Wiltshire Police have been instrumental in the introduction of a new national system for granting firearms certificates.
A safer system for firearms licensing has been introduced in England and Wales to improve information sharing between GPs and police to reduce the risk that a medically unfit person may be able to possess a firearm or shotgun.
From 1 April 2016 GPs have been asked to contact the police if they have any concerns over a patient’s suitability to hold a firearms certificate.
This is the process so far:
The firearm applicant is required to declare any relevant medical conditions on the firearm or shotgun application form. They then send the application to the police.
Having carried out the necessary checks, which will in some cases include visiting and interviewing the applicant, the police decide whether to approve or refuse the firearm or shotgun application. In coming to their decision they take into account all the facts of the case and the evidence before them, including medical information.
After the firearms certificate has been granted the police will contact each certificate holder’s GP to ask them to place a marker on the patient’s records; the GP will then know the person is a gun owner, and they can inform police if the patient’s health deteriorates after the firearm certificate is issued.
From 1 April 2016, the following now takes place, in addition to the above:
Where as before, it was up to the GP whether or not to place a marker on the patient’s records, from 1 April 2016 the GP is asked to do this by police.
Since 2013, Wiltshire Police were the only Force in the South West, and one of the few in the country, to take part in a pilot scheme, to test out this system before it was rolled out on 1 April 2016.
It was our Force’s input, working alongside our colleagues at the NHS Wiltshire Clinical Commission Group, which helped the Home Office reach its decision to introduce this new system.
It was also developed following recommendations for change from coroners and the IPCC, and after the British Medical Association voiced concerns about weaknesses in the current process.
The following list of conditions (not exhaustive) could affect a person’s suitability to possess a firearm or shotgun:
• Acute Stress Reaction or an acute reaction to the stress caused by a trauma
• Suicidal thoughts or self harm
• Depression or anxiety
• Mania, bipolar disorder or a psychotic illness
• A personality disorder
• A neurological condition: for example, Multiple Sclerosis, Parkinson’s or Huntington’s diseases, or epilepsy
• Alcohol or drug abuse
• Any other mental or physical condition which may affect the safe possession of firearms
Mary Kerr, manager of Wiltshire Police’s Firearms Licencing Department, said: “Any firearms certificate holder who has a mental or physical health problem, deemed serious enough, would be prevented from harming themselves or others by having their firearms certificate and weapon(s) removed.
“This new system won’t legislate for every situation – but will help towards preventing a possible tragic situation from happening.
“If just one GP can supply information to the police to stop a person, believed to be medically unfit, from holding a firearms certificate – which in turn might prevent a tragedy happening in the future, then the hard work to push this new system through has been worth it.”
Dr Peter Jenkins, Chair of Wiltshire Clinical Commissioning Group and member of Wiltshire’s Domestic Homicide Review Panel and Home Office Firearms Licencing Working Group, said: “It is so important to ensure that people who hold gun licences in the UK are suitable to hold such a licence and remain so for as long as they hold their licence.
“I’m pleased to see that the recommendations from the Wiltshire Domestic Homicide Review Panel have been implemented by the Home Office and welcome the changes.”
“By working collaboratively, we have been successful in instigating a change that will help to ensure people continue to remain safe.”
Wiltshire Police Chief Constable Mike Veale said: “I not only welcome this new system, but I am extremely proud of Wiltshire’s role in making sure this important legislation has become a reality.
“Anything the police can do to improve firearms safety, and ultimately prevent serious injuries or deaths, has to be a good thing and I believe the new system will do just that.
“I would like to commend all Wiltshire Police staff and officers who were involved in the pilot scheme, as well as our partners at the NHS Wiltshire Clinical Commissioning Group, for their hard work and dedication to this influential piece of work.”
The Home Office released the following statement regarding the new certification process: