‘Broken’ gun licensing system risks another Plymouth, campaigners warn | Gun crime

Home Secretary Priti Patel is facing calls to overhaul gun licensing laws as campaigners warn a ‘broken’ system is needlessly putting lives at risk.

Patel last week agreed to meet with residents of Plymouth over gun control after Jake Davison, 22, a licensed gun owner, killed his mother and four bystanders, including Sophie Martyn, three years, during an attack in the city last August.

Luke Pollard, the Labor MP for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport, said: “The gun control system is broken and needs reform. What we went through was so horrific and horrifying that we need to take action to figure out how to prevent it from happening again in the future.

Britain has some of the strictest gun control laws in the world due to restrictions imposed after the killing of 16 people in Hungerford in August 1987 and the killing of 16 children and their teacher at primary school of Dunblane in March 1996. Handguns are now banned in Britain in most cases. There are, however, concerns about the licensing regime overseen by the police force. Gun control activists and shooting groups agree that the system is severely under-resourced.

An expert from the British Association for Shooting and Conservation (BASC) has warned the regime is ‘on the verge of collapse’ and it is likely some guns are now held illegally due to delays in license renewals after the Plymouth shooting.

Gun control activists want major reforms to prevent further tragedies. Gill Marshall-Andrews, of the Gun Control Network, a non-profit organization set up after the Dunblane tragedy, said: ‘The problem with gun licensing is that it is grotesquely underfunded and the systems are not properly integrated to flag potential issues.

“The system has clearly failed. We have a very low level of firearm homicides in this country, but if there was a better licensing system and stronger police, we wouldn’t have had some of these tragedies.

The network wants an increase in license fees to cover the total cost of monitoring the system; a national firearms hotline for those wishing to register concerns about a firearm; and mandatory notification to partners and ex-partners of an applicant.

Police forces are responsible for issuing shotgun certificates, which cost £79.50, and firearms certificates, which cost £88 and are mainly for rifles. As of March 31 last year, there were 1,379,399 certified shotguns and 617,171 certified firearms and suppressors, which reduce the sound or flash of a weapon, in England and Wales .

Bill Harriman, BASC’s director of firearms, agreed more resources were urgently needed and said the licensing system was “chaotic”. The association urges police chiefs to “pull themselves together”.

A vigil for the victims of the mass shooting in Plymouth in which Jake Davison killed his mother and four bystanders. Photograph: Ben Birchall/PA

He said: ‘We fear gun licensing is on the verge of collapse. There is a lack of trained personnel, a lack of resources and a lack of consistency in the way the program is administered by the various police authorities.

“Timelines for renewing a firearms certificate can be two or three months and if the certificate expires, those guns are being held illegally.” He said he was very concerned that some weapons were now held illegally due to recent delays.

A 2015 report by the Inspectorate of Constabulary and Her Majesty’s Fire and Rescue Services titled Targeting the Risk warned of the danger of tragedies due to “fundamental flaws” in licensing in England and the UK. Wales. He recommended a package of reforms including statutory guidelines for police forces and independent review of decisions.

The authors of the report were pessimistic about the implementation of one of the recommendations. They warned: “What is very likely is that if the change is not made, there will be another tragedy.” Last August, when Davison lashed out, the report’s key recommendation for statutory national gun licensing guidelines was still not in place.

It emerged after the fatal shooting that Davison’s shotgun and certificate were seized by police in December 2020 after he allegedly assaulted two youths in a city park. The gun and certificate were returned to him the month before the murders after he reportedly completed an anger management course.

Police also failed to check his social media accounts, which would have revealed his misogynistic and homophobic views and his presence on online forums for “incels” (men describing themselves as “involuntary celibates”). He compared himself in a YouTube video to the cyborg killer played by Arnold Schwarzenegger in the terminator movies.

The Devon and Cornwall Police Firearms Licensing Department, which was responsible for granting the shotgun certificate to Davison, is being investigated by the Independent Office for the Conduct of police. Three employees have received disciplinary notices warning them that their conduct is being reviewed. Investigations into those killed by Davison were officially opened last August.

New legal licensing guidelines came into effect last November, but campaigners want a thorough review of practices and broader reforms. Plymouth residents also want an overhaul of rules that allow pump-action shotguns, the type of weapon Davison owned, to be kept in residential areas.

The Home Office said: “Following the tragic incident in Plymouth, the Home Secretary has asked all police forces to urgently review their firearms licensing practices. Feedback reassured that the police have robust processes in place for issuing and reviewing firearms and shotgun licenses.We have made it clear that we will be updating legislative guidance on licensing ‘firearms if any lessons are learned from this case. But the UK has some of the strictest firearms laws in the world and although we are not happy with those high standards, fortunately such incidents are rare.

“Firearms licensing is an operational issue for individual police forces. Some firearms certificate applications are inevitably affected by the Covid-19 pandemic, but normal procedures are maintained where possible.

The National Police Chiefs Council said: ‘Police take the issue of firearms licensing extremely seriously. Individual forces are responsible for issuing firearms certificates and will only do so after their application has been assessed by a dedicated team of experts, a rigorous background check process is completed and the individual meets the criteria set out in the national legislation of the Ministry of the Interior. ”

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