Firearms Control - Home Affairs Committee Contents

Written evidence submitted by Ms Helen S

I am a normal, boring, female, middle-aged, middle-class physiotherapist in the Armed Forces. My days are spent helping recovery and rehabilitation, often of those who have been shot.  I understand the consequences of a bullet very thoroughly.

My career has obviously involved considerable gun use, through which I came to deer-stalking, clay, target and game shooting. I am not a red-neck, toff or nutcase (nor are most of those who I shoot with). I am CRB cleared, hold two levels of security vetting via various government agencies and am subject to regular, random compulsory drug-testing.

My firearms officer, however (and quite correctly) does not take this into more than passing consideration in his dealings with me - he checks, counter-checks, requires reasoning for continued holding of the weapons and has a thorough knowledge of me and indeed all those under his watch.

He is not bullish, but applies current legislation fairly and with common sense. He knows that if I sign someone's shotgun or firearm application, that I will have already tutored said person in safe gun-handling and would not be signing if I had reservations. Still, he carries out the checks as with anyone else. All this is exactly as it currently stands in law, is applied as best practice and is done with courtesy and good humour.

However, I am able to buy or construct other lethal weapons with no more than a few pounds in my bank account. A knife is available with no problems for nefarious purpose; I can purchase a car, drive like an idiot and barely be slapped on the wrist for killing someone; I can get drunk and start fights with lethal consequence. All of these happen regularly, cause multiple injuries and deaths, but do not spin as spectacularly, or fire the media's rockets as much as a rogue man with a gun.

Previous knee-jerk reaction to these awful shooting sprees has, unfortunately, not made a jot of difference to the number of weapons available for illegal use. Unfortunately, despite my firearms officer's excellence, all Forces are not equal in applying the current law. We saw recently in the South-east, for instance, the sentencing of three men who should not have been able to keep their licences following previous convictions.

On a separate but associated point, as a medical professional, I need to balance patient and wider safety against confidentiality on a daily basis. I recognise that my expertise, however, is in the musculoskeletal arena and confine my decisions to that. A GP's speciality is not mental health. To ask them to break patient confidentiality on a supposition is a dangerous precedent.

I probably would not go to my GP with problems if I thought there would be an effect on my firearms licences. If my job depended on it (farmers, gamekeepers etc) or it was my main social outlet, then I definitely would not risk seeing my GP—isolation and job difficulties not generally being recommended as a fix for mental health problems. I believe that a campaign to educate shooters and Police, that voluntary (and temporary) giving-up of weapons to a safe location via their firearms officer during a period of mental health problem, could ease anxiety and aid sensible self-monitoring.

Shooting is a wonderful community-oriented sport. It teaches youngsters (and the not so young who are late to it) respect, responsibility and the reality that when you shoot something it really dies: ingloriously, bloodily and without the replay/second life of a computer game.

Please consider the need, not for a change in legislation, but for a review of the way it is currently implemented, in order to standardise the best practice which I have experienced.

2 August 2010

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