Responding to concerns over recent issues such as the Cumbria and Durham shootings, the Government feel it's time to look at our "licensing process", and in line with this, the Home Office are considering a couple of key changes.
The first area for consideration, and debatably the most controversial is that of medical checks for those wishing to gain authority to possess firearms. Currently, applicants are asked on Firearms and Shotgun certificate applications whether they have any illness or disability, including history of depression, drug use, alcohol abuse or epilepsy. If they tick yes, or the Chief Officer (through his or her appointed colleague) has other reason to doubt an applicant's medical fitness to be granted a certificate, the force in question will write to your GP, using the permission you must give the police on your application form to request factual details on your medical history. This isn't a fishing operation - it's an important measure to ensure that people are medically fit to possess firearms. I believe medical records also have a note attached to advise practitioners that a patient holds firearms in case that doctor feels the patient is a danger to themselves or anyone else... trouble is, there are ethical concerns about doctors sharing confidential medical information, even in the interests of public safety because of the principle that your doctor acts for you, not the state.
Medical bodies and the Association of Chief Police Officers have been involved in a number of pilot schemes to address these concerns - including doctors being asked to try and convince a patient to surrender their firearms and certificate of their own accord - and if they really won't, as a last resort, writing to the Chief Officer of police to share their concerns. On the face of it, this sounds common sense - but confidentiality definitely presents ethical concerns. It is also accepted that some certificate holders who should really be seeing their doctor may choose not to in case their certificate(s) is revoked - and the dangers of this kind of thinking are obvious. one thing is clear however, the current system is considered by many to be unsuitable - and one possible course of action is to insist police approach doctors to discuss ALL applications - something which might have saved the life of barrister Mark Saunders who falsely declared he had no history of alcohol abuse or depression. He did, and the consequences of the current policy debatably cost him his life and endangered the public.
The second issue that the Home Secretary is concerned with is granting certificates to those who have or do domestically abuse their partners. There is clearly a link between domestic violence and certificated gun crime around the world - and currently police firearms licensing offices do take reasonable steps to satisfy themselves that there is no history of domestic violence. But the Home Secretary is looking at mirroring the Canadian system of requiring current or most recent partners to countersign an application - and if they refuse to do so, extra checks follow. There are of course likely dangers to domestically abused partners that they will be physically or mentally enticed in to signing an application - and needless to say, if two people split from a relationship in less than agreeable circumstances (as many do), a partner could maliciously refuse to sign, or even deceive police. So this measure too is controversial.
The third, and possibly least contentious issue the Home Office are looking in to is whether to Legislate to change the "prohibited person" criteria. Currently, anyone sentenced to more than 3 months, but less than 3 years custody, (regardless of actual time served) is prohibited from possessing firearms or ammunition for a period of 5 years. Anyone sentenced to a period of 3 years or more in prison is prohibited for life, unless the Crown Court lifts that prohibition - and even then, I'm not an expert in whether they practically can do this.
The Home Secretary is suggesting that those given suspended sentences also be covered by legal prohibition... and in case any foreign visitors are not up on the term, a suspended sentence is where someone is sentenced to a term of custody, but that the sentence is literally held for a certain period on condition of good conduct. For instance, someone could be sentenced to 18 months in prison, suspended for 2 years and if they behave for those 2 years, the sentence (though not the conviction) is never enforced. The Government feel that if an offence is so serious that someone was handed a suspended sentence, this should be reflected in the application process. The fact of the matter however is that any conviction and sentence is always taken in to consideration at the moment. yes, if someone receives a 2 year prison sentence, suspended for 2 years, it's highly unlikely they would be successful in any application to own firearms until at least the period of time elapses (5 years) . This last point then is one that may end up being a point of administration rather than genuine use... but comments please.
In the meantime, it's worth pointing out that certificated firearms owners are among the most law abiding people. Any criminal record puts an applicant at a major disadvantage - and any history of violence, particularly recent violence makes it virtually impossible for an applicant. Sadly, Derek Bird, Hamilton and Michael Ryan have shown that lawfully authorised firearms owners do commit crimes, but any viewing of gun crime figures in the
I would put it to any absolute gun nut that gun crime would be as high today without tighter restrictions - and so for me, I don't follow the argument that banning certain firearms in the
has caused higher gun crime...
but the figures seem to show that gun crime has little or nothing to do with
legal gun ownership in the UK. UK
Example - in 2010, there were 3,105 firearms offences recorded involving the use of handguns which cannot be, and in these cases were not held by legal gun owners. This compares with 402 with the use of shotguns, 202 sawn off shotguns. This is not meant to be a pro gun ownership blog, but rather an accurate picture for readers. Don't believe me, check for yourself - the figures are all out there.