Countryside Alliance Chief Executive Tim Bonner writes:
The Government announced this week that it is not going to proceed with proposals to ban a small number of high-powered rifles used for target shooting, including .50 calibre, in the Offensive Weapons Bill. The ban should never have been in the Bill in the first place as there was no evidence to justify it in terms of public safety, and it would have set a dangerous precedent for firearms legislation. Whilst this is a welcome move from the Home Office it cannot, however, be allowed to mask more serious concerns about the firearms licensing system.
In particular we have been in prolonged conversation with Home Office Ministers and officials about the chaos gripping the firearms licensing medical procedures. The refusal of some GPs to engage with the medical procedures agreed by all parties and introduced in 2014, and the increasing tendency of some Police Forces to ignore Home Office guidelines have created a post code lottery. Those applying for firearms licences are treated in an entirely different way depending on the GP they are registered with, and which police force area they live in. This is simply not acceptable.
Ministers do understand the problem, but finding a solution is proving problematic. Everything from the complexity of NHS IT systems to wider political disagreements between the Government and doctors seem to be lined up against the implementation of a fair and consistent licensing system, which protects the safety of the public and gun owners.
The Government should remember, however, that all parties including the medical professionals, did sign up to the 2014 guidance which introduced compulsory GP referral for all applicants and ongoing assessment of the health of licence holders to own guns. This has to be the basis of any solution and it is not beyond the role of Government to ensure that all parties deliver their part of that process. In fact, it is the Government’s duty to ensure that they do.
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