The way that GP's and the police share the medical details of firearms certificate holders has changed, which shooting groups believe will lead to an increase in public safety

A new “encoded reminder” system will make it easier for GPs to inform the police if they believe a firearms or shotgun certificate holder should not be in possession of a gun, following a change in legislation this month.

As of 1 April, the application and renewal forms for firearms and shotgun certificate holders in England, Scotland and Wales have changed and a permanent marker will be placed onto an applicant’s medical record. This allows GPs to raise any issues during the lifetime of the certificate rather than just upon application or renewal.

Applicants must declare medical conditions

The new system was developed after the British Medical Association voiced concerns about weaknesses in the process. As before, during the application for or renewal of a firearm or shotgun certificate, applicants are required to declare any relevant medical conditions on the application form, such as depression or dementia.

But now, if they declare such a condition, the police may ask them to pay for a medical report to assist with their consideration of medical suitability. Some applicants may be subject to a home visit if suitability cannot be assessed without a face-to-face interview.

When it is, police will ask GPs to place an encoded reminder on the patient’s records, which means the GP will know the patient is a gun owner and can inform the police licensing department if the patient has an existing condition of concern or if they begin receiving treatment for one after the certificate is granted. If this is the case, then the police will make a decision as to the ongoing suitability of that individual to possess a firearm.

BASC and the Countryside Alliance agree

Gary Ashton, BASC’s director of firearms operations, said: “BASC welcomes the commitment of the Home Office to the development of a sensible and pragmatic solution which will both mitigate the concerns expressed by the IPCC, coroners and medical profession and enhance public safety.”

Tim Bonner, chief executive of the Countryside Alliance, agreed: “We have been searching for an improvement to the system that would have minimal impact on the majority of certificate holders,
but help to prevent those rare occurrences when [there has been] a failure to detect health concerns. We hope that this process of continuous monitoring can pave the way towards a longer certificate life, which will reduce the burden on police forces.”

man holding shotgun

BASC and the Countryside Alliance hope that encoded reminders are the first step towards the introduction of 10-year licences

Opponents of the new legislation believe there is a potential security risk in details of gun ownership being stored in medical records. Chief Constable Andy Marsh, the National Police Chiefs’ Council lead on firearms licensing, admitted to Shooting Times in October that there was an “identifiable risk” of applicants being deterred from going to the doctor for fear of losing their certificate.

BASC, however, has been pushing for this system for some time, having fought for Essex Police to be allowed to run a pilot trial, and both it and the Countryside Alliance hope that encoded reminders are the first step towards the introduction of 10-year certificates. A BASC white paper published last year suggested that extending the duration of firearms and shotgun certificates would reduce the burden on overworked police firearms units, improving public safety and reducing the renewal cost for shooters.

However, an ongoing review of the EU Firearms Directive, recommending the restriction of firearms licences across Europe to five years, has cast doubts on whether 10-year licensing could be introduced in the UK. Furthermore, the upcoming EU referendum complicates the matter further, as a “Brexit” could conceivably keep the option on the table.