The licensing of air rifles is a subject that raises passionate debate in the shooting fraternity. This is probably less true for those of us who have chosen to take the FAC route and have already experienced the bureaucratic process and the scrutiny of a Firearms Enquiry Officer (FEO). As a relative newcomer to higher power air rifles, I’ve recently been through my first licence renewal without any flaws or delays. For those readers considering ‘taking the ticket’, you might find it useful for me to take you through the process and give some tips that could help you get your licence.
Under current UK firearms law, any air rifle that discharges ammunition at a power exceeding 12ft/lb is considered to be a Section 1 firearm. This refers to Section 1(1) of the Firearms Act 1968, which prohibits possession of or acquisition of such a rifle without a firearm certificate (FAC). The certificate is issued by the chief officer of police in the county in which the applicant resides, and it’s valid for five years. The initial application costs £50, with renewals and variations costing £40 and £26 respectively.
So, the first thing you need to do is obtain application forms (which come with instructions and qualification criteria) from your local constabulary. These are usually available for download via the internet. Before you do anything else, I would recommend you sit and read these carefully, for two reasons.
The first reason is to check that you are likely to succeed with an application, or that you can provide the chief officer with suitable referees, whom you must have known for at least two years. You are not permitted an FAC if you have had a criminal conviction in the previous five years and falsification of Section 14 (previous convictions) is a criminal offence. Read through the referees’ declarations, too – and be aware that you’re asking quite a lot from your referee; don’t assume anyone you approach will happily sign the forms.
If you decide to proceed, check with your referees first. You will need to get four recent passport photos to send with the forms, two of which must be endorsed by your referees as a true likeness.
The second reason for studying the small print carefully is that the biggest reason for rejection or delay of licence applications are errors on the form.
Now, on both my original application and my renewal, I took the initiative to invite the FEO around for a cuppa and a chat before I filled in the forms. If you are a straight-up, respectable shooter you have nothing to fear from your FEO. In fact, their experience and local knowledge is invaluable. Take the opportunity to let your FEO tour your house and advise on security. Talk about ‘conditions’ on the licence and just apply for a ‘closed’ licence. Let me explain…
One of the conditions needed to satisfy an application for a firearm certificate is ‘suitable purpose’. Vermin control is a suitable purpose, but you then have to satisfy the police that you have land where you are required to carry out vermin control. That’s where it makes sense to nominate your two referees as landowners; that way, you’re killing two birds with one stone. Bear in mind that the FEO will more than likely make a post-application visit to the land in order to approve it for firearm use.
Most farms have usually been approved already, as farmers have either owned a rifle or have staff who do. So, on your initial application, just agree to licence conditions that apply to this restricted land – viz, a ‘closed’ licence. If you ever need to ask for a ‘variation’ for an open licence, leave it a year or two before putting in your application. By then, you’ll have more experience with a firearm and you will be known to the police and your FEO as a respectable and experienced shooter… so you’re more likely to succeed with an application.
What’s the difference between open and closed licences? Well, the owner of an open licence is entitled to take their firearm onto any land where they ‘have lawful authority to shoot’. In other words, the law now trusts you implicitly to make decisions about public safety, backstops and suitability of a shot. This is an important privilege for the journeyman hunter and pest controller. Don’t let your application be rejected because you have the audacity to tell the police that this is your first licence, you have little experience with firearms but, hey, you want to shoot one anywhere and everywhere. Take your time. Build respect.
According to my FEO, the single biggest mistake made in applications is that the referee forgets to endorse the photos – so do this part with them. As they have to send the form to the constabulary themselves, it would be polite to give your referees a stamped, addressed envelope to do this. Hey, once they’ve completed the forms, why not even seal down the envelope and post it off yourself.
Now all you can do is sit back and wait… and the next thing to happen will be a phone call from the FEO to arrange a visit for a chat to assess your suitability and inspect your security arrangements. I’m sure you’re beginning to see the value of that informal cuppa a few months back? Nine times out of 10, it will be the same FEO. Thank them for all the advice. Put the kettle on again. Shut the dog (and the wife!) away and just enjoy the chat with someone who probably knows more about guns than you ever will. Even if they don’t, let them feel they do. Offer to take them on a tour of your permission, so make sure you’ve primed your landowner first. They’ll probably decline on a closed ticket application, particularly if you’ve taken the time to print off or draw a few maps detailing the land and boundaries. Show your FEO the public footpaths and other hazards on the maps. Make them aware that you are aware of your need for constant risk assessment.
Ownership of FAC-rated air rifles requires secure storage and prevention of illegal or accidental access to your guns. This will be checked on the post-application visit. It helps enormously if you’ve installed your gun safe exactly where your FEO recommended it should be on that preliminary walkabout visit of his. Don’t let your application stall or fail because you tried to make the position of the cabinet aesthetically pleasing – it’s always best to negotiate its position with your FEO first. There’s a document called The Firearms Security Handbook 2005 which you can download from both the government and BASC online sources; this gives excellent advice on cabinet placement.
Just as with the open/closed land issue, on an initial application I would recommend that you don’t overcook your rifle requests, either. If you intend to stick to just air rifles, simply apply for two rifles in two different calibres – and don’t forget to add two sound moderators, too. On ‘firearms’, they need to be included on the ticket – and you’ll want one for each gun. Strange as it may seem, it’s illegal to add a silencer to your FAC air rifle unless it is permitted as a condition of your licence.
If you want to change calibres at a later date, you can do this via a ‘variation’ to your licence, for which there is a fee (currently £26). Your FEO might encourage you to apply for other options on your first ticket, such as .22LR or .17HMR. As tempting as it was, I resisted this for two reasons. I didn’t want a rejection at Chief Officer level because I’d asked for too much first time around – and I’d also been advised by other FAC holders that some licensing authorities take a dim view of unfilled slots on your ticket and will actually rescind them upon renewal. That then makes life difficult if you really do need to add them at a much later date. Thankfully air rifle pellets are exempt from FAC licensing, unlike live-round ammo.
All being well, you will receive your firearm certificate through the post within a few weeks and you can then set about acquiring your rifle(s) and associated kit. Then, build up your experience on the FAC front, demonstrate a sensible and safe approach to firearm ownership, keeping in touch with your FEO as you go along. Then, if necessary, you can think about variation requests like an open ticket or adding more high-powered air rifles to your licence.