All gun owners know that when we renew or apply for a shotgun or firearm certificate we must answer questions about our health.
We have to notify police of medical conditions relating to any drug and/or alcohol use, epilepsy, depression, disability as well as nervous or mental issues.
We also have to give police permission to contact our doctor if they feel it necessary.
So what happens if we tick one of the ‘yes’ boxes?
To find out I spoke to licensing managers Clive Williams of West Mercia, Dave Coutts from North Yorkshire, Peter Taylor of Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire and Ch. Supt Ann Wakefield of Hampshire.
Ms Wakefield’s advice is to err in favour of mentioning an illness rather than leave it off the form.
In her opinion the issue is not so much the illness as the effect it has on a person and the way they might handle a gun.
Her constabulary’s view is that those who actively seek help to manage their condition should be supported.
And Dave Coutts says that if a disease is likely to prove terminal it helps to know as it makes it easier to deal with the disposal of guns when the owner dies.
All agree that ticking a ‘yes’ box WILL lead to a letter being written to the GP seeking more information.
If the doctor’s report shows the applicant is taking the correct medication and that there are no serious issues then a certificate would be granted or renewed.
Cases of doubt are referred to the force medical officer for further advice. If a medical issue has been declared it is followed up, but how this happens varies.
West Mercia, Hampshire and North Yorkshire check with the GP at renewal to ensure the treatment regime is being followed.
However, North Yorks also continuously monitor medical conditions at intervals of anything between six and 18 months.
The aim of licensing departments is to manage a certificate in the interests of the holder.
Revocation or refusal is not automatic and monitoring is preferred.
All are more concerned by an applicant who doesn’t recognise a problem than someone who does.
Depression is not an automatic bar to getting a certificate.
Clive explained that people may not be suffering clinical depression but often go to a GP for anti depressants if they’re feeling a little down.
Distinguishing between the two can be difficult but Clive says GP reports are usually quite clear on the matter.
One of the things he looks for, especially with diabetes, is that the applicant has the self discipline needed to follow prescribed treatment to control the condition.
Failure to follow doctor’s orders would lead to questions about your suitability to hold a certificate.
The police are supposed to pay fees charged by a GP for supplying medical information but Peter Taylor says his budget no longer extends to funding this.
Instead applicants are issued with letters to give to their GP and the applicant is then expected to pay any cost incurred.
If you are told to do this by your own constabulary politely REFUSE and tell them to make the approach themselves, and pay the bill.
Under no circumstances pick up the tab and ALWAYS write and complain to the Chief Constable if the licensing department tells you to cough up.
ACPO encourages forces to contact GPs whenever one of their patients is granted a certificate, although not all do.
The British Medical Association seems ambivalent on the issue, but the main shooting organisations are opposed and there are data protection issues involved here too.
Significantly there’s nothing to indicate in the Hamilton, Bird and Atherton shootings that medical information would have prevented any of the deaths.
Worryingly you may not be told the police have written to tell your GP about your certificate.
Seven of the eight GPs at my practice won’t sign certificate applications and four won’t sign fit-to-box certificates.
I can only conclude that the seven disapprove of private gun ownership.
GPs now hold budgets and I wouldn’t wish to be discriminated against when NHS resources are scarce.
If you have a similar concern you should write to the licensing manager and make clear they do NOT have your authority to tell your GP you own a gun, asking for confirmation they have not done so.
DID YOU KNOW?
The British Association for Shooting and Conservation received 221 queries or complaints from members about police and medical matters last year?
However, according to Mike Eveleigh of BASC many more members are reluctant to approach their GPs if the police have told them you own guns.
Mike says this is leading to a breakdown in trust between doctor and patient.
In addition a patient’s notes are also seen by other surgery staff.
It’s undesirable that the identity of certificate holders should be widely known.
If your GP has been informed you should write and require him to give you details of all communications with the police.
Shotgun licence renewal