The U.K.’s strict laws on gun ownership will be tightened further to protect the public, with additional safety checks introduced for those applying for a licence, the government confirmed on October 20.
Under the new rules for gun ownership, nobody will be given a firearms licence unless the police have reviewed information from a registered doctor setting out whether or not the applicant has any relevant medical history – including mental health, neurological conditions or substance abuse.
Comprehensive statutory guidance has been published by the Home Office which sets a clear framework for police to follow when considering applications. For the first time, police will be legally required to have regard to the guidance, to help improve standards and consistency across forces in the U.K.
Following the shocking shooting in Plymouth, southwest England, where five people were killed on August 12, the Home Secretary made clear that gun ownership would be kept under close review, and guidance would be updated with any further lessons learned from the ongoing inquiries into these murders.
From November 1, individuals will be required to provide a medical pro forma alongside their application, filled out and signed by a registered doctor. The doctor providing the medical information must be registered with the General Medical Council and have a licence to practise.
The new guidance has been developed following extensive cooperation with the British Medical Association (BMA), as well as policing partners and shooting representatives, and incorporates lessons learned from previous shooting incidents.
Dr Mark Sanford-Wood, deputy chair of BMA GP committee England said that doctors support the government’s overall message – that gun ownership is a privilege and not a right – and that firearms must be in the hands of only those who are deemed safe and responsible.
“We have been emphatic throughout the consultation period that clarity was needed over where responsibility for licensing and safety lay and this has now been settled, with the BMA’s points taken fully into consideration. As we requested, this guidance states that doctors are responsible for providing medical evidence with the police force making the final judgement on the issuing of the firearms licence. Our close collaborative working with the National Police Chiefs’ Council has resulted in unilateral agreement on this point.”
The statutory guidance also sets out other areas the police should review before granting a licence – including examining an applicant’s social media, financial history, interviewing associates, or checking with domestic violence or public protection units. The importance of this is stressed in cases where the police consider that more evidence is needed before authorizing a licence.
Background checks which can be conducted by the police are already extensive, spanning everything from criminal convictions and previous run-ins with the law, to evidence of domestic turmoil, unmanaged debt or even dishonesty.
Existing laws also require a home visit by the police for first-time applicants, to ensure they have utmost confidence in an individual’s suitability to own a gun with no risk to the public. In addition, two credible referees for a firearm and one for a shotgun must be provided before a licence can be issued.
National Police Chiefs’ Council lead for firearms licensing, Chief Constable Debbie Tedds, said the need for medical records to be viewed by officers carrying out the licensing check is something policing has been encouraging for many years.