London (CNSNews.com) – In a move to rein in what it calls a taxpayer subsidy for gun owners, the British government is considering raising license fees on shooting clubs by more than 1,000 percent.
Local police forces in Britain are responsible for granting firearms licenses. In recent years, law enforcement bodies such as the Association of Chief Police Officers have complained that low fees charged to applicants have forced the agencies to spend millions of pounds out of their own budgets to complete them.
In 2015, fees for individual gun owners were raised for the first time since 2001. An initial firearms certificate now costs $114 (£88) for five years, as opposed to $65 (£50) before.
Earlier this year the Home Office announced it was now considering raising fees on shooting clubs and museums that displayed guns, and asked for public response on a new set of fees it proposed.
Currently, the government estimates that the British taxpayer subsidizes each gun club application – which involves background checks on members, police interviews, and inspections of the club premises – by 93 percent.
Under the proposals, clubs would pay a fee of $1,355 (£1,050) for a new six-year license, a jump of more than tenfold.
“Charging in this way ensures the real economic cost of safeguarding high risk activities is understood by license holders,” the Home Office said at its initial briefing.
In response, the British chapter of the National Rifle Association called the proposals “grossly unreasonable” and said that the increases would be “simply unaffordable for the vast majority” of its clubs.
The Countryside Alliance, an organization which promotes rural life in Britain, said that the Home Office had failed to show how it would spend the enormous additional costs it is asking for.
“The lack of clarity surrounding the administration costs being used to justify this price hike leaves the shooting community thinking that they are once again being unfairly treated,” the organization’s head of shooting, Liam Stokes, said earlier.
Garry Doolan, a spokesman for the British Association for Shooting and Conservation said in an interview that helping members with the various issues around licensing and applying for a license was what took up the majority of his group’s time.
Many of his group’s members depended on their licenses for their livelihoods – whether they used their guns as part of sporting pastimes or for pest control – and it all was “very vexing,” he said.
A study by the BASC released in February revealed that applying for a license turned out to be a “postcode lottery” for many applicants. In some areas of Britain, it would take eight days to renew a firearms certificate but in others, it would take 225 days.
The BASC believes that in the long term, the increased fees will make target shooting less accessible to newcomers and damage the firearms heritage of Britain.
Former Prime Minister David Cameron, who resigned last year, is known to be a deer and pheasant hunter. There was speculation in some parts of the British media that he favored holding back on increasing fees.
Doolan, however, said that change at a governmental level takes place slowly, and he did not see the new proposed costs resulting from the changeover from Cameron to his successor and fellow Conservative, Theresa May.
“It’s not something that changes with a swipe of a pen,” he said.
Public consultation over the fee hike closed in March but a spokesman for the Home Office said any decision would be deferred until after the next general election on June 8.
In 2014, police in the county of Surrey came under criticism for returning a shotgun to a local farm owner, who then used it to murder his common-law wife and her daughter.
Last week, the Independent Police Complaints Commission found that firearms licensing unit at the Surrey Police lacked the necessary training and was staffed by individuals who “were failing to undertake their duties with rigor.”
The IPCC also made a number of recommendations to strengthen firearms licensing both in Surrey and nationally.
“We hope forces across the country will use this as a catalyst for ensuring their licensing teams are working as effectively as necessary,” said associate IPCC Commissioner Tom Milsorn.