Questions about gun licensing are being asked in the U.K. today after the country saw its worst mass shooting incident in over a decade.
Shortly after 6p.m. on Thursday, August 12, Devon and Cornwall Police were called to an incident in Plymouth, Devon. Firearms officers attended and found one woman, two men and a young girl deceased in the area. Another man, who later turned out to be the gunman, was also found dead. A further woman was found seriously injured and later died in hospital.
The gunman has been named as Jake Davison, 22, previously of Phoenix, Arizona (according to his Facebook profile) who had been living and working in the U.K. since at least August 2020. His first victim was his 51-year-old mother. He then went out into the street and fatally shot a father and three-year-old daughter, before traveling along the main road on foot where he continued to shoot randomly, killing and wounding others. It is believed he then took his own life. Investigations are ongoing.
Jake Davison was a licensed firearm holder, the circumstances of which will now be subject to full, independent investigation and scrutiny because the license and firearm had only recently been returned to him after both were confiscated following an accusation of assault. The U.K.’s Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) said he was stripped of his firearm and license in December 2020, and that these were returned to him last month. It has not yet been established whether the shotgun returned to Davison was the same firearm used in the shootings. Witnesses had described Davison using a “pump action shotgun”.
IOPC regional director David Ford said: “We can confirm that this morning we received a mandatory referral from Devon and Cornwall Police relating to yesterday’s tragic events in Plymouth in which six people lost their lives. Our thoughts remain with all of the many people who will be severely affected. The referral related to yesterday’s events as well as police contact with Jake Davison prior to the incident, including the force’s role and actions regarding firearms licensing.
“After assessment of the referral we have determined we will carry out an independent investigation focusing on Jake Davison’s firearms licensing history and its impact on the tragic events of Thursday 12 August. We will examine what police actions were taken and when, the rationale behind police decision-making, and whether relevant law, policy and procedures were followed concerning Mr Davison’s possession of a shotgun. The investigation will also consider whether the force had any information concerning Mr Davison’s mental health and if so, if this information was appropriately considered.
“It appears the force’s response to reports of the shootings was very prompt and having reviewed information currently available, we are not intending to investigate the Devon and Cornwall Police response to the shootings. This will be kept under review as more information emerges. However, the investigation will explore whether there was any causal link between the arrival of police and Mr Davison apparently shooting himself.”
On social media, Davison had once written about there being more guns in the U.K. and Europe than most people think. He also subscribed to several U.S. pro-gun YouTube channels, and the BBC has reported that he had written about mass shootings.
There were other warning signs. Davison had been posting misogynist content and referencing incels on social media – both on his own accounts and in groups. Incel (the involuntary celibate) extremists have created an online subcutlure where hostility and extreme resentment is expressed towards women, and to men who are sexually active. In one group, he had written about the hate he had for his mother. Elsewhere he had called her “vile, dysfunctional and chaotic”.
He also had a YouTube channel, which incel extremists flocked to after the shooting before it was removed. Some comments on Davison’s channel referred to him as a “new hero” and called him a “supreme gentleman”, which is a term that has been used by incel extremists to refer to Elliot Rodger who became a hero to them after the 2014 massacre in Isla Vista, California. Before the attack, Rodger posted a YouTube video explaining that he wanted to punish women for rejecting him, and sexually active men because he envied them. Like Davison, Rodger was 22 at the time of the attack.
Davison’s own YouTube videos showed him referring to himself as an incel and a virgin. His most recent videos showed him saying that he felt “beaten down and defeated”, complained about his weight and appearance, and referred again to the incel community. He then said he was a “terminator” in the last video he posted before the attack.
On top of this, several media reports say Davison had a long history of mental illness, although this has not yet been confirmed. Even without a medical diagnosis of mental illness, the picture is all too clear, as it has been in the aftermaths of other attacks around the world. Yes, with hindsight, we can say we saw it coming, but the sheer volume of online content makes it difficult, no, impossible, for law enforcement and tech companies to know what every citizen is posting at all times and to act on it in time. It is for this reason that the U.K. has a well-known and well-publicized campaign to encourage friends and family to report concerns regarding extreme behavior to police, before it is too late. Concerns can be shared in confidence to trained officers who will provide support and potentially save lives. Given that the U.K. already has relatively strict gun laws, it would not be inconceivable however for a more-in depth assessment to be made when an applicant applies for a gun license, and this could include an examination of their online history.