HMIC recommends wide changes to licensing process

Firearms

Police could be given unfettered access to gun owners’ houses if the recommendations of an independent police body are heeded. The report, which identifies police practices as “inexcusably compromising public safety”, recommends more powers for police conducting unannounced home visits, as well as mandatory GP checks for certificate holders.

Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) conducted the report, which gathers information from all 43 of England and Wales’ police forces and looks in detail at 11 representative forces. The report concludes that there are various problems with the licensing process and that examples of good practice “are the exception.”

The report showed that of the police forces analysed, many frequently failed to deal correctly with expired licences, to have effective monitoring and audit arrangements, had problems with poor record keeping and inaction, as well as insufficient resources, lengthy waiting times for applications and failure to contact certificate holders’ referees.

Some of the report’s findings and recommendations are likely to prove unpopular with the shooting community. The report highlights the importance of unannounced home visits, but criticises the fact that “the police require the consent of the householder to enter the premises, even where they have intelligence that there may be a concern about the security of a firearm.” It recommends that police are given greater powers so that they have “right of access to the firearm, ammunition and the site where they are stored.”

Another section recommends mandatory medical reports, “obtained and paid for by the applicant in advance of an application for the granting or renewal of a certificate.” The report also suggests a system in which “GPs are required, during the currency of a certificate, to notify the police of any changes to the medical circumstances (including mental health) of the certificate holder”, effectively by-passing doctor-patient confidentiality. Under the current system the police may contact the certificate holder’s GP, but the GP has no legal obligation to reply.

Gary Ashton, director of firearms operations at the British Association of Shooting and Conservation (BASC) commented on the medical recommendations, saying: “The report singularly fails to recognise the comprehensive nature of the work that has been underway with the Home Office for the past two and a half years to make the existing system of medical checks more dynamic. It is worrying that the report does not appear to understand the principles of modern risk management that underpin policing. This is a significant weakness within the report.”

BASC council member and barrister Peter Glenser called the report “a curate’s egg – good in parts.” He says, “It reports that improvements are needed to deal with inconsistencies, lack of common training, inefficiency and in effectiveness that were identified in some licensing teams in England and Wales. Unfortunately, it never identifies lack of service to the certificate holders who pay for the service as a problem.”

The full report can be read online.

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