When Dorset man Peter Wilson won gold in the men’s double trap, the nation’s eyes were glued to the shooting at the London 2012 Olympics.
As he secured Britain’s fourth gold medal, the first in a shooting event since the Sydney 2000 games, many will have felt a spark of enthusiasm and pride, as I did. Perhaps they’ll even feel inspired to try out one ot the 15 Olympic shooting disciplines themselves.
So it’s a good time to speak about police and Home Office plans to update firearms licensing, bringing processes that have seen little change swifly into the 21st century.
It is not hard to look around and spot young and old fiddling with a variety of technological devices, checking emails, using social network sites, exchanging text messages and so on.
People routinely do their family grocery shopping or banking online, along with tax returns and applying for driving licences and passports. Yet to apply for a firearm of shotgun certificate we are still completing paper applications and waiting for the postman to deliver rather than an instant click and send.
This summer the police service has launched its national eCommerce initiative. The idea is to provide a professional and efficient online service which can be utilised across any transactional processes between public and the police service. You could consider it an “Amazon” for policing services to the public.
Over time, the initiative aims to provide a range of service, such as online payments, driver awareness course booking, management of lost and found property and a host of other public contact work. But I am very pleased to say that those seeking a firearms licence will be the very first to gain benefits from eCommerce, with the initative going live in some counties in the summer of 2013. It will be possible to simply log on to a website and apply for renewals and grants; you will be able to complete variations, track your applications, see the date and time of your home visits, pay online and more.
Crucially, this radical change in the processing of firearms licensing will allow police forces to become more efficient without any impact on public safety. The website will be easy to use but for anyone who prefers paper forms, that service will remain in place.
I do stress that we will always put safety and security first and we are already taking new measures to achieve this. With the British Medical Association we have now agreed and implemented a process where we can inform and consult with local GPs when considering applications for firearm and shotgun certificates. What does this mean for certificate holders and applicants?
Well, currently on application a declaration is signed giving consent for the firearms licensing department to consult with your GP. We certainly do not want to know every detail of your medical history but it does mean that your doctor will be notified that you are a firearm or shotgun certificate holder. This means your doctor can notify the police if they have any concerns about retaining a certificate. With this information, local firearms departments will then be able to consider whether they wish to ask for more detail from a GP in order to make a decision.
This is an excellent measure to improve public safety which is our first priority. We have listened to and heard concerns of representative bodies in respect of this communication with doctors and several alterations have been made to adjust the process to take them into account. However public safety will always come first for policing and an early review of this measure has shown in occasional but important cases, information has come to light which may help to prevent an avoidable tragedy.
So this is an exciting and positive time of change for firearms licensing. With a modern and secure system in place, perhaps someone inspired by watching the sport at the London 2012 Games will go on to repeat Peter Wilson’s success at the Rio Olympics in 2016?
Andy Marsh, Deputy Chief Constable of Hampshire Constabulary and ACPO lead on firearms and explosives licensing