Firearms licensing regulations in Scotland – Report Summary

This is a House of Commons Committee report, with recommendations to government. The Government has two months to respond.

Author: Scottish Affairs Committee

Related inquiry: Firearms licensing regulations in Scotland

Date Published: 22 December 2022

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Summary

We were shocked and saddened to hear about the incident on the Isle of Skye involving a licensed firearm, which led to the death of John McKinnon. This incident prompted widespread media attention and led the Member of Parliament for Ross, Skye and Lochaber, Ian Blackford MP, to call for a review of firearms licensing regulations, and we launched our inquiry in September 2022.

Our first recommendation centred on the cost of firearms licences. We recommended that the UK Government put in place a two-tier system of firearms licence costs. Individuals who use firearms for leisure would pay the full cost of their licence applications, with no immediate financial cost to police forces or the taxpayer, while the second tier would apply to those who use firearms for work purposes.

Further recommendations centred around reviewing the processes for how people can raise concerns about people who own, or are applying to own firearms (for example, if that person develops mental ill health). We recommended that the UK Government review the process by which applicants gather character references for firearms licences - focussing on addressing applicants canvassing for positive references, applicants putting pressure on people to give positive references, and how police ought to react when people change referees between application and renewal, and between subsequent renewals. When approaching people for references, we recommended that applicants give their applicaton reference number to potential referees, so that these potential referees can raise concerns with the police more easily. We recommended that police involve applicants’ conjugal partners more closely in the licensing process.

We recommended that the UK Government conduct a review investigating the merits of creating a new service within the 101 service, which could direct callers towards call-handlers with firearms expertise (in the same way as the lifeboat and mountain rescue services are reached via the 999 emergency control centre). This review could include a survey of the public’s understanding of how to contact the police through existing channels like the 101 service, and could look into how to better advertise these existing channels.

Different parties told us variously that the period between renewal of firearms licences, and between initial application and first renewal, should be shorter or longer. We recommended that the current renewal period of five years remain in place for the time being - but that the renewal period should be kept under review.

Many parties told us that there is no good reason for which requirements for shotgun licences are different from requirements for firearms and air weapon licences. Therefore, we recommended that the UK Government make the legislation related to shotgun licences consistent with legislation related to firearms and air weapon licences.

We gave a number of recommendations concerning medical assessments for the firearms licensing process. We recommended that the UK and Scottish Governments review the system by which GPs flag that a patient is a firearms owner, to alert clinicians in case that patient develops mental ill health. This review could address issues including communication between medical practitioners and the police, and problems which arise when firearms owners move medical practices. As GPs can object conscientiously to giving medical reports (crucial to the firearms licence application process), we recommended that the UK Government consult GPs on whether GPs’ engagement with the firearms licensing process should be made mandatory. If this consultation concludes that GPs’ engagement should not be mandatory, we recommended that the UK Government strongly emphasise the expectation that GPs who conscientiously object should pass patients requiring medical assessments as part of the firearms licensing process to another GP in the same practice.

Currently, no medical checks are conducted between initial application and renewal. For this reason, we recommended that the UK Government and Scottish Government review the merits of medical practitioners and police conducting interim checks on firearms licence holders, in order to pick up changes in firearms owners’ mental health more easily. To help firearms owners to seek help for mental health conditions for themselves and be supported to receive the right support, we further recommended that the UK Government support the development of buddy initiatives within shooting organisations so that their members can speak with others about their mental health, and support shooting organisations to provide their members with resources about sources of help (building on existing leafletting campaigns about mental health). Because people who own firearms are likely to live in rural communities, we recommended that the UK Government and Scottish Government work together either to put mental health resources like counselling in place in remote rural communities, or to ensure that mental health resources can be easily accessed in such communities.