In Brief

Gun tragedy in UK 'highly likely' without firearms licence reform

Lessons not always learned from attacks such as the Derrick Bird shootings, says police watchdog

Another firearms tragedy in the UK is "highly likely" if lessons from past gun attacks continue to be ignored, the police watchdog has warned.

Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) has found that "too often" police forces in England and Wales are "inexcusably compromising public safety" by inconsistently following Home Office guidance on firearms licensing.

It found that lessons "have not always been learnt" from past tragedies, such as the 2010 Cumbria shootings, in which taxi driver Derrick Bird shot dead 12 people and injured 11 more.

Following the attack, a report by police chiefs recommended that the Home Office guidance was backed up by legislation so that failure to comply would constitute an offence. But the proposal was never implemented.

In a report published today, HMIC said it was imperative to establish a "set of clear rules, carrying the weight of the law", including a stipulation that firearms licence applicants provide a report from their GP on their medical suitability and mental health. 

The watchdog pointed out that there are stricter medical tests to obtain a lorry or bus driving licence than for a firearms licence. It also called for "definitive guidance" on contacting an applicant's referees and on police obligations to visit prospective and current licence holders to inspect how their firearms and ammunition are stored.

"We cannot make our position any clearer: it is now for others to accept the need for change," concluded the report. "If they do, perhaps the life of the next victim of firearms misuse might be saved. What is highly likely is that, if change is not effected, there will be another tragedy."

Chief Constable Andy Marsh, the National Police Chiefs Council lead on firearms licensing, said the police service would play its part in addressing the issues raised, but also pointed out that there are more than 30 pieces of legislation governing firearms licensing. 

"This means that navigating these laws leave too much room for ambiguity and inconsistency," he said. Marsh has called for the legislation to be organised into one Act for a "much more consistent approach".

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