Beginners guide to getting your shotgun licence

It’s time to get your first shotgun – but first you’ll need to apply for a Shotgun Certificate. James Marchington explains how.

Last month we looked at how you might take your very first shots with a shotgun at a have-a-go day, follow up with a few lessons, and reach the point where you’ve decided yes, shooting is something you’d like to pursue.

If you missed that article, go back and take a look – there’s plenty of useful advice on getting started. Once you’ve taken a few lessons and are making progress, it won’t be long before you want to get your own gun instead of borrowing one from the shooting ground.

Of course we all love shiny new kit, but there are good reasons why you should get your own gun rather than carry on using a ‘school’ gun. Most importantly, you can choose a shotgun specifically to fit you, then practise with it over and over so it becomes familiar.

A consistent gun mount is crucial to good shooting, and you won’t achieve that with a ‘one size fits all’ borrowed gun that you only handle once a month or a fortnight when you visit the shooting ground. Ideally you will practise your gun mount two or three times a week at home so it becomes second nature – and that means having your own gun.

Hold fast, though. We’re getting ahead of ourselves, because you can’t just walk into a gun shop and buy a shotgun – not in the UK anyway. You will need a Shotgun Certificate issued by your local police force, and that means going through the process of applying and being checked out to ensure you can be trusted to own a gun without posing a danger to yourself or others.

Let’s not get diverted by arguments about whether gun licensing in the UK is too restrictive, or what’s wrong with the current system. We could debate that one all day, but it won’t help you get your licence.

Even if you need to apply online, it can be useful to write down the answers first

Remember that the people processing your application don’t make the rules, they’re just following them.

It’s in your interests to make their job as easy and straightforward as possible – by following the correct procedure, filling in the forms correctly, and providing everything they need to process your application without unnecessary delay.

We have a complicated set of firearms laws in the UK, so let’s keep things simple and assume you’re applying for a Shotgun Certificate for the first time – a “grant” of a certificate as opposed to the “renewal” of an existing one. There are different rules for a Firearms Certificate, which you’d need if you planned to shoot rifles. We won’t cover that.

Let’s get started

First things first, you’ll need to find your local police website and read their instructions on how to apply for your Shotgun Certificate, or SGC as it’s often abbreviated.

The law is the same across England, Scotland and Wales, but each police force has its own unique way of interpreting the finer points, so there are different systems in operation depending where you live. Plus these things change.

I renewed my SGC at the end of 2019, filling in a paper form and posting it to Police HQ like I’ve done in the past. By the beginning of January this year, though, they had switched to an online form, and brought in new rules about a doctor’s letter too. 

To get a Shotgun Certificate you’ll need to apply to your local police firearms licensing department

So find your local police website and search for the Firearms Licensing section. Most police websites will now allow you to make your application online, but don’t jump in straight away.

You’ll need to get some information together before you start filling in the form, whether that’s a paper form or the online equivalent. Read the guidelines, gather everything you’ll need, then put aside some time when you can concentrate on getting it right. The things you’re likely to need are:

  • Your personal details – name, address, previous addresses, etc
  • Details of any offences you may have been convicted of, ever
  • Details of someone who has agreed to act as a ‘referee’ to confirm your details are correct
  • A current passport style photograph of yourself
  • Your GP surgery details
  • A payment card so you can pay the application fee online

Doctor’s letter

Fill out the form accurately and fully, and don’t withhold any information about previous convictions or medical conditions, as doing so could be an offence in itself.

Pay special attention to the section about contacting your GP. Different police forces have different requirements here. Some will write to your GP themselves once they receive your application, but increasingly the police want you to approach your GP and ask them to supply answers about your medical history.

Make sure you understand what’s required, and do as they ask. You might, for instance, need to download a pro forma letter from the police website and ask your GP to complete it. 

The letter will be quite straightforward, asking the GP to confirm whether or not you have any of the medical conditions listed. The questions are purely about medical facts; the letter doesn’t ask for any opinion on whether or not you should be allowed to own a gun. Even so, some GPs are reluctant to cooperate, or may charge a fee. 

Use your common sense here; there’s no point making life difficult for yourself by arguing over a small fee, but if you run into real problems and you’re a member of BASC, their firearms team can advise you.

They can even put you in touch with a doctor who will do the necessary for a reasonable fee. Indeed, I would suggest that joining BASC is a good idea anyway, for this and the many other benefits they offer.

Home visit

Most if not all police licensing departments will want to arrange a ‘home visit’ by one of their staff before issuing your licence. This will give them an opportunity to ask any questions they might have about your application, and see that you are genuine about wanting a shotgun for legitimate sport.

Legally you aren’t required to prove you have a good reason for wanting a shotgun, such as membership of a shooting club (it’s different for a rifle) – but if you have the information available there’s no reason not to show it.

The other reason for the home visit is to check your security arrangements for storing your gun. In theory there are various ways to meet the requirements, but in practice the simplest and cheapest way to keep the licensing team happy is to have a purpose-made gun safe, firmly bolted to a solid wall, preferably upstairs but definitely out of view from outside, or everyday visitors to the house. 

Cabinets aren’t as expensive as you might think, and some basic DIY skills and a hammer drill will be enough to fix it properly to the wall. You will need to think about keeping the cabinet keys secure from anyone who isn’t authorised to have access to your gun, which includes your spouse unless they have an SGC too.

Sometimes a simple key safe can be a good solution. If you need advice, call the firearms team and talk to them – they’re human after all!

Once you have your certificate you can start choosing your new gun

Waiting game

With the formalities over, you will now have to cross everything and wait for your certificate to arrive. Inevitably it takes the licensing department some time to complete their checks and issue a certificate, but some areas take considerably longer than others for no apparent reason.

There is little you can usefully do to hurry things along, but if it’s taking months rather than weeks it would be reasonable to contact them and ask if there’s any reason for the delay. If you run into real problems, as a member of BASC (you are a member aren’t you?) you can contact their firearms team for advice.

With any luck all will go smoothly and your SGC will soon be with you. Now for the fun part! You can now start thinking about what gun you will buy, perhaps even trying out a few demo guns at a local shooting ground.

Next, we’ll look at some of your options, and how you can narrow down your choice as you decide on which gun is right for you. 

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