Police Spot Checks, Know your rights
Be aware of your rights and responsibilities in the event of a visit from the police.
I was interested to read recently an article stating that North Wales Police were intending to introduce spot checks on firearm owners at their homes to insure that weapons were being correctly stored.
I of course applaud attempts to insure that firearms do not fall in to the wrong hands however I am not entirely convinced that this policy is the best way of achieving this. Indeed BASC have also voiced their concerns about the proposals.
I thought it might be useful therefore to outline some of your legal rights as a firearms holder and offer some advise on how to deal with a spot check should it occur.
Legislation that governs Police powers of entry is laid down in the 1984 Police and Criminal Evidence Act or PACE as it is usually referred to. Amongst other things PACE details very clearly the circumstances under which a police officer can enter your home. These circumstances are not ambiguous neither are there grey areas in the legislation. It is a clearly defined Act of law that details police powers in a concise and accurate format that police officers should know like the back of their hand.
Powers of entry will fall under certain sections within the act and specify clearly the circumstances under which the power can be evoked. For example amongst the most commonly used powers of entry and search are those that fall under Sect 32 which allows a police officer to search your home under set circumstances upon your arrest, and Sect 17 which allows for a police officer to enter premises to protect life and property.
There are numerous other sections that deal with entry and search under further defined circumstances however lets be clear, none of them provide for entry simply to allow for spot checks of your firearms security. If a police officer turns up at your door purely to conduct a spot check you do not have to allow them entry. They are in effect requesting that you allow them entry. You do NOT have to do so.
I am not encouraging here that you be confrontational or unhelpful. The police after all are there to try and protect us all and the motivations of these checks are with the public interest at heart. That said if it is not convenient for you to allow the officer entry then I would suggest that you politely decline. If the officer is more insistent and you still do not wish to allow them entry then I recommend that you ask the officer politely under what power they are entering and ask him or her to clearly inform you of your rights.
Remember that evidence obtained during an illegal search is rarely admissible in court, what is more an illegal search is an infringement of your civil rights and will result in a very serious disciplinary matter and indeed may even have legal ramifications for the officer involved.
Once again I do not wish to imply that you should in anyway wish to be obstructive or unhelpful. Neither am I suggesting that you take the decsion to decline a visit lightly, as by doing so you may quite reasonably heighten your forces suspicion that you have something to hide!
Whilst it is useful to be aware of your rights the best advice therefore is infact that you should simply comply with the law regarding firearms ownership and store your firearms in a safe and secure manner, that way you can invite the officer in and offer him or her a cup of tea safe in the knowledge that you have nothing to hide.