Delays to firearms licensing are set to reach record highs causing significant complications for certificate holders, according to the UK’s largest shooting organisation.
Covid restrictions, regulatory medical involvement and a peak in firearms licensing renewals has caused 'mass disruption' across licensing departments in England and Wales.
The British Association for Shooting and Conservation (BASC) says that in many instances, applicants are facing over six months of delays.
The body, which has a membership of over 150,000 people, adds that some police forces have ceased grant applications altogether.
North Yorkshire Police announced in November that they have stopped all grant applications for the foreseeable future.
Since then more forces have followed including Thames Valley, Northamptonshire, Cambridgeshire, Bedfordshire, Hertfordshire and Hampshire Police.
BASC says it is currently seeking legal advice against those forces who have stopped accepting grant applications.
Bill Harriman, the group's director of firearms, said: “Throughout last year there was an increase in delays across numerous forces.
"We are now receiving complaints that grant applications are being returned with no reason provided.
“While it is nearly impossible to plan for the disruption caused by the pandemic, forces should have been prepared for the peak renewal period and the introduction of medical verifications.
"Their failure to correctly resource has led to significant delays and thousands of certificate holders edging closer to holding firearms illegally."
The 43 police forces across England and Wales are responsible for the licensing of over 600,000 individuals, including those who require their firearms as part of their livelihoods, such as farmers and pest controllers.
Because of this, the BASC says forces' licensing departments are "monopoly providers, leaving applicants nowhere to turn when faced with months of delays".
Mr Harriman added: “The discontinuation of grant applications is a failure to discharge the police’s statutory duty. The police cannot switch the law on and off as it pleases them.
“The process of firearms licensing is a public service to ensure public safety, the Home Office is required to act before the whole system collapses.”