Applying for your Firearms Certificate FAC
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- Last updated: 21/12/2016
It was around July last year that I decided to apply for my Firearms Certificate (FAC) having previously given my last one up about 10 years ago. The decision to re-apply was of course instigated by having a go again with a centrefire rifle. After ringing some steel for the first time at Orion Firearms Training in Wales I just had to get my own rifle…I was hooked!
My first port of call was the Essex Police website, to source some application forms. From memory this was a simple and pretty quick process, however this time around it lasted an unimagined and long and painful eight months! It is this overly slow process that is the motivation for this article, as I want to tell people how to go about it and to spur anyone out there thinking of applying to fill out those forms and get your licence!
It is important to understand that an FAC does not allow the indiscriminate purchasing of various rifles in all sorts of calibres. Instead it’s tailored specifically to the individual applicant and intended usage. You are not just applying for the certificate itself but for the specific type and calibre of rifle and the type of ammunition you require i.e. non-expanding for target use and expanding for fox shooting or deer control. It will be down to your police force as to how much they will allow you to purchase and store at any one time. If you need a sound moderator that is also classed as a firearm or at least a slot (permission to own) on your ticket; so you will need to apply for one of those as well.
You will find that the police use Home Office guidelines when making decisions regarding your application, which can prove interesting, as all the forces interpret them differently! It is the requirement of all the issuing forces that an individual must demonstrate a suitable reason for having an FAC. Broadly speaking most certificate holder’s fall into two categories: hunting/ pest control and club shooting/target and the way you apply for your FAC differs depending on which one you fall into.
When applying for the former, there are a variety of limiting factors that you will come across. The main ones are your personal experience using firearms, the type of quarry you will be shooting and the suitability of the land that you will be using the firearms on.
This is where the home office guidelines come into play, as there is a list of calibres deemed suitable for each type of quarry. I have stuck to the basics - so rabbits for example are normally dealt with using an FAC-rated airgun or a rimfire calibre; 22LR, 17HMR or 22WMR. You are not limited to just one as different areas on your land may require a different cartridge. Foxes are dealt with using centrefires like .222, .223 and 22- 250, though rimfires may also be applicable. Finally, for deer you have two routes; small species Muntjac and Chinese Water Deer can be shot with a .22 centrefire with a minimum bullet weight of 50-grains and a muzzle energy of 1000 ft/lbs. All other deer species (large deer) require a calibre of 6mm and upwards with a minimum muzzle energy of 1700 ft/lbs. Entry level here is considered .243 Winchester, this and the .308 Win being by far the most popular in the UK.
Using my application as an example, I applied for a .22LR for rabbits, as these rifles are accurate, quiet, and cheap to buy and run. My centrefire calibre of choice was .223 for fox control. The reason being that the selection of factory ammunition available is extensive, it’s not too expensive and finally its performance is proven as I had used one out to 400 metres at Orion Firearms training. I also applied for a sound moderator for each rifle and expanding ammunition, as well as solid, for range work. You are asked how many rounds you would like to possess at any one time, so I put 1000 rounds of .22LR in expanding and solid. For the .223 I asked for 500 of each. You will also be given an amount you can buy at any one time too; with the .22 for example I asked to buy 500, as it gives a good buffer zone so that you won’t run out.
The application form is not complicated but fairly in depth, asking for previous addresses, criminal convictions including speeding tickets, access to medical records etc. You will also be required to provide some passport photos and to give the details of two referees who have known you a few years and can vouch for your identity and character. Make sure you make a photocopy of the paperwork, then send it off along with the fee, which at the time of checking was £88.
This is where my long wait started and after a lot of phone calls chasing my application up, it wasn’t until December that I got a phone call to organise a visit with my firearms enquiry officer (FEO). These meetings can be pretty scary, as most people will have no idea what to expect. My advice is to simply prepare yourself as best as possible. You should know the details about the land you will be shooting on (a few Google map print outs are useful) pertaining to safety i.e. backstops, footpaths etc. You should also understand the capabilities of your chosen calibres and you should also have a good knowledge of your chosen quarry. If you have any certificates or proof of previous experience then that is useful. I had paperwork showing my previous experience with the military and at Orion and this was well received. It is in this meeting that you will find out about any problems with your application or about any conditions that may be put on your licence. Your FEO will explain their concerns, for example if you have applied for a .308 for deer stalking and rabbits on 15 acres of land and you have no experience, then he may suggest the .308 or any deer calibre is unsuitable on that land but an FAC-rated air rifle or a .22LR for the rabbits is probably a better idea!
Even if your application is going to be granted, you may find that the police put some conditions on your licence. These are essentially ground rules and are based on all the factors surrounding your specific application. The most common of which is where you are allowed to use your firearm. When you apply and list a specific piece of land as where you will be shooting, then this land is checked against a database for suitability for your chosen calibres. With this condition in place, you will then be required to contact the police to check the suitability of any new land that you gain permission to shoot over.
Security will also be discussed at your visit. In all cases a gun cabinet or gun room (if you are seriously lucky!) will be required in order to store your firearms. The cabinet will be required to conform to agreed specification and in most cases will have to be attached to a solid wall inside your house using bolts. Your ammunition will also need to be locked up in the same fashion and must be separate from you firearms, though a second locking section within the cabinet is OK. It is worth noting that you can discuss security with your FEO before fitting it, so if your application is denied, you are not out of pocket.
The club route is almost certainly the most common path to FAC ownership and of course comes with advantages and disadvantages. The first hurdle to tackle as I found is actually finding one in your area. The quality varies massively from county to county and it is worth travelling for a good one. My advice is to take your time and explore your options, as I have been to a few that would almost certainly put some people off from applying! The ideal will have a decent selection of disciplines for you to try, whether you are looking at small bore target shooting, gallery rifle or long range centrefire etc. The reason this is so important is because you need to establish what type of shooting you enjoy, as this will determine what calibres you apply for during your application.
Once you have found a club you would like to join and if all goes to plan, you will soon be a probationary member, which will normally last around 6 months or a certain number of visits over a set time frame. It is in this time that you will be supervised and get the basic safety training required. My club shoots on a military range so I am in the process of getting my NRA safe shooters certificate but this is just one example of training you may receive. Once you have passed your probationary period and have become a full member, you will then be in a position to apply for your firearms certificate and any/all of the suitable calibres for your chosen disciplines. You will however be restricted to using them at ranges and not on private land.
So, assuming you have had a successful meeting with your FEO, it is just a case of waiting for the beautiful brown envelope to land on your doormat. Though at the time of writing you could have aged a whole year since entering your application! When you do receive your FAC, be sure to read it very carefully first to make sure that all your details are correct and to check your chosen calibres and ammunition types are there. Pay special attention to your conditions and make sure you understand them, as it is not always obvious what they are talking about. Equally important, sign it ASAP, as and as daft as it sounds, many people forget! Now go gun shopping….the only type of retail therapy that a real man can enjoy!