Should UK’s firearms laws be tightened further?

The Keyham shooting reopened the debate about whether Britain’s already strict firearms laws should be tightened further.

A series of horrifying mass shootings over the years – in particular in Hungerford in 1987, Dunblane in 1996, Cumbria in 2010 and Keyham in 2021 – have raised questions about whether enough is done to stop guns legally ending up in the hands of the wrong people.

Owners of shotguns and rifles must undergo background checks which are supposed to ensure they pose no threat to public safety.

People applying for permission to keep a gun must declare any criminal records and relevant medical conditions, including any previous treatment for depression or mental illness.

Police forces have powers to revoke firearms licences if officers receive information about new convictions or changes in the certificate-holder’s mental health.

Applicants wanting a Section 1 firearm, such as a rifle, must show “good reason” for owning the weapon, whereas shotgun applicants do not.

However, police can reject a shotgun application if the applicant does not have a “good reason” to own the weapon.

In recent years, further statutory guidance has been issued by the Home Office to toughen the application process.

In 2015, Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary warned the public was at risk from weaknesses in the vetting and monitoring of licence applicants and holders.

The report led to the introduction in 2016 of new information-sharing process between GPs and police to ensure license holders were medically fit but there was no obligation on the doctor to respond.

Doctors were told to keep a record of patients who own a gun – and to inform police if any of these people develop mental health problems such as depression.

Practices were supposed to have a reminder on the patient record so that the GP is aware the person is a firearm certificate holder.

In the case of Jake Davison, his GP declined to provide an opinion on his suitability to own a weapon as he was not qualified to comment on the “assessment of behavioural and personality disorders” and was following advice from the British Medical Association.

The doctor said they were never told that Davison had been awarded a certificate or that it was later seized with the weapon and placed under review, and subsequently returned.

In 2017, the Policing and Crime Act 2017 gave the Home Secretary power to issue statutory guidance on firearms licensing.

In 2019, a Home Office consultation document recommended police should consult an applicant’s GP on whether they had been treated for any medical condition which could affect their ability to possess a firearm safely but that was not introduced until after Keyham.

In addition, the Home Office announced doctors would be required to undertake medical checks on anyone applying for a firearms licence.

But others have suggested further changes were required.

Plymouth Sutton and Devonport MP Luke Pollard, who represents the area, is campaigning for a “Keyham’s law” which would ban pump-action shotguns from being kept in homes, linking firearm certificates and medical records together, and making violent misogyny a hate crime.

The families of Davison’s victims want shotgun legislation brought in line with Schedule 1 firearms.

“We now want seismic change and a complete overhaul of the firearms licensing system and legislation in England and Wales,” they said.

“The current system and any perceived changes since this attack does not reassure us. It should not reassure the public.

“During the next few weeks, we will be united in our commitment to making sure that fundamental changes are made to the way firearms are licenced in England and Wales.”