by Tim Bonner

Many of you, like me, would have been horrified at the events of last week which took place in Plymouth. First and foremost, this was a tragedy for the family and friends of the five people who were killed and one which every one of us, whether we own a gun or not, should be determined to do everything possible to ensure will not be repeated. That was the approach the Countryside Alliance and other shooting organisations took 10 years ago in the wake of events in Cumbria. Then, as now, the discussion quickly focussed on the mental health of licence holders and how that could be assessed and monitored.

Some of the reporting of this incident, carried out by a man who had been issued with a shotgun certificate, has been concerning. It is very important that we do not jump to conclusions about the licensing process on the basis of news reports, any more than we would expect a knee-jerk reaction on gun control from politicians and policy makers.

The shooting community has readily agreed to a change in the licensing system which means that GPs are asked to carry out a medical check for a range of conditions, including mental health issues, before a licence is issued. There were some teething problems with this system, mostly relating to some GPs rejecting the agreement negotiated by the General Medical Council and either refusing to carry out checks because of ‘conscientious objections’ or seeking to charge exorbitant fees for doing so. Those issues have, however, been largely dealt with and nearly all police forces are now requiring a medical check before issuing a licence. 

In a helpful statement on firearms licensing issued by the Home Secretary this week it was confirmed that new statutory guidance - which has been expected for some time - would in future require that checks be carried out. We fully support that guidance and further would encourage the Home Office to work with the medical profession to ensure the roll out of confidential markers on medical records which inform a GP that a patient is a licence holder. We see this as an important part of continuous assessment of a licence holder’s health, and in particular their mental health.

In her statement, the Home Secretary also confirmed that carrying out background checks into an applicant’s suitability, including researching social media, is already open to police forces and that the ability to carry out such checks would be made explicit in the new guidance. Again, that is something we welcome.

The UK already has some of the strictest gun control legislation in the world but that does not mean it cannot be improved. Unlike in some other countries we do not regard gun ownership as a right, but as a responsibility and it is in the interests of everyone, whether or not they own a gun, that the system makes appalling incidents like that in Plymouth as rare and unlikely as possible. The Alliance will continue to work with the government and our colleagues in other shooting organisations to that end.

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