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Police to cut checks on gun owners

Police chiefs today defended cost-cutting plans which could see changes to the way checks are carried out on gun owners.

At least three forces aim to abandon automatic home checks when gun owners apply to renew firearms licences.

Police in Essex, Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire say ending blanket home visits would save money and time but would not "impact on public safety".

Essex Police said they planned to write to gun owners to check that circumstances had not changed since licences were issued, instead of visiting.

Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire said blanket home visits would be replaced by a "risk-assessed process".

They said a "number of forces" had already abandoned blanket home visits".

All three forces said they would continue to make home visits when people applied for gun licences. Changes would be to the checking system when owners applied for five-yearly renewals.

"The proposals include the withdrawal of blanket home visits to people renewing their licences, an approach which has already been adopted by a number of forces across the country," said a joint statement issued by the Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire forces.

"This would be replaced by a risk-assessed process where enhanced intelligence checks will identify those who should receive a home visit, without waiting for the expiry of their current licence.

"Home visits will form only part of these intelligence processes."

The statement added: "At a time of significant reductions in police funding it is important that we review those areas where processes can be refined and savings made without impacting on public safety."

It said the new approach would provide a "robust" service which continued to "ensure public safety whilst also saving money".

An Essex Police spokesman added: "We are moving towards issuing renewal notices by post rather than the current practice of making personal visits. The move is currently under consultation."

He said the changes would be a sensible way of saving money since statistics showed that problems arose in "only 0.2%" of cases when gun licences were renewed.