Local Policing+ Inspection Programme Inspection of firearms licensing

06 March 2018

The aim of this inspection was to assess the efficiency and effectiveness of the way in which Police Scotland delivers its statutory role as the licensing authority in Scotland for firearms, shotguns and air weapons.

The purpose of the firearms licensing service delivered by Police Scotland is to protect and promote public safety. While the vast majority of firearm certificate holders use their firearms responsibly and safely for pursuits such as work, sport and leisure, tragic incidents such as the shootings at Dunblane Primary School in 1996 demonstrate the need for effective and efficient firearms licensing arrangements. Such arrangements should involve the police assessing certificate applicants and holders to ensure that only suitable persons are able to lawfully possess and use firearms.

Since the establishment of Police Scotland in 2013, efforts have been made to deliver an increasingly consistent and effective firearms licensing service across Scotland. We welcome the progress made to date but also note that there remain areas for improvement.

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Police Scotland should develop a comprehensive performance framework for firearms licensing that allows the service to be assessed and monitored. Performance should be reported publicly to the Scottish Police Authority to facilitate informed scrutiny of the service being provided.


Police Scotland should publish standards setting out the service applicants for firearms licences should expect to receive. Performance against these standards should be routinely published to provide assurance to service users about the quality of the service being delivered.


Police Scotland should improve the quality of its published data on firearms licensing, taking into account the Code of Practice for Statistics.


Police Scotland should routinely assess user satisfaction with its firearms licensing service, and use the feedback provided to develop and improve its licensing arrangements.


Police Scotland should set national standards that local policing divisions must deliver in relation to the quality and timeliness of firearms licensing enquiries. These should allow sufficient flexibility for divisions to meet them in a way best suited to local demand and geography.


The Scottish Police Authority should introduce governance arrangements for the approval and on-going monitoring of major change by Police Scotland, including the wider transformation portfolio under Policing 2026. This should include a commitment to conduct scrutiny of major change in public.


Police Scotland should develop a robust system for the quality assurance and audit of all types of firearms licensing applications.


Police Scotland should revise and publish its standard operating procedure on firearms licensing as soon as possible.


Police Scotland should ensure that changes to firearms licensing law and policy are communicated effectively to relevant personnel and are implemented.


Police Scotland should include the risk relating to legacy records on the firearms licensing risk register and take the appropriate mitigating action. This should include a risk-based approach to expediting the uploading of legacy records to the new system.


Police Scotland should engage with the Scottish Government to confirm what checks are required when assessing the suitability of an applicant for an air weapon certificate. Police Scotland should put in place processes to ensure these checks are delivered consistently across Scotland.


Police Scotland should make use of unannounced home visits to check security arrangements for firearms and to support its on-going assessment of the suitability of certificate holders.


Police Scotland should introduce and communicate clear processes to GPs on how it can be contacted with concerns about a patient’s suitability to possess a firearm. This should include a review of the process to be followed on receipt of such concerns, supported by guidance and training for Police Scotland service centre personnel.


Police Scotland should issue guidance in respect of the safety and security procedures to be followed when transporting firearms or ammunition for storage, examination or destruction.


Police Scotland should issue guidance on the standard of security required for the storage of firearms and ammunition associated with the licensing function, including arrangements for controlled access. It should also introduce an accountable audit regime for the firearms and ammunition held.


Police Scotland should analyse demand for its firearms licensing service and ensure it has sufficient resources to meet demand at national, regional and divisional levels.


Police Scotland should explore the costs and benefits of an online processing and tracking system for firearms licensing.


Police Scotland should link the information from its national firearms licensing system with its national command and control system to automatically flag incidents linked to the addresses of firearm certificate holders.


Police Scotland should review the contents of its firearms licensing training course to ensure it prepares firearms enquiry officers for their role.


Police Scotland should consider whether its current policy requiring only Authorised Firearms Officers to make weapons safe is proportionate to the risk and practicable.


Police Scotland should introduce regular refresher training for firearms enquiry officers and consider how officers can maintain and demonstrate professional competence in firearms enquiries. This training should be recorded for audit and management purposes.


Police Scotland should ensure that all officers and staff who have delegated authority to make decisions about firearms licensing receive appropriate training. This training should be recorded for audit and management purposes should the officer be required to evidence their competence.


Police Scotland should consider establishing an Independent Advisory Group on Firearms Licensing.


Police Scotland should ensure that all those conducting enquiries or making decisions regarding a firearms application declare any relevant interest, familial ties or other close personal knowledge of the applicant.

Publication type: 
Inspection report