Home Office circular 031 / 2006
Dear Chief Constable,
Firearms: civilian target shooting ranges
This letter advises you of a change to the arrangements for ensuring that firearms are used only on ranges that are constructed and maintained safely. It has been drawn up in consultation with ACPO’s Firearms & Explosives Licensing Working Group and with ACPO Scotland, and is effective immediately. The terms of this letter have been agreed with the Scottish Executive.
Civilian ranges have historically been inspected and certified by the military. We made use of this scheme in our firearms controls to help ensure that target shooting takes place safely. Home Office and Scottish Executive approved clubs are required to have regular use of a range with a safety certificate, and a standard condition is included on firearm certificates for individual target shooters requiring them to shoot only on ranges with a safety certificate issued by the Ministry of Defence.
Following an internal review, the military has ended its inspection and certification scheme for civilian ranges. The Home Office has consulted extensively with ACPO, ACPO Scotland and shooting organisations to agree how best to adapt those parts of the firearms controls that relied on the defunct scheme. This letter describes the new arrangements that have been agreed.
The responsibility will now be placed more firmly on range owners/operators to ensure that their range is constructed and maintained safely. Failure to do so will leave them liable to sanctions under a range of legislation, such as the Occupiers’ Liability Act 1957, the Occupiers’ Liability (Scotland) Act 1960 and the Health & Safety at Work Act 1974. See Annex A for further details. The criteria for club approval and affected certificate conditions have been revised to remove references to Ministry of Defence safety certificates (see Annex B).
A number of measures have been put in place to provide assurance that ranges remain safe.
Insurance and other financial cover
The revised club criteria and certificate conditions now include a requirement for owners/operators of ranges to have in place adequate financial arrangements to meet any injury or damage claims. In most cases this will be insurance cover. However, other arrangements are acceptable so long as they provide adequate cover. For example, some local authority ranges deposit a bond to cover their risk. Military ranges, which are regularly inspected, will normally cover their own risk.
The level of cover will vary according to the nature of the range and the type of firearms used on it. As a guide, cover should normally be around £5 million for any one incident.
NSRA & NRA inspections
The National Small-bore Rifle Association and the National Rifle Association have established their own inspection and approval scheme for the ranges run by their member clubs. Initially at least, inspections will generally be conducted by ex-military personnel who were involved in the old military scheme. Unlike the military scheme, the NSRA and NRA will require inspections at regular intervals to check that ranges do not deteriorate.
The NSRA and NRA have prepared guidance for their members on the safe construction of ranges. That guidance will be used by the organisations as the basis for their inspections and the issue of approvals.
The NSRA and NRA are willing to make their inspection and approval service available to ranges not affiliated to either organisation.
Other safety assessments
- It is anticipated that most ranges will use the NSRA and NRA scheme. However, it is for each range owner/operator to decide what steps to take to ensure their range is safe. For example, they might choose to obtain an assessment from elsewhere, such as an independent inspector. We have alerted the Association of British Insurers to the new arrangements and encouraged their members to ask to see an independent assessment before insuring any range.
Police licensing procedures
- The new arrangements will require some changes to certain areas of the police’s firearms licensing function.
The new criterion relating to range safety is set out in Annex B. In determining whether this criterion is met, police forces will want to satisfy themselves that ranges used by a club are safe and have adequate insurance or other financial cover. In most cases evidence of this will be an old-style military safety certificate or a NSRA/NRA approval letter, together with an insurance certificate.
It should be remembered that the new arrangements place the responsibility for safety on the range owner/operator. It is not intended that police forces will need to become expert in range construction or to have to inspect ranges. However, the NSRA/NRA guidance will be available to police forces to refer to where the need arises. For example, forces might find the guidance useful when checking a club’s range in accordance with paragraph 18.23 of Firearms Law Guidance to the Police 2002. If a force requires expert advice on range construction, the NSRA or NRA will be willing to assist or the force could engage an independent assessor of its own.
The Home Office and Scottish Executive will be writing to all approved clubs advising them of the new criterion.
The revised standard conditions are set out in Annex B. They place the onus on individual shooters to satisfy themselves that the range they intend to use is safe for the use of their particular class of firearm, and that adequate insurance or other financial cover is in place for the use of that range. The easiest way of determining this will be to see the same documents mentioned in paragraph 13, which might well be displayed at the range.
A copy of this letter is being sent direct to your Firearms Licensing Manager.
Range safety: existing controls
The responsibility for range safety rests with the range owner/operator. He is liable should anything go wrong. The Occupiers’ Liability Act 1957 places on him a duty of care in respect of those using the range. An injured party can use the 1957 Act to launch a civil action against the range owner in the event of an accident. The range owner has a similar duty of care in respect of any persons and property adjoining the range. In Scotland, the Occupiers’ Liability (Scotland) Act 1960 contains similar provisions with much the same effect.
On ranges where workers are employed in the operation and maintenance of the range, the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 also applies (this will not apply to all ranges as some are run voluntarily as part of a members club, nor will it apply to ranges where persons are employed but not in relation to the range itself). This places a duty on the employer to take steps not to expose employees and others who use the range to risks to their health and safety. Failing in that duty is a criminal offence carrying a maximum fine of £20,000. Enforcement is through the HSE or local authorities, who can also issue ‘prohibition notices’ (requiring activity to cease until remedial action is taken) where they feel there is a serious risk of personal injury.
Range owners/operators need to be adequately covered against their liability and need to operate in line with the terms of their insurance or other arrangement.
Certificate holders who have firearms solely for target shooting are required to belong to at least one approved shooting club, and the criteria for approval requires clubs to be run safely. A police firearms licensing officer may visit at certain times, such as when the club approval is being renewed or if he has reason to be concerned about the conduct of a club’s range. The risk of losing their approval acts as a further incentive to clubs to maintain their ranges safely.
The national governing bodies for target shooting, such as the NRA and NSRA, exert influence over their members and are keen to protect the image and safety record of the sport.
Revised club criterion
The club has regular use of ranges suitable for the safe use of the categories of firearm in respect of which approval is being sought or given, as the case may be. Adequate financial arrangements must be in place to meet any injury or damage claim.
Revised conditons for firearms certificates
**Target Shooting - Individual Certificates
**The [calibre] rifle/muzzle-loading pistol/revolver and ammunition shall be used for target shooting, and only whilst a member of [club], on ranges suitable for the safe use of that class of firearm and with adequate financial arrangements in place to meet any injury or damage claim.
Target Shooting - Club Guns
The firearms and ammunition shall be used (only) for target shooting on ranges suitable for the safe use of that class of firearm and with adequate financial arrangements in place to meet any injury or damage claim.
Target Shooting - Shot Guns
The smooth-bore gun/solid slug shall be used for practical target shooting:-
a. on ranges suitable for the safe use of that class of firearm and with adequate financial arrangements in place to meet any injury or damage claim, or
b. over a course of fire approved by a qualified member of the UKPSA on land over which the holder has lawful authority to shoot.
The [calibre] rifle and ammunition shall be carried when proceeding to or returning from a port of embarkation and may be zeroed with non-expanding ammunition in Great Britain on ranges suitable for the safe use of that class of firearm and with adequate financial arrangements in place to meet any injury or damage claim.
A firearm or ammunition identified by an asterisk in Part 1 or Part 2 of the certificate must be possessed, purchased or acquired by the holder of the certificate only for the purpose of its being kept or exhibited as part of a collection.
- Not to be fired, or
- The [calibre] firearm and ammunition may be used for target shooting, on ranges suitable for the safe use of that class of firearm and with adequate financial arrangements in place to meet any injury or damage claim