Thursday, 4 June 2015

Unforeseen consequences.

Many years ago my Father needed a large calibre rifle to undertake work in the management of a wooded estate which had a profusion of deer. Having already in his possession a number of shotguns and a couple of .22’s his only requirement was the burden of proof of somewhere to shoot. The permission to shoot over the estate was obtained in writing, sent off with the official paperwork and fee; ten days or so later the amended certificate was delivered with permission to purchase one larger calibre rifle.

Moving on a few years now, it was my turn to get a large calibre rifle. Again I had a number of shotguns with a smattering of .22’s (.17HMR not having been invented). I filled out the required paperwork, showed proof of land permissions, and sent it all off with the required fee. In the intervening years, police policy had changed, and the issuing police authority now demanded that before a rifle would be forthcoming, a deer stalking certificate, level 1, must be obtained. Despite many years of hunting with my Father, using what is termed an “estate rifle”, the police insisted that the DSC1 was obtained or no rifle. I contacted one of the shooting organisations, and after many months of letter writing, my amended certificate arrived.

Currently I am assisting an individual who has been shooting for many, many years, and is now trying to obtain a large calibre rifle. This individual has been to a renowned college and studied for three years at the highest level, game keeping, wildlife management, and conservation. They have achieved full qualifications and recognised diplomas and certificates, including their DSC1. In the years that have passed since my encounter with the issuing authority, things have moved on. Now it is not sufficient to have a DSC1, they are demanding that courses in rifle safety are attended, evidence of previous hunting trips be provided, and should you be granted your rifle, you will need to be accompanied by a “mentor” until such time as they decide you are safe to proceed on your own. The removal of the “mentor” is not at the mentor’s discretion, but that of the issuing authority. I have heard tales of shooters trying to get this condition removed from their certificate three years and more after having had their certificate granted.

The unforeseen circumstances are that whilst the shooting organisations are doing a fantastic job in trying to protect shooters rights, and educate new and existing shooters. Many of the police issuing authorities have seen this education of the shooting population as a means to inhibit or prevent existing shooters or new shooters from obtaining the tools to progress in their chosen area of the shooting sports. There are many guidelines, they are not laws or rules, which is the problem, and these guidelines are interpreted by every authority to suit the leanings of the chief constable.

The guidelines, however you read them, do not require any of the present day’s issuing authorities conditions to be applied for you to obtain your certificate and rifle. Experience is deemed to be transferable between quarries of all kinds. Existing shooters know this, but that’s not to say that obtaining further education is to be ignored, and additional information that can be learned should be grasped with both hands. A new shooter with no previous shooting experience wishing to obtain a large calibre rifle is so rare as to be almost unheard of; but the guidelines do address this scenario and even then they recommend that the shooter should obtain education and training from a suitable qualified individual or organisation. In reality, if someone is looking to obtain a large rifle they will have been shooting for a number of years already, and are now looking to a new challenge.

Too many people have been accepting of these conditions applied to their certificate in the past, either through ignorance; after all they are the police, they should know what they’re talking about. But from my experience it is more from fear, fear of challenging the police, and the possible consequences of doing so. Their rationale being better to have a certificate with restrictions, than no certificate at all. Joining organisations such as the British Association for Shooting and Conservation (BASC) or the Countryside Alliance (CA) is a must, even if you only have an air rifle. Both of these, and other organisations, have fantastic firearms legal departments who are more than willing to assist you in all matters to do with firearms ownership. So before you accept a condition on your certificate, have a word with the people that know, it’s in your interest to do so.

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