It is easier to own a firearm than to become a bus driver in the UK, a shocking new report has revealed - as well as warning inadequate licensing laws could result in new gun massacres.
Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) has released a damning report on current firearms laws, which particularly highlighted weaknesses in assessing medical suitability.
It was also found that some gun owners were illegally allowed to keep using their weapons because of application backlogs.
In the case of new applicants it was also found that almost half of police forces in England and Wales had failed to contact references.
Checks on those who wish to own a gun are currently less stringent than for prospective bus drivers
HM Inspector of Constabulary Stephen Otter, who led the inspection, said forces are "sometimes inexcusably compromising public safety" by failing to follow government guidance.
He said: “Firearms licensing is not an area which police forces can afford to get wrong: public safety relies on it. Examples of good practice exist but these are the exception.
“We found that, too often, forces are not following the Home Office guidance that is in place, sometimes inexcusably compromising public safety.
“Lessons from past tragedies have not always been learnt and this fails the victims of those events, including their families, unacceptably. Unless things change, we run the risk of further tragedies occurring.
“Central to the improvement of the licensing process is the establishment of a set of clear rules, carrying the weight of the law, that chief constables should be obliged to follow. This must include applicants providing a report from their GP of their medical suitability – including their mental health – to hold a firearms licence.”
Checks for prospective bus drivers
- Medical examination by doctor (with standards prescribed by law)
- Vision test
- Checks for range of medical ailments
- Examination of history of psychiatric illness
- Criminal record check
Medical checks for prospective gun owers
- No examination required
- Applicant fills in form which requests medical history
- Police "typically check with the doctor if there is 'evidence of alcoholism, drug abuse or signs of personality disorder. Social services can also be asked for reasons to turn down an applicant.'”
- Criminal record check
One case highlighted was that of Harold Ambrose, a dementia sufferer who killed his wife Wendy with a licensed shotgun in May 2014, before taking his own life. Essex Police had not been informed of his condition by either his GP or his local health trust - although neither were required to do so.
In another case, an Iraq war veteran did not make police aware that he was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and anger management issues and so was given a firearms license in 2008. His shotgun certificate was also renewed in 2009.
His GP did not respond to a standard police request for information. The man’s guns were only taken away and certificate revoked after his his girlfriend reported to police her concerns that his behaviour was “jealous and controlling” and later that he had “mental issues” and that he had “threatened to harm himself” in late 2014.
He was eventually detained under the 2007 Mental Health Act and it later transpired that he had been receiving treatment by his GP for depressive illnesses since 2013 (at least) and had left military service in 2008 due to this condition.