Firearms Control - Home Affairs Committee Contents

Written evidence submitted by Dr Ron C

1.  My personal experience of the shooting sports began at age 12 shooting vermin with my birthday present, a .410 shotgun, and progressed to a combination of rough and game shooting over farm land until age 40. Through the Scouts Association, I was introduced to the disciplines of small-bore target rifle shooting from age 15, and became a Rifle Club official by age 17, representing my County by age 19. I held a shotgun Certificate from 1968 until the mid 1990's, and continue to hold a Firearm Certificate for three Target rifles with which I compete regularly at Club, County, National and International level shooting on approved ranges including Bisley at up to 300 metres. I have now been an active shooter for over 45 years.

2.  My shooting experiences from an early age have benefited me enormously by the character-forming nature of the sport in establishing self-control, precision, safe and disciplined behaviour particularly in association with a wide range of people from many cultures and backgrounds. The notion of service to others and successful team-working grew from some of my shooting experiences, and has been valuable in my professional career as a General Medical Practitioner. I have always found shooting (even badly!) extremely valuable as a way of managing the considerable stresses of a busy medical career, and I'm undoubtedly a better Doctor for being an active shooter. I would comment that Doctors generally are MUCH more dangerous to the public than ANY form of shooter despite the principle that the doctor must first do no harm.

3.  Evidence-based legislation on the TRUE dangers to the public from legally held fire-arms should be your aspiration, given the understandably emotive but wholly unfair knee-jerk populist political responses to past shooting tragedies demonising the "man-killing guns" rather than the murderous and deranged intent of the perpetrators. Many shooters would agree that licensing the person, not the hardware, makes perfect sense, given that safety and competence in handling and using firearms is best judged within the shooting organisations that have very well established training and coaching standards perfectly capable of appraising individual's attitudes and approach to shooting within the controlled environments of approved ranges. This entirely allows for the graduated accumulation of gun-handling skills and competencies in an analogous way to drivers or pilots being licensed for increasingly heavy responsibilities in controlling safely larger or faster vehicles. This need NOT exclude game shooters, given that the landowner granting permission to shoot over his land MUST also be responsible for ensuring that "safe shooters" only are given that right. Time-limiting licensing dependent on regular reviews would mean no more than a golfer maintaining his handicap certificate by submitting "medal" scores.

4.  Gun safety and mental illness: The concept of screening for mental health problems as part of the application or renewal of a firearm/shotgun certificate is nonsensical on several grounds.

1.  There is no form of screening test capable of detecting future murderous intent or behaviour. GPs deal with 98% of ALL mental illness presenting for advice and treatment without specialist involvement, and I estimate 30-40% of ALL adult personal medical records will have reference to some degree of mental/psychological illness and symptoms. GPs as generalists are certainly NOT qualified simply by their personal knowledge of the individual to make such a judgement, as graphically demonstrated by the case of Dr. Shipman, who had no difficulty in demonstrating what a competent and caring Doctor he was to his colleagues on many years. In practical terms, the 2004 GP contract has removed the registration of patients from the individual GP to the GP practice, and has now extended access to GPs through Darzi-style practices and Walk-in centres. In other words, a psychotic shooter would have little difficulty by changing practices to find a GP to confirm no history of mental instability. This is analogous to Thomas Hamilton in Dunblane having a local magistrate/person of good standing in all good faith counter-signing his FAC renewal.

2.  The majority of GPs reflect the views of the public in being "gun averse", judging that the participant in shooting sports is inherently dangerous in some way, particularly those shooting live game/vermin. My colleagues would largely refuse to accept responsibility to "allow" private gun ownership.

3.  Recording FAC/Shotgun Certificate Holders: The proposed NHS It system to allow access to medical records to "authorised" users across the NHS means that the personal control of confidential medical data held is potentially opened up to one million NHS employees, and despite the assurances given by many "experts" on IT and encryption remains inherently unsafe simply because patient consent to release information to third parties is assumed, and NOT required on a case by case basis; nor is it conditional consent. Both the state and any criminal hacker could search records for a particularly coding, and for example generate a list of FAC certificate holders + addresses with predictable implications.

4.  Probationary membership of shooting organisations and regular re-appraisal of all shooters safety awareness and social attitudes to their shooting are far more sensitive indicators of POTENTIAL dangers to the public at large. Both Thomas Hamilton and Michael Ryan were picked up by shooting club officials are raising cause for concern well before their criminal behaviour. In my 40+ yrs. of shooting, I have twice only had to advise fellow shooters that they were no longer safe to shoot, in both cases because of advancing dementia over the age of 70. I have personal knowledge of only 1 case of a shooter behaving in a persistently dangerous manner towards other people whilst engaged in shooting sports activities: fellow shooters reported this behaviour to police, but had to undertake a successful private prosecution for assault before the individual's fire-arms were impounded. He also had demonstrated a pattern of worsening behaviour picked up and reported by his club for some-time before the proven assault. The key message is that those who know you well are best able to anticipate behavioural crisis.

My apologies for the length and detail of this submission, but as a fairly unique shooting GP, with long experience as both a shooting official and medical adviser to the NSRA, I hope my contribution may be of value in shaping sensible and evidence-based legislation on private firearm usage and ownership.

28 September 2010

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