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Police to check medical and social media history before issuing gun licences

·3-min read
<span>Photograph: Ben Birchall/PA</span>
Photograph: Ben Birchall/PA

Police will have to check someone’s medical history before giving them a firearms licence and should also scour their social media history, under new rules issued by government after the Plymouth gun attack.

Jake Davison shot dead five people before killing himself after the attack in August.

He discussed his mental health online and his social media showed misogynistic views. He also described himself as an involuntary celibate, or “incel”.

The new statutory guidance will mean doctors agreeing to pass on health concerns to police before a licence is issued, when it is renewed five years later, and to flag any concerns that emerge in between that may represent a threat to public safety.

Those applying for a licence will have to agree to their confidential information being shared as a condition of getting permission to hold a firearm.

The statutory guidance comes from the Home Office, and police will be expected to follow it. They will also be asked to check any history of domestic violence and financial worries.

There has been a longstanding reluctance by doctors to hand over confidential medical information about patients for fear it would deter them from seeking help. Talks after the massacre have led to an agreement between the government, doctors and police.

Davison, 22, shot dead his mother, a three-year-old girl and three other people on 12 August. He used a gun he had held a licence for since 2017. It was taken away after he got into a fight in September 2020, only to be returned by police weeks before the killings.

It emerged that he had engaged with extremist ideology including the incel movement. The renewed focus on gun laws unearthed concerns about the checks police carried out and inconsistencies between forces.

Some forces would check social media histories of applicants while others would not.

A Home Office spokesperson said that members of the public could also trigger a review of someone who had a firearms licence if they had concerns.

Priti Patel, the home secretary, said: “The UK has some of the toughest firearms laws in world, but we must never become complacent about these high standards.

“This new guidance prioritises public safety above all else and we have taken considerable care to ensure it is comprehensive and enforceable, having worked closely with the medical, policing and shooting sectors.”

Dr Mark Sanford-Wood, of the British Medical Association, said: “Firearms must be in the hands of only those who are deemed safe and responsible.

“This guidance states that doctors are responsible for providing medical evidence, with the police force making the final judgment 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.”

Existing checks will ontinue to be carried out, including on criminal convictions, domestic turmoil, dishonesty or out-of-control debt.

The Home Office on Wednesday also announced new police powers against unauthorised encampments, which is being widely seen as a crackdown on Traveller communities.

Those committing intentional trespass and occupying land that, for instance, stops local residents using school sports fields, parks and car parks, will commit a criminal offence if they refuse to move when ordered to do so. An offence, says new guidance, is committed if “the environment is damaged, including excessive littering, fly tipping, excessive noise and smells from waste or smoke due to bonfires”.

The guidance says: “The unauthorised encampments provisions do not seek to lead to action against rough sleepers, nor to those looking to access the countryside for leisure, such as ramblers and other groups, providing they do not meet the conditions for the offence.”

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