Call for mandatory medical report in firearm licensing

  • Date: 18 September 2015

FIREARM licences should not be granted to any applicant without a current medical report from a GP, according to a report by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC).

The report found that the current firearms licensing regime is "inconsistent and inadequate" and is putting the public at risk. It noted "fundamental flaws" in how police check the mental health of gun owners.

Currently police are not obliged to make contact with an applicant’s GP unless prompted to do so by the disclosure of a medical condition. Often police will write to the GP after the certificate is issued to enquire whether there is any medical reason why the applicant should not hold a certificate but the GP is not obliged to respond or even to note that a patient holds a firearms certificate in case of subsequent medical conditions.

The HMIC is recommending a mandatory system in which anyone applying for a gun licence is required to obtain a medical report from their GP. It is also calling for GPs to be required to record if their patients own gun licences and to tell police of any deterioration in mental health, such as the onset of dementia.

HMI Stephen Otter who led the inspection 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.

"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."

Responding to the report, BMA professional fees committee chair John Canning said: "The proposals for a pre-report from a GP on gun licensing reflects a position the BMA has been advocating for some time.

"It is encouraging that HMIC has accepted our advice. It is vital that doctors play a role in ensuring gun licences are issued safely.

"However, we do need to ensure that the practical implementation of the proposed system is effective, should it be taken forward, and does not unnecessarily increase workload for GPs at a time when many are struggling to cope with patient demand and falling resources."

Link: Targeting the risk: an inspection of the efficiency and effectiveness of firearms licensing in police forces in England and Wales

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