British police forces have been failing the public because they aren’t applying gun licensing laws consistently, according to a report from Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC). Yet police spin doctors convinced the media to blame the public for their failings.
HMIC’s decision to publicise its report into police firearms licensing departments by talking about “imminent gun massacres” has buried criticisms of the police in the media – and with it, potential to find a sensible consensus on new firearms licensing laws.
The top lines from the original press release that resonated the most with the press are the hysterics about “future” gun massacres and the bizarre, misleading assertions that licensed firearms owners in Britain are subject to less vetting than bus drivers, which the chief executive of the National Rifle Association (UK) described as “alarmist”.
These are clearly well-chosen lines from spin doctors who know how to catch the attention of the media and set the terms of the debate. Unfortunately, this scaremongering distracts the public from the very real police failings set out in the report, as well as HMIC’s very concerning demands that safeguards for licensed firearms owners are weakened – and their implicit assertion that police licensing departments don’t understand their own powers.
HMIC said: “It would appear that the police require the consent of the householder to enter the premises, even where they have intelligence that there may be a concern about the security of a firearm.”
This is nonsense. Police employees who want to raid a British gun owner’s home already have the power to do so under section 46 of the Firearms Act 1968. That is vitally important because it states police must get a warrant from a judge to burst into your home at the crack of dawn and take your guns away.
So why would the police lie about this? After all, it is a criminal offence not to comply with the automatically-imposed firearm and shotgun certificate condition which states guns must be stored securely. If you’re not storing your guns securely, that’s grounds for the police to get a section 46 warrant and enforce the law. Simple, no?
The wider context is that the police have been lobbying since last year for new powers to forcibly enter your home without having to justify themselves: a dangerous overreach of the state’s powers. Evidently they see accountability as something the public must demonstrate to them and not the other way round, as democratic societies work.
Worryingly, the police also want to end doctor-patient confidentiality, which is where the apples-and-oranges comparison between bus drivers and licensed firearms owners comes in.
“The Home Office should ensure that licensing does not take place without a current medical report from the applicant’s GP,” said HMIC. Their detailed plan is for no firearm or shotgun certificate to be issued without the applicant paying for a doctor’s report which will amount to the doctor saying “I certify this person is not insane”.
No sensible medic is going to take that risk, meaning such reports won’t be issued, and so the number of gun owners will fall, which is the police’s real aim here. The current system, where doctors only contact police where mental health concerns exist, is broadly fit for purpose but does need some improvement.
If you read the full report, the reason the police are furiously shouting about massacres and imagined threats becomes clear: HMIC tore into police firearms licensing departments over their failures and inefficiency. The inspectors write, incredulously, how police forces “colluded in breaking the law” by telling gun owners with expired certificates to keep hold of their guns while their renewals were processed. Essex Police is so ineffective that it cannot issue a firearm certificate in less than 5 months; Herts Police does it in about 4 weeks.
All in all, the police have played dirty by convincing ignorant British media outlets that a problem exists with registered and vetted members of the licensed firearms community, and not with the police’s documented failures.
Instead of describing us as a “threat”, or capturing regulators and using them as lobbyists on their behalf, the police need to concentrate on cleaning up their act and getting it right for the general public and the shooting community alike.