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Shooting for the stars – getting a shotgun licence with a criminal record

As Bernie’s story shows, being told you can’t do something doesn’t always have to be the end of your dreams, but you’ll need plenty of resilience and often help from others. 



Even if I do say so myself, I had a rather troubled upbringing and spent a bit of time in a youth detention centre. However, by the time I’d reached my late 20’s I’d started to calm down a bit and was thinking about using my energy and enthusiasm in a positive rather than negative way.

To keep on the right side of the law, I needed to stop mixing with my usual crowd and had to find new ways of meeting people. So I started volunteering at my local game shoot every weekend as a bush-beater. This basically involved working with a group of other beaters, a gamekeeper and a shoot captain and making lots of noise by clapping, shouting, cracking sticks etc to flush the birds into a specified location.

Everybody involved was really welcoming and were more than happy to pass on their knowledge. I volunteered with people of all different ages and backgrounds and soon made new friends.

I did this for a while and, to cut a long story short, I was eventually offered the job of gamekeeper. As part of the job I needed a shotgun licence and this is where I ran into my first problem. I soon discovered that anybody who’d received a custodial sentence of between 3 months and 3 years is banned from having a shotgun licence for five years. So although I applied, I wasn’t entirely surprised when my application was refused. However, the fact that I couldn’t get a licence was seriously affecting my ability to do my job. It’s like being a gardener who isn’t allowed to use a lawn mower – get my drift?

I couldn’t let it drop. I knew that this was my future career and I had to do all I could to get that licence. Although I didn’t have a lot of money or savings, I decided to invest some in getting the help of a specialist shooting solicitor. At our very first meeting, the solicitor told me that I should be prepared to go to court to fight my corner.

So the negotiations began. I hadn’t been in trouble at that point for over 8 years but the police were still relying on my historic convictions. With money being tight, I knew that I had to do a lot of work on the case myself and I managed to get the support of 10 well respected individuals who were more than happy to vouch for me in court. The police took the decision to speak to these people prior to the court date. I’m not sure what these guys said, all I know is that the police decided that there was no need to go to court and I was issued with my shotgun licence.

I’m 52 now, still working in the same job and still have my licence.

If there’s one piece of advice I’d give to anybody it’s not to be put off from following your dreams. If you’ve got a good reason for wanting a licence, then you’ve got nothing to lose by appealing a decision. If you can afford it, get some help from a solicitor and be prepared to do some ‘leg-work’ yourself.

By Bernie (name changed to protect identity)


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