowingly give access of your firearms to another person if the firearms are not on also on that persons licence. Ask your FEO if they would like the safe to be fixed in position in advance of the visit as some will prefer to state where they would like it placed – the safe must be fixed securely (use Rawl Bolts or Coach Screws) to a load-bearing wall or floor, and must not be in view of any casual visitors to your home. Some FEO’s will do their best to rip it from the wall (to test against burglars), so do your best to ensure it’s solidly fixed!
Questions 23 and 24 relate to renewals and previous certificates so leave blank or write “N/A.
Question 25a asks for your current Shotgun Licence details if you have one. Fill this in if you do have one, as it allows the licensing department to use some of the information they have collected on you to be used for processing your firearms licence application.
Question 25b concerns what is regarded as a “co-terminus” Firearms and Shotgun Licence – to save money and for convenience you can apply for a shotgun and firearms certificate at the same time. If you would like to do this tick the box and fill in a Shotgun Application Form also.
Question 25c asks for details of a shotgun certificate you may have had in the past – if you did but don’t have the details, simply state the approximate date you had it and “DETAILS LOST”.
Question 26 asks if you’ve ever had a licence refused of revoked – be honest! If the answer is yes to either but you believe the circumstances have changed, we’d recommend writing a covering note with any supporting documents such as a doctor’s letter or references from people of suitable standing in your community.
This section relates to referees. You will need to have two people “of good character” (not convicts etc.) who will agree to act as your referees. These two people must have known you at least two years, and must not be a member of your immediate family. Police and Police Employees may not act as referees. RFD’s may not act as referees unless they are an official at an approved club that is being used on your licence as the place of use. Referees must be residents of Great Britain.
As well as filling in their details on your application form and signing it, the referees must also:
- Each fill in a referee form and send it themselves – you might want to provide them with a stamped addressed envelope for ease.
- Each sign the back of a passport photo with the words “I certify that this is a current true likeness of [your name]” and date it.
This is where you sign to say that everything you’ve stated is true to the best of your knowledge – you must sign this for your application to be processed.
You should have FOUR PHOTOS of yourself in total attached to your application:
- Two signed on the back by your referees and dated
- One signed on the back by you and dated
- One blank on the back
Before you send your application form to your local licensing office, check that you have completed your form accurately and signed where you need to. Then go through the following checklist:
- Completed Firearms Application Form 101 – take a copy for your records
- Four passport photo’s – two signed and dated on back by referees, one signed and dated on back by you, one blank
- Signed permission forms for land you will be using it on, and/or proof of membership to an approved rifle club
- Cheque for Application Fee – made payable to local licensing body
- A covering letter if you need one – if there are any special circumstances regarding your health or situation some licensing departments will appreciate a concise well-written cover letter that explains everything
- Remember to ensure your two referees send their forms back also
At some stage during the processing of your application, you will be contacted by your Firearms Enquiry Officer, but there is no reason to panic! The Firearms Enquiry Officer is there to establish your suitability to possess firearms. Some organisations would have you believe they are out to get you and don’t want anyone having firearms, this simply isn’t true as if it were and they succeeded, they’d be out of a job.
We have one of the lowest instances of gun crime in the world, and 99.9% of the crimes we do have are committed by people who do not have licences; criminals using illegal and untraceable firearms.
When the small percentages of licence holders who aren’t fit to have firearms do commit crimes and atrocities this falls on the shoulders of the FEOs. This is rarely their fault as mental episodes of this severity are very hard, if not impossible to predict.
You cannot blame FEOs for being cautious, you should be glad that they refuse and revoke firearms licences in the way that they do as it protects the future of our sport and helps to prevent people being harmed.
During the interview simply relax and be yourself. Be polite and answer all questions with a considered answer, and if you don’t know the answer just say so. Do not get into arguments based on other people’s interpretations of the law that you may have read online or in magazines, remember it is your FEOs neck that’s on the line if you accidentally or intentionally shoot someone or something you shouldn’t!
If you react badly and the FEO deems you unsuitable this is not his/her fault – it’s yours! They are trained to pick up on unstable people and aren’t going to give a firearms licence to someone who can’t keep their cool.
Now you just have to sit back and wait – unfortunately due to government cuts many licensing departments are under-resourced and it can take many months to process an application. Try and be patient and remember that as well as people like yourself, the FEOs have to deal with Fireworks and Explosives, Firearms Dealers, Illegal Firearms, and Replica Firearms!
Good luck with your application and be safe!