The firearms licensing process

We offer guidance to GPs on what to do when someone applies for a firearms license, including responding to the police and conscientious objection.
Location: Scotland Wales England
Audience: GPs Practice managers
Updated: Wednesday 20 May 2020
GP practice article illustration

The following advice on the current firearms licensing system takes into account our discussions with the Home Office, the National Police Chiefs Council and the Royal College of GPs, as well as external legal advice.

 

Current system

  1. Local constabularies assess applicants for firearms licenses.
  2. In all cases, they will ask the applicant’s GP to provide general medical information. This information consists of a factual report based on the applicant’s medical history.
  3. It may also include a generic question asking if the GP has 'concerns' regarding the issuing of a firearms license.
  4. In certain targeted situations the police may ask for a full formal report. There is agreement that police funding is required for this formal report. There is also agreement between the BMA and Home Office that the charging of a fee may be appropriate for the initial general report but no agreement has been reached regarding the funding of this.

This guidance is designed to advise doctors on how to respond to the initial general request from police firearms licensing officers.

View our recommended firearms process

 

Responding to the police's initial letter

The proper regulation of firearms is in the public interest and it is important that you respond to the initial police letter.

You should respond to the letter within 21 days. Failure to respond could put you at professional risk.

As you are not contracted to provide these services under the GMS contract, you are entitled to charge the applicant a fee, and may withhold the report until the fee has been paid. In these circumstances you must inform the police that the reason for the delay is that you are awaiting payment.

On receiving a letter from the police, depending on your professional and/or ethical position, you may decide to respond by stating one of the following:

  • I refuse to provide a report because I have a conscientious objection to the holding of firearms
  • I refuse to provide the requested report, because it seeks an opinion on matters falling outside my medical expertise, namely assessment of behavioural and personality disorders. 

    This is relevant to forms that ask for an opinion, including whether the GP has concerns.
  • I am content to complete this report for which I shall charge a fee to the applicant. You will receive the report once I have received payment of this fee from the applicant. Until such time as you receive my report you should assume that the applicant has declined to provide this fee.
  • I am content to provide a summary limited to medical facts and compiled from the records for a fee which I shall charge to the applicant. You will receive the report upon my receipt of this fee from the applicant. Until such time as you receive my report you should assume that the applicant has declined to provide this fee.
  • I am content to fill out the requested report and will charge no fee. The report is enclosed / will follow at my earliest convenience.

Refusal because of your beliefs

GPs can refuse to engage in the firearms certification process on grounds of conscientious objection because of religious or ethical beliefs. You must inform the police.

Legal opinion is that a GP who refuses to engage on these grounds should have due regard to the GMC guidance. Although, this guidance is primarily written for the purposes of referral for procedures, treatments and interventions rather than the compilation of a medical report.

GPs need to take reasonable steps to notify their patients of their conscientious objection in advance. We would advise doctors to put a clear statement on their website and on notices in the practice.

In our view conscientious objectors do not need to arrange for alternative provision of a report.

Where access to a firearm is a professional requirement – such as for gamekeepers and farmers – we would encourage doctors to assist applicants in finding a colleague to help.

 

Other considerations

If you believe the licensee is a danger

Where there is a reasonable belief that an individual holding a firearms license may represent a danger to themselves or others, doctors should them to give up their license.

If the applicant refuses, a doctor should inform the police firearms licensing department as a matter of urgency. If in any doubt they should contact the BMA ethics department or their defence body.

Flagging a license holder's record

Firearms licensing officers often request the doctor to place a flag in the patient record if they have a firearms license.

While the BMA supports the principle of flagging in this way, we must also stress:

  • the imprecise nature of flags
  • the lack of clear protocols for their appropriate removal
  • no reliable software to oversee and cross-reference flags with diagnoses of concern.

Therefore, we have concerns about the flagging process and will continue to work with the Home Office to resolve them.

 

Developments

Date Action Outcome
July 2019 Home Office signed a memorandum of understanding with the National Police Chiefs Council Recognition that, whilst the legal responsibility for monitoring firearms holders rests with the police, doctors should use reasonable endeavours to support the process
September 2019 BMA and the RCGP submitted a joint response to the Home Office consultation on statutory guidance to police Notifying the Home Office of suggested changes to the guidance to ensure it can be implemented by police effectively.

A recommended process flowchart.