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What You Need to Know: West Mercia Q&A on Firearms Licensing

On Wednesday 1 November, PCC John Campion hosted a virtual Community Conversation on Facebook Live, focusing on firearms licensing in West Mercia. The event aimed to address concerns and provide transparency regarding the licensing process. DPCC Marc Bayliss and Chief Inspector Callie Bradley from West Mercia Police were present to answer questions submitted by the public. The conversation covered various topics, including licence fees, processing times, and the need for additional resources.


Licence Fees Review and Resource Allocation


During the conversation, it was revealed that licence fees are currently under review. PCC John Campion emphasised that the fees collected do not cover the full cost of the licensing process, accounting for less than 25% of the required funds. To ensure effective monitoring and regulation, West Mercia has allocated £250,000 for the purchase of five vehicles to visit off-road premises. An additional five vehicles are subject to approval in the 2024/25 financial year.


Recruitment Efforts and Backlog


Recognising the need for additional personnel, West Mercia Police are actively recruiting three extra Firearms Enquiry Officers (FEOs). These officers will conduct interviews with applicants and their family members, assess the safety of their homes, and determine shooting locations. Chief Inspector Carrie Bradley emphasised the in new in-depth guidance from the College of Policing, meaning even more time spent assessing each applicant. Currently, West Mercia only has nine FEOs, resulting in delays in processing licences. To address this issue, extra administrative staff have been hired, and the recruitment process for more FEOs is underway.


Public Q&A 


Q) Why should we pay a licence fee?


A) The current fee does not cover the work that is required to grant licences and renewals,  accounting for less than 25% of the required funds.


Q) What is an achievable target to process a licence?


A) Pre-COVID the forces were able to process fairly promptly: 12 months for firearms and 6 months for shotguns, but the backlog caused delays. For now, the force are focusing on shotgun licences as there is less processing and legislation. They are currently working at an average of 8 months wait for a shotgun licence and 20 months for a firearms licence.


Q) How long before licence expiry can put a renewal in?


A) 12 weeks, do not put it in before that.


Q) Delays mean a “depressed secondhand market”, how many guns are now in storage because of these delays?


A) Due to people not renewing in time, about 80 individuals at any one time need to lodge guns as their licences run out.


Q) How long are the medicals submitted alongside applications valid for?


A) Medicals have to have been within 6 months of application, however delays mean processing is longer than 6 months. When an individual gets a visit from their FEO they will ask questions to supplement the GP’s report and if they need extra info from the GP, the force will pay for this.


Q) Why don’t you make it a 10 year licence and bring in external forces?


A) It is in legislation that  will not be changed, as well as safeguarding issues. Force will not bring in external help as the small budget needs to be put on own team.


Q) Why is there no response to emails?


A) The demand is too high, phone lines are open from 11-12 on weekdays. End of the week is quieter than the start. Only contact if you need to report something, then use the Firearms Licensing Portal online.


Q) How do I add an imported shotgun to my certificate?


A) If you imported a shotgun yourself, you have a duty to inform the force. Depending on which country, you would have to go to the proofing house in Birmingham or London.


Q) If you concentrate on shotguns and renewals is there a chance an FAC applicant may never get seen? If you have 33000 to monitor when are FAC applicants going to get their turn as a priority?


A) The new investments will speed everything up, firearms require a lot more manpower and FEO times.


Q) Does a renewal from long-standing shooter still need to have a visit from an FEO?


A) Up to 30% of FEO works are on renewals. A visit in these cases could be because the amount of guns possessed has changed or the land in which you shoot has changed and require a visit to assess safety.


Final Thoughts

The West Mercia Virtual Community Conversation on Firearms Licensing provided significant insight into the policing of firearms, as well as what the police force is currently doing to deal with the backlog. The review of licence fees, the increase of FEOs, the provision of appropriate vehicles, and the recruitment of more staff to streamline the selection process, will hopefully be recreated with police forces around the UK.