Guidance on Possession of Guns and Weapons


Despite concerns about applicants who may own a weapon, guns are owned in both rural and urban areas for recreational, sporting and other legitimate reasons. However it is important to ensure that the potential carer is licensed for the weapons they have; that they would not be accessed by children and they would be stored and kept securely in line with the GOV.UK, Guidance Firearms security handbook (2020).

This chapter was added to the manual in September 2021 and replaced a similar chapter.

1. Introduction

Circumstances may arise when the Local Authority is assessing individuals for approval as Foster Carers, Adopters or Special Guardians and the prospective carers, or other household members, are in possession of licensed guns, other licensed weapons or replica weapons that may not require a licence.

A balance has to be drawn between the rights of individuals to own licensed guns and other weapons not requiring a licence and the potential risk to children in their care from being injured or killed through accidents or misuse of the weapon.

Research tells us that where guns are present, more people die, whether this is from accidents, suicides, assaults or crime. For example, in the US where guns are more freely available studies have shown that domestic assaults involving a firearm are twelve times more likely to be lethal than similar attacks with other weapons. (L.E. Saltzman et al. (1992), Weapon involvement and injury outcomes in family and intimate assaults, Journal of the American Medical Association, 267: 22, 10 June).

Also, guns are also more lethal in suicide attempts than other methods, according to suicide prevention experts (A summary of some of the research is presented in Small Arms Survey Yearbook (2004): Rights at Risk, p187).

Massacres such as Dunblane (where 16 children aged 5 and 6, and their teacher were shot dead) and Hungerford (where a lone gunman went on the rampage through a sleepy English market town, shooting dead 15 people and wounding 14 others) have highlighted the extent to which adults and children can be killed and injured through individuals possessing legal firearms.

However, guns are owned in both rural and urban areas for recreational, sporting, and other legitimate reasons. Target rifle and pistol shooting is a well-established sport and recreation and is one of the top three participation sports in the UK. In addition shotguns are owned for game shooting, clay pigeon shooting, vermin control, and competition shooting.

Unlike the USA individuals in the UK do not have the right to possess guns. Individuals can be granted a certificate by the Police to possess a firearm or shotgun. Applicants must satisfy the Police they are fit to be entrusted with a firearm, have good reason for possession, and they pose no danger to the public.

Safekeeping of shotguns and firearms is a requirement of the granting of certificates. Guns and ammunition must be stored securely to prevent as far as possible unauthorised people taking or using them. The recommendation is that this should be in a locked gun cabinet or other secure container. Owners often keep guns at their homes because gun clubs do not have premises or have the security in place to store large numbers of guns. There are also other weapons such as bb-guns, crossbows; replica weapons where there may some restrictions on their use such as not being able to be used in a public place. These weapons may not require a licence, but they could potentially injure someone. Also, for some of these weapons they are extremely realistic, and the Police may respond as if they are live firearms.

2. Policy

Wirral Council considers that ownership of licensed firearms and shotguns, unlicensed weapons and replica guns can pose a risk to the safety of children in that person’s care. Therefore where potential or existing Foster Carers, Prospective Adopters or Prospective Special Guardians, or anyone else in the family household, have a certificate for the possession of a shotgun or firearm or have unlicensed weapons and replica guns on the premises a thorough risk assessment of the safety factors for children will be undertaken as part of the assessment of their suitability as carers.

The individuals seeking approval or re-approval will be advised that the safest option is for any firearms, shotguns, and other weapons and their ammunition to be always stored away from the family home.

There must be a good reason for the Local Authority to consider that the weapons may be stored in the family home. If the weapons are to be stored at the family home, they must be kept at all times in a commercially manufactured gun cabinet according to Home Office recommendations (see Part 2, Guidance Firearms security handbook, 2020).

Removal of the weapons from the cabinet must only be during transit to a gun club or for approved activities and must be contained in a secure case. In addition to this, all ammunition must be stored separately, in an equally secure location, away from the gun cabinet.

Examples of good reason for storage of weapons at the family home include situations where:

  • The family live and work on a farm;
  • Someone living in the family home is a member of a gun club that has no safe storage facility.

The list is not exhaustive and having firearms/weapons within the home environment should not exclude the potential foster carers from the assessment process. What should be established is whether these are licenced, and whether storage of them and the ammunition meets the minimum required expectations, which can be accomplished through a risk assessment.

The carers will be advised that children should not be involved with any activities involving weapons unless they are properly supervised and are part of an organised shooting/sporting activity (e.g. Army Cadets, shooting sports). Foster Carers must always seek permission from the Local Authority before involving children in such activities.

4. Initial Visits

At the point of initial visit applicants must be asked whether they hold or have access to firearms or other weapons, including replica weapons. Where applicants confirm that they hold a firearm or shotgun, a current certificate must be seen, and a copy placed on file. Failure to produce a current and valid certificate will necessitate the assessor contacting the Police to notify them immediately.

If the applicant possesses any other weapon or replica weapon, the Supervising Social Worker may need to seek advice from the Firearms Registry on whether a licence is required, and the potential risks involved.

The assessing Social Worker must see where all guns, weapons and ammunition are stored. They must be separately secured in such a way that they could not be accessed by children or young people (i.e. away from family home or approved gun storage cabinet) see Part 2, Home Office Firearms Security Handbook and Leaflet.

5. Placement / Matching

The suitability of the placement of children with approved carers who possess a shotgun, firearm or other weapon will be carefully considered. No child or young person will be placed with applicants where guns and weapons are being held in an unsafe way, or where there is no current firearms licence.

The child’s Social Worker must be made aware that firearms are held by the potential carer. Assessing Social Workers must be confident that applicants are fully aware of the risks of firearms and weapons and use them in a responsible manner. The holding of firearms or other weapons must be recorded in the assessment report and reported to the Panel for Fostering or permanence panels.

A final decision about approval where potential carers possess guns and weapons must be made by the Agency Decision Maker.

6. Reviews

As part of the Foster Carer’s Annual Review, the security of guns, weapons and ammunition, and the ownership of a current (certificates last for 5 years) firearms/shotgun certificate must be verified.

Any concerns about the storage, use of firearms, or lack of a certificate must be immediately reported to the Fostering Head of Service and the Fostering Team Manager. There is an expectation that during the completion of the Annual Health and Safety Assessment, that firearms and ammunition storage will be checked. In addition, during statutory visits a request may be made to inspect the firearms and ammunition storage to verify that minimum expectations are being met.

The Police should be notified where applicants are found to have firearms/shotgun and no certificate. Wirral Local Authority will regard this as a very serious breach of policy and procedure which may result in a recommendation for removal of the children in placement and de-registration of the foster carer.

7. Information about Licenses

The Firearms Registry can give advice on all matters about licensing firearms and shotguns. It can also give advice on the law relating to air weapons.

The Firearms Registry, can be contacted during office hours, on 0151 777 8478 (shotgun enquiries), 0151 777 8479 (firearm enquiries) or 0151 777 8477 (firearms licensing manager).

Useful information can also be found on the website for the Police National Legal database.