Caroline Pidgeon AM writes… Why subsidising gun owners must come to an end

Today is the “Glorious Twelfth” which is the start of the shooting season, especially of Grouse.

I would suggest today, of all days, is a good day to look at the issue of why people who own guns are actually subsidised by the taxpayer.

From the outset, let me put a few points on record, on what I know is an incredibly emotive issue.

Firstly, I don’t shoot or have any desire to do so, but secondly I understand just how important shooting is throughout the UK for some people, with a recent report suggesting that at least 600,000 people in the UK shoot live quarry, clay pigeons or targets.

In terms of what I am about to say I should also add that I fully recognise that shooting is an Olympic sport. I also have some sympathy for the vast majority of responsible gun owners who not surprisingly resent the frequent accusation that illegal activity involving guns is somehow their fault (although it cannot be denied that some criminal activity does involve guns that were legally licenced as this article from a Professor of Criminology powerfully points out).

So having set out these points I do have to say there is something simply wrong, indeed utterly objectionable, that the licensing of guns is subsidised by taxpayers.

It is now widely accepted that the fees charged for licensing firearms are nowhere near the level needed to cover costs to the police of operating a licensing system and making home security checks.

Since 2001 the cost of a five-year gun licence across the UK has been frozen at £50, which in practice equates to just £10 per year. The cost of renewing a five-year licence gun licence is even lower, at just £40. By way of comparison an annual fishing rod licence costs £27, or £72 to obtain an annual licence to fish for salmon or sea trout.

To get some understanding of the significant expenditure by the police in issuing gun licences I recently asked a Mayoral Question to find out about the situation just in London. The reply from the Mayor of London stated that the Metropolitan Police Service’s total expenditure on carrying out checks and issuing gun licences had been in excess of £20 million since 2008. At the same the Mayor of London has admitted that the total income raised by these fees has raised a mere £1.5 million since 2008.

The idea of recovering the full costs incurred in dealing with licencing is a well established principle in many other areas of life, so how can such low fees be justified for licensing guns?

In practice they simply can’t. Even those involved in shooting reluctantly accept that some rises are inevitable, but lobbyists seek to postpone the rises by deploying a range of arguments, stretching from the fact they face delays in having their licences processed, through to claims that police forces need to be more open about the real costs they face in processing gun applications. A further argument that some in the shooting world seek to use is that increasing gun licences fees is just a Trojan Horse for introducing new controls and restrictions on gun use.

The harsh reality is that none of these counter arguments stand up to real scrutiny. Those involved in shooting have every right to put their case, but no one it seems is able to counter the basic claim that gun licence fees are unrealistically low.

The bottom line is that gun licence fees raise just a small fraction of the cost facing the police in issuing them. Valuable resources that should be spent on policing whole communities are instead being devoted to subsidising gun owners. That is wrong and indefensible.

When the pressures facing police forces across the country are so significant it is time something changed. Gun licence fees need to be significantly increased. The days of gun owners being subsidised must come to an end.

* Caroline Pidgeon is the Liberal Democrat London Assembly Member and chair of the London Assembly Transport Committee

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46 Comments

  • This dishonest campaign must come to an end. Failing to charge gun owners the fictional amount the empire builders of the police say is what they spend pointlessly farting about with their licence applications is not in any way shape or form ‘subsidising’ them.

    Please stick to the truth.

  • So based on the figueres given for London, is the proposal to raise the cost of a 5-year licence to £670 or thereabouts?

  • Hey Chris,

    I read Caroline’s article and it made a lot of sense. If you’re going to challenge it, you could try and explain your point instead of just calling her a liar; it seems reasonable to think that the cost of managing gun licences is higher than £10 a year per person and that these costs should be met by gun owners. If it’s the costs that you’re concerned about maybe you could get more information as to how that figure was calculated, put in a FOI request for more details.

  • Some interesting points but I’m not sure a few things add up.

    Surely the licensing of firearms and shotguns (they are different) is a public good from which everyone benefits, so why is not OK to be paid for (in part) out of general taxation? Obtaining a certificate is a duty place on shooters by the government. Shooters gain no practical benefit from being licensed other than complying with the law. I’m not really sure why the cost of obtaining either a firearms or shotgun certificate should meet the (highly variable) cost of licensing.

    Do the police charge stores more for the cost of protecting them from shoplifters? Are NHS patients expected to meet the cost of their care? No, because we have supposedly recognised that everyone has an interest in protecting properly, everyone is better off when their neighbours are well. Likewise, society is better off when gun ownership is properly regulated.

    Obviously, shooters are still an easy target for politicking as they were in 1997. The fact that the image of the shotgun wielding country gent picking off grouse is the go to picture in most people’s minds means that many people will leap to the conclusion that the cost of gun ownership should be increased, if only to stick it to the toffs. But I implore people to remember that the vast majority of shooters are working class, and target shooting in particular has always had a close connection with industry. I’m sure the point has also already been made that for many (farmers and pest controllers) guns are an essential tool of the trade.

    Before everybody jumps on yet another anti-shooting bandwagon powered in part by organisational battles being fought by the police, maybe we ought to remember that shooters represent more than some remote group of landed gentry. We should also keep in mind that the police are supposed to work for all of us and are not just some rent-a-gang that works only for those that can pay.

  • Surely the purpose of the gun licensing system is not for the benefit of gun owners? Gun licensing is there to prevent unsuitable people from obtaining firearms, and thus is there to benefit public safety. Why then should an upstanding person, who has satisfied the authorities that he/she can be trusted with a firearm, bear the cost of preventing unsuitable people from obtaining firearms? The gun owner does not benefit from licensing, the public at large benefits, in exactly the same way that all other police activities are ultimately to the benefit of the public, and funded by the public.

  • A Social Liberal 12th Aug '14 - 12:13pm

    Not only wealthy types use weapons and so need gun licences. Gamekeepers use them to keep vermin down, gyllies cull deer and farmers have to have them for a variety of jobs. To try and place additional burdens onto the first two, which are not very well paid jobs is idiotic.
    Just in case posters try and justify the cost by saying that the first two jobs are only there to aid the leisure activites of rich men and women, this may be so but ordinary people get an awful lot out of it. If the shooting set was put out of business then in a matter of only a few years then the moors, the woods and the highlands of Scotland would be inpenetrable. Other leisure interests are impinged upon and in certain cases would stop.

  • Someone could base a whole class in practical philosophy on the “clever” arguments for subsidising Gun ownership given in some of these comments.
    What Public Good comes from the ownership of Guns by people who dont use them in their jobs ? None that I can see. On the contrary, the less Guns there are around the better.
    No-one intended that Gun ownership should be subsidised in this way, its simply the result of Political Inertia.
    I would suggest an immeidiate rise to £800 ( £160 a year); to be automatically reviewd every 5 years.

  • jedibeeftrix 12th Aug '14 - 1:27pm

    Nominations for comment of the year go to Ben Lee and Chris Evans.

    Missing the point nomination to Paul barker – public good or lack thereof is irrelevant, in a common law system you should be free to do whatsoever is not specifically proscribed by law.

  • Pistols at dawn. 12th Aug '14 - 2:59pm

    Carolin Pigeon comes late to the debate. This is from an article in 2011 written in response to the proposed increase in licencing fees by the Natonal Gamekeepers Organisation or NGO. Link: http://www.nationalgamekeepers.org.uk/news/ngo-anger-at-proposed-firearms-fees-rise

    The National Gamekeepers’ Organisation (NGO) has reacted angrily to proposals that the cost of firearm and shot gun certificates should rise by 88%, three times the rate of inflation since the current fees were set in 2001.

    The huge increases are proposed in a paper prepared for the Home Office by the Firearms and Explosives Licensing Working Group of the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO FELWG). They would put up the cost of obtaining a firearm or shot gun certificate from £50 to £93.80 (88%). Certificate renewals would rise from £40 to £66, an increase of 65%. Completely new charges would be introduced for licensing clay shoots and other purposes. The increases are based on a new concept of ‘full cost recovery’ from the licence holder.

    The ACPO FELWG paper claims, “Firearms licensing is not a part of core policing duties and therefore the cost of firearms licensing should not be borne by the public purse.”

    In fact the licensing of firearms has been a police duty, by law, since 1920 and ACPO’s own paper acknowledges that, “The primary objective of the firearms licensing process is to protect the public from harm.”
    A spokesman for the NGO said:

    “The licensing of firearms and shot guns is to keep the public safe. It has no benefit to the licence holder. Licensees have always paid about a third of the overall cost, which is more than their share for a system designed for the public benefit. Governments have accepted that the balance should come from central funds. For the police to argue now that licensing is not a police duty when legislation has required them to undertake it since 1920 is simply extraordinary. Whenever anyone has suggested that a civilian authority could be a more appropriate vehicle for licensing, the police have always insisted on retaining responsibility.”
    The NGO went on:

    “In recent months the licensing process in many police force areas has become shambolic. Certificate renewals are running more than six months behind and some forces are developing their own licensing policies contrary to Home Office and ACPO guidance. Others have been telling our members not to worry that their certificates are late, despite its being an absolute offence to be in possession of firearms without a valid certificate. These police forces are effectively telling our members, without any authority to do so, that it is OK for them to break a law which carries a mandatory minimum sentence of 5 years in prison.”

    The ACPO FELWG paper does acknowledge that there are some licensing backlogs, blaming this on “efficiencies” made in certain force areas in response to the current period of austerity. The NGO says this is no excuse for failure to apply the law fairly and effectively.

    “Firearms licensing is woefully inefficient in some force areas and savings could easily be made, not least by the police sticking to the guidance issued by the Home Office. This is what ACPO FELWG should be addressing, looking to cut costs rather than passing them on to hard-pressed gun users. The ‘full cost recovery’ proposal in this paper would be a charter for inefficiency, with no incentive for errant police forces to amend their ways.”

    Acting on behalf of its members, many of whom shoot on modest incomes, the NGO has written to the Policing Minister, Nick Herbert MP, urging that the ACPO FELWG fee proposals are rejected by Government. The NGO’s letter said, “Frankly if the fees are increased without a really serious move to sort out unfair and sloppy administration by the police, there will be real anger in the countryside. If best practice was followed, particularly in relation to routine renewals, then surely there would be savings to be made.”

    The NGO also asked Mr Herbert why there are no representatives of gun users on the ACPO FELWG committee, suggesting that if there were, flawed proposals like these would be less likely to see the light of day. The Minister’s response is awaited.

    Earlier this year the NGO submitted to Government a dossier of inefficiencies and inconsistencies in the administration of the Firearms Act. It urged that existing Home Office Guidance be made mandatory so that the police have to apply one set of rules consistently and efficiently throughout the country. It also suggested that in the long run, firearms licensing could be more efficient if carried out by a dedicated, independent authority, with the added benefit of freeing up police time so officers can concentrate on fighting crime. No response has been forthcoming.

  • @ChrisB
    Grief – I thought I made my point pretty bluntly. The fact that the metropolitan police says it costs a gazillion pounds to issue a gun licence and that Chief Commissioner has to be chauffeur driven in a gold plated limousine to Balmoral to get each one signed by Her Majesty is neither here nor there and does not mean that gun owners (I am not one and never have been btw) are being ‘subsidised’. It’s a deliberately dishonest use of the word.

  • Richard Dean 12th Aug '14 - 5:31pm

    @Caroline Pidgeon

    You just lost my vote.

    It’s dishonest to distort other people’s arguments. The first argument is that the beneficiaries of the gun licensing scheme are the general public, who therefore should therefore expect to pay for it. Indeed, by requiring gun owners to pay, it is effectively the owners who are subsiding the public, not the other way around.

    My feeling is that gun owners should pay more, but I would not support you on this. I feel that MPs should set an example of fair and honest argument.

  • Eddie Sammon 12th Aug '14 - 6:17pm

    I’m going to intervene because I can’t see how Caroline has been dishonest, but I still disagree with her. It is an established principle that the regulator pays the costs, but it is often an unfair one and means you can’t set up a small financial advice company unless you can afford hundreds each month in regulatory fees. It is clearly done for the benefit of the public, so the costs should be subsidised. It is a similar position with gun ownership.

    In financial services they have actually set up a non-profit competitor and got the industry to pay for it, on the dubious justification of financial education. People need to be careful about this principle of getting the regulated to pay for something others demand.

    Regards

  • Eddie Sammon 12th Aug '14 - 6:39pm

    Perhaps 50% subsidising would be fair? This shouldn’t apply to all industries, especially essential ones, but gun sports isn’t one of them.

    Maybe there could be some kind of sliding scale according to essentiality.

  • Richard Dean 12th Aug '14 - 7:01pm

    An honest counter-argument might go something like this, in my opinion:

    We start from a situation of no laws. That is the base case. We then make a law that guns should not be held by anyone. Everyone benefits from this law, so it’s right that everyone should pay for the costs of maintaining it. We then notice that some people want to own guns, and so we make some exceptions for those people. Those gun owners are the only people who benefit from being exceptions, so it’s right that they should pay the whole of the extra costs of having and being exceptions.

    On that basis, and in the absence of any valid counter-counter-argument, I support the idea of having gun owners paying the full costs of checking and administering their exceptional status.

  • Eddie Sammon 12th Aug '14 - 7:12pm

    Richard, people have provided plenty of valid counter-arguments, such as regulation not being 100% essential, so why should gun owners pay 100% of the cost?

    Why don’t you make proper posts instead of ruining threads with accusations of dishonesty and then pretending counter arguments don’t exist.

  • Eddie Sammon 12th Aug '14 - 7:17pm

    Richard, you said this in your first post:

    “Indeed, by requiring gun owners to pay, it is effectively the owners who are subsiding the public, not the other way around.”

    and then this in your second:

    “Those gun owners are the only people who benefit from being exceptions, so it’s right that they should pay the whole of the extra costs of having and being exceptions.”.

    I only commented because I seen someone accused of dishonesty and wanted to check it out, which I didn’t agree with, but you’ve said more things that don’t make sense and contradicted yourself.

  • Richard Dean 12th Aug '14 - 7:26pm

    @Eddie Sammon
    Get a life!

  • Eddie Sammon 12th Aug '14 - 7:27pm

    I’m going and I’m not discussing this any more. Richard, please be a bit more thoughtful in your posts. I shall do the same.

    Have a nice evening.

  • Eddie Sammon 12th Aug '14 - 7:30pm

    Oh I see, your contradiction was giving an example of an honest counter argument. Sorry for not reading properly. I just didn’t see where the big dishonesty claim came from.

  • Stephen Hesketh 12th Aug '14 - 7:53pm

    Hobby shooters should pay the full cost of their chosen hobby including gun licence fees. It may be considered emotive by some but I fail to see why. When cuts are being made to essential services, I can see little justification for subsidising private past times or interests.

  • Richard Dean 12th Aug '14 - 8:03pm

    … and Stephen Hesketh has competently summarised one of the emotional arguments. Different people may prefer different mixtures of emotion and rationality, but IMHO it does not help at all to re-brand the arguments put forward by Ben, Chris, and others as if they never made any argument at all. Their argument may be flawed, but they do have an appearance of rationality, and deserve a respectful response.

  • Martin Lowe 12th Aug '14 - 8:48pm

    Caroline Pidgeon’s emphasis on costs and disregard of liberty suggests a greater affinity towards the Conservative Party than it does the Liberal Democrats.

  • Richard Dean 12th Aug '14 - 9:07pm

    Liberty comes from having and maintaining the law, not from being an exception to it.

  • Stephen Hesketh 12th Aug '14 - 9:24pm

    jedibeeftrix 12th Aug ’14 – 8:39pm

    Oh dear, how do I begin to write this in ‘Yoda-ish’? Some logic there is in your point Jedi. Those who guns use for dark practices, licences will not ever have.

    But surely all fire arms should be registered, the status of their owners immediately reviewed in light of any violence-related convictions and the whereabouts and security of such weapons be subject to some form of review. We are not talking about a digital camera or fishing rod here are we? Perhaps cost should be related to power, location and security and hence the potential danger to others?

  • Martin Lowe comment:s
    “Caroline Pidgeon’s emphasis on costs and disregard of liberty suggests a greater affinity towards the Conservative Party than it does the Liberal Democrats.”

    Sorry this statement is complete and utter rubbish. It is of course the Conservatives and especially the Prime Minister who seem very keen to defend freezing firearm licence fees and allowing shooting to be subsidised, see:

    http://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2014/apr/22/cameron-blasted-battle-shotgun-licence-fees

    Owning a firearm is not a universal human right. It is not something that should be automatically entitled to everyone. We in the UK are thankfully far more civilised than the US and as a result far more people enjoy the ultimate human liberty of simply being alive.

    If the firearm licensing process can be improved, that is one thing. Perhaps the system can be improved and costs can be reduced, however the bottom line as far as I am concerned is that those that choose to shoot should have to pay the full costs for the licensing process.

    Caroline should be really thanked for raising this issue. Finally, I suggest some of the people rushing to add comments to her article should also take the time to read this article

    http://www.crimeandjustice.org.uk/resources/curious-case-public-subsidy-guns

  • What many (including Caroline, the author) are missing is the primary purpose of licensing, namely the regulation of some gadget and/or activity and in so doing make the location of gadgets and their owners/operators known to the authorities.

    So whilst I would agree the current price for a shotgun and/or firearms licence is very low both in terms of money (it hasn’t changed since 2001) and in terms of the activity – £10 will typically buy you slightly more than 25 cartridges (ie. 1 box). It also means that there is no real reason why any one who legitimately wishes to own and a shotgun and/or firearm should not apply for a licence. Hence the penalty price of non-compliance can be increased; which has happened – although we can question whether the penalties are sufficiently high to make getting a licence a “no brain’er”.

    A question to Caroline (and others) is whether firearms licensing revenues ever covered the cost of the licencing system in the UK and hence whether there is an attempt being made to “move the goal posts”.

  • A follow up point, if we are to adopt the principle of licencee pays the full cost of the licencing system then should the CRB checking system also be self financing?

  • Stephen Hesketh 12th Aug '14 - 10:29pm

    CRB checks are associated with dealing with minors, usually in an educational or voluntary capacity. The comparison is hardly valid.

  • Some people are confusing the two meanings of Free. Free to own Guns if you pass some simple tests doesnt mean that should be a free offer. Why should I pay for other people to own Guns ? There is no Public Good invoved here, none of us are any better off because other people own Guns. Lots of pastimes cost significant sums of money; we dont subsidise Polo or Ski-ing, why is shooting any different ?

  • spot on Paul!

  • Richard Dean 12th Aug '14 - 10:46pm

    Some of the more powerful arguments, at the start of the comments, imply in effect that the general public benefit from gun control, so it is gun owners who are subsiding the general public, not the other way around.

    To simply assert that no, it’s the public who subsidize the owners, isn’t an argument at all, it’s an unsupported claim. As such, it runs counter to the idea of deciding things rationally, on the basis of some logic or evidence.

  • A Social Liberal 12th Aug '14 - 11:57pm

    Stephen
    If CRB checks are only made with regards to working with minors – why am I, as a Royal British Legion volunteer working in a Popp In Centre where I will seldom (if ever) see a minor, required to undertake just such a search into my background?

    Just so you know, a Popp In Centre is a new idea where the Legion takes up a high street shop in a major town or city and uses it as a sign post to the various services it offers serving and ex service members and their families.

  • It’s certainly very strange that ACPO three years ago was recommending an 88% increase in licence fees based on full recovery of the cost, but the Met figures in the article suggest an increase of more than 1200% would be necessary. Either ACPO got it completely wrong, or the Met figures are grossly misleading.

  • Stephen Hesketh 13th Aug '14 - 2:28pm

    @ A Social Liberal12th Aug ’14 – 11:57pm

    Thank you for the correction.

    My original sentence was, “CRB checks are USUALLY associated with dealing with minors, usually in an educational or voluntary capacity. ”

    I simply took out the first ‘usually’ due to it occurring twice in the same sentence … oops!

    I fully accept your point.

  • @Stephen – I wasn’t comparing gun control with CRB checks – although CRB checks probably do form part of the gun licence application; I was merely taking the principle of the licencee paying to an extreme. The point is is that both systems are intended to benefit society (the extent to which they do is another topic) and hence should probably more correctly be viewed in this respect.

  • Pistols at Dawn 13th Aug '14 - 4:28pm

    To quote Caroline Pidgeon, “The first argument is that they (firearms and shotgun licences) should simply be subsidised. While this is at least an honest approach, I simply disagree and I think full recovery of costs is both reasonable and long overdue.”
    You simply fail to understand the issue in your apparent haste to curry favour with the electorate, which is alarming given that you are the Policing spokesperson for Lib Dems in London.

    You really need to get your facts right, there is no subsidy for firearms licencing.

    The NGO wrote, “The licensing of firearms and shot guns is to keep the public safe. It has no benefit to the licence holder. Licensees have always paid about a third of the overall cost, which is more than their share for a system designed for the public benefit.”

  • Pistols at Dawn – the logic of the statement you quote is to abolish the gun licences.

    There is of course a huge subsidy under the current system, where the fees have been frozen since 2001. The only issue is just how significant it is.

    Repeatedly quoting a daft statement doesn’t change matters I am afraid. You are losing a battle. Sooner or later people that choose to shoot will have to pay for the full costs of their activity.

  • Richard Dean 13th Aug '14 - 11:28pm

    There’s nothing “obvious” about it. Some of the early comments in this thread present string arguments for the exact opposite, that it is gun owners who subsidise the general public. I happen to disagree, but simply saying something is “obvious” isn’t any kind of effective counter-argument, in a context of rational and evidence-based policy-making.

  • R Uduwerage-Perera 14th Aug '14 - 10:43am

    Although I am against the level of personal firearms that exist in society currently I see this debate as a ‘Ban Fox Hunting’ (which I favour) discussion that will merely ostracise us even more from many within society, and further demonstrate to the public that we lack ‘countryside credibility’.

    The reality is that the TV licence alone does not pay for the BBC, the VEL does not pay for roads and highways alone, so why should firearms licence fees pay for the full on costs. I do though agree that the licence fee should have risen alongside the cost of living and inflation over the years for I seem to remember paying something similar to £10, 20 or even 30 years ago when I was strangely interested in shooting.

  • jedibeeftrix 14th Aug '14 - 1:35pm

    @ rup – “currently I see this debate as a ‘Ban Fox Hunting’ (which I favour) discussion that will merely ostracise us even more from many within society”

    Agreed.

  • A Social Liberal 14th Aug '14 - 6:18pm

    I agree with the entirety of RUPs post

  • jedibeeftrix 1st Sep '14 - 10:47am

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