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Labour: gun applicants must “prove suitability”

Diana Johnson, shadow Home Office minister and MP for Hull North, has said that Labour is
proposing “the biggest change to firearms legislation since the handguns ban in 1998”. The comments have caused concern among shooters, especially as Ms Johnson had said, at the rural reception hosted by BASC at the Labour Conference: “Shooting and angling would be assured under a future Labour government.”

Commenting on Labour’s proposed amendments to the Anti-social Behaviour Crime and Policing Bill in Parliament last week, Ms Johnson said: “Reform of the gun-licensing regime is needed and needed now. We know that the vast majority of the shooting community are law-abiding citizens who are very careful about how they use their weapons. But it is becoming clear that the licensing system is not working as well as it should to serve licence-holders and protect the public.”

She mentioned the cases of Derek Bird and Michael Atherton to prove her point that “a robust licensing system is needed”, stating that, in the past six months, “nine people have died in incidents involving licensed guns”, but not saying whether those were crimes or not. She was also adamant that a fee rise was needed for shotgun and firearms certificates.

The statement that Shooting Times readers have expressed most concern over is “We also want to shift the onus on to the applicant to prove their suitability.” Shooting Times called Ms Johnson’s office and, although the shadow minister was not available for a quote by the time the October 23 issue went to press, Shooting Times will be given an interview in the near future.

Shooting Times spoke to Christopher Graffius from BASC on the subject. “BASC takes an all-party line and is careful not to be partisan when it comes to politics,” he said. “We have had two briefing meetings with Diana Johnson in recent months and we were encouraged to see those reflected in the supportive comments she made about shooting. There are issues about exactly what she means at some points in the debate and we encourage magazines such as Shooting Times to investigate these, as we will do ourselves. In the end, the important thing is that these amendments were defeated.”

The Countryside Alliance (CA) took a strong stance on Ms Johnson’s comments, saying that Labour’s suggestions were an “unwarranted attack on the shooting industry”. Campaigns director Tim Bonner said: “Of particular concern is the suggestion that more than 600,000 shotgun certificate holders should have to ‘prove their suitability’ to own a shotgun. Although Labour does not say how these assessments of fitness would be made, it can only be an unjustified burden on a law- abiding minority, and threaten the future of an industry that is worth £1.6billion a year and employs 60,000 people. The CA is not opposed to an increase in the licence fee, but it needs to be accompanied by a better service to those applying for a licence.”

Photo of Diana Johnson by Policy Exchange

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