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Depression: what it means for gun owners

What is the law on mental health and firearms licensing? Bill Harriman explains

in field with gundogs

Laurence Catlow has made a joyful return to shooting after suffering from a crippling bout of depression

Anybody can suffer from depression. It is an illness that does not discriminate. Anyone who thinks they are suffering should seek professional help as depression can often be treated by a sympathetic and well-informed GP.

Depression and gun ownership

There is no statutory duty to notify the police that you are suffering from depression during the life of a certificate. However, on renewal of your certificate, you must answer the box relating to your mental health history truthfully. If you do not, you commit a criminal offence.

Your personal well-being comes way before any pastime such as shooting, no matter how much it may mean to you. Discuss the matter with your GP and plan how you intend to tackle the depression. When a certificate is issued, the police inform your GP of that fact. Consequently, the GP will know that you have access to firearms. That is why it is vital to talk the matter through. It is always preferable that you act responsibly and if your condition is very bad, give your guns and certificate to a friend to look after until your condition improves sufficiently for you to have them back. Taking that decision is extremely hard but it is better that you do it than have someone else take it for you. If the matter should come to court, it will stand you in good stead and will carry a lot of weight with the judge.

in field with gundogs

Beating the black dog

You may remember me, or rather you may dimly recall the monthly pieces that I wrote for Shooting Times, about fishing (occasionally) and shooting…

A doctor’s duty

It is possible that, having assessed your condition, your GP may decide it is his duty to tell the police. The Home Office Guide on Firearms Licensing Law recognises this: “10.30 There is no requirement for a GP to monitor or assess a patient who currently holds a firearm certificate, but there is a duty for a doctor to disclose information where they believe the patient may present a risk of death or serious harm to themselves or others.”

Once the police know that you are suffering from depression, they are bound to act. They will assess the situation and that is where a good GP’s report is worth its weight in gold. The licensing manager will want to ask the GP about your condition — prognosis, medication and what support you are getting from family and friends.

health and wellbeing shooting infographic

BASC’s infographic shows the benefits of shooting

How shooting contributes to well-being

It is always a good idea to let the GP know what shooting means to you and how it could contribute to your recovery by raising morale.

The BASC infographic shown here gives a good picture of what people get out of shooting and why they do it.

In assessing the case for a shotgun certificate, any licensing manager must apply the basic legal test of “Can this person be allowed to possess a shotgun without danger to the public safety or to the peace”? On the national risk- assessment matrix, someone with mild depression is considered a medium risk, while someone with serious depression is classed as a high risk. It is likely that, if you are classified as high risk, you will be asked voluntarily to give up your guns and certificates pending an investigation.

Not automatically barred

The Home Office recognises that depression is not an automatic bar to being granted a certificate and says so in its Guide: “12.29 The fact that a person has received treatment in the past for certain illnesses or conditions, such as depression or stress, does not make them automatically unsuitable to possess a firearm. It is one of the factors to be considered with all other evidence relating to the applicant’s character and history. In such cases, account should be taken of the latest medical opinion, and particular attention should be paid to whether this suggests if the condition is liable to recur.”

If you need support on mental health, contact MIND or the Samaritans. 

Seek professional help and be truthful about your condition. Admitting you suffer from it is the first stage in beating it.