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To See Where Gun Licensing Leads, Look To England

Saturday, October 7, 2000

England's increasingly repressive firearms laws often are praised by those who would restrict the American right to arms, so it is important to realize that those firearms laws, which now prohibit the private possession of handguns, rest heavily on one foundation--the British gun owner licensing system.
Gun Control in England

The right to keep and bear arms had been alive in England for eight centuries when Parliament enacted the Pistols Act of 1903. The Act, which prohibited the sale of pistols to minors and felons, also dictated that pistols could be sold only to those who possessed a gun license. Since the license could be obtained at a post office with only the payment of a fee, and since no license was required to keep a pistol solely in the home, there was no opposition. But within a few short years, the licensing system had moved from the post office to the police station. Suddenly, Britons who wanted to own handguns--or rifles--had to prove they had "good reason" for receiving a police permit. Shotguns were considered "sporting" and were exempted from licensing requirements until 1967.

Anti-gun lobbyists in the United States have called for a "needs-based licensing" system and some politicians have lined up to do their bidding.

Is licensing gun owners a good idea? After all, "we license people to drive cars don't we?" If requiring gun owners to obtain a government license seems like a harmless idea to you, you may want to know about "Firearms Form 101." That's the "Application For A Firearms Certificate" that must be filled out by Britons in order to purchase a rifle or muzzleloading handgun. A separate form is required for a "shotgun certificate."

Section 27 of the Firearms Act of 1968 (as amended by the 1997 Act) requires a chief officer of the Police Firearms Licensing Department to be satisfied that the applicant is "fit to be entrusted with a firearm." (Emphasis added) As the applicant, you must provide:

  • Your home address for the last three years.
  • Your occupation and business address.
  • Information about previous convictions, including traffic violations.
  • Information about any history of Epilepsy.
  • Information about past treatment for drug use, depression or nervous disorders.
  • The name of your doctor, and permission for the police to search your medical records to obtain "factual details" about your medical history.
  • A list of the firearms you already own, including caliber, type, maker's name and serial number.
  • A list of the ammunition you already own, including caliber and quantity.
  • A list of the firearms you wish to purchase, stating the reason for wanting to purchase them and where you plan on shooting or hunting with them.
  • A list of the maximum amount of ammunition you wish to possess at any one time, by caliber.
  • A list of the maximum amount of ammunition you plan to purchase at any one time, by caliber.
  • An address where the guns will be stored, for possible future inspection.
  • Information about whether you have previously held a firearms certificate, or a shotgun certificate.
  • A letter signed by the secretary of your shooting club or each landowner where you plan to hunt attesting to the fact that you have permission to shoot at those locations.
  • Four passport size photos of yourself.
  • A fee of L56 (approximately $90).

As an applicant, you must also designate two "referees" who will fill out a reference form regarding your character. This form will never be shown to you even though it weighs heavily in the final decision to approve or deny the application. The "referees" must:

  • Have known you for at least the last two years.
  • Not be a member of your family, a firearms dealer, a police officer or a police employee.
  • Be of "good character."
  • Sign the application form declaring that it has been answered truthfully.
  • Sign and date the back of one of your passport photos attesting that it is an accurate representation of you at that time.
  • Explain in what capacity they have known you.
  • Indicate if they are members of a shooting club, and if so their license number and role in the club.
  • Provide their "opinion as to the applicant's suitability to possess firearms."
  • Provide information on your personal history, including any history of emotional problems, mental or physical disabilities and explain how knowledge of the information was gained.
  • Explain any difficulties you have with members of your family which "may give cause for concern given that a firearm or ammunition may be available in the household."
  • Explain their knowledge of your experience with firearms.
  • Explain their knowledge of your attitude toward firearms.
  • Be subjected to a background check and allow personal information to be held on a police computer.

These measures have put Draconian regulations on the law-abiding gun owners of Great Britain and done little to reduce crime. On Jan. 16, 2000, the London Times published an article about the increase in gun crimes, and bemoaning the fact that there are an estimated three million unregistered guns in the nation. Besides confirming the inescapable fact that criminals don't bother to license their guns, the article stated that fatal shootings in London more than doubled between 1998 and 1999, and overall armed crime rose 10%.

So, if licensing honest gun owners doesn't reduce crime--and how could it?--what is the real purpose? For British gun owners, the answer came too late, when the government that licensed them finally decreed that they were not "fit to be entrusted" to own handguns for any reason. Gun owners in the U.S. cannot plead ignorance--here the true purpose of licensing gun owners was defined nearly a quarter-century ago by the first Chair of Handgun Control, Inc. "Our ultimate goal," Pete Shields said, is "to make the the possession of all handguns and handgun ammunition . . . totally illegal ("The New Yorker , July 26, 1976)

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