On 12 August in Plymouth, Jake Davison shot and killed five people, wounded two others, and took his own life. In the debate on 18 August on these tragic events the Home Secretary announced that she had written to every police force in England, Wales, and Scotland asking them to review their firearms licensing processes. In particular, police forces were asked to review the processes followed for returning a firearms certificate, ensuring they are appropriate as set against the non-statutory Home Office guidance and firearms legislation, which asks Chief Officers to ensure high-risk decisions are approved at a sufficiently senior level.
While Devon and Cornwall’s compliance with firearms licensing guidance is currently subject to both an independent peer review and a review by the Independent Office for Police Conduct, all other police forces confirmed that their procedures were in line with Home Office guidance. In addition, all police forces in England, Wales and Scotland provided data in relation to firearms and shotgun licensing decisions over the last 12 months.
Collectively, a total of 6,434 firearms and shotgun licences were surrendered, seized, revoked or refused over the previous 12-month period across England, Wales and Scotland. Of these, a total of 908 licences were subsequently returned or issued following further checks or appeals decided by the courts. Further details are set out in the table below. Returns were also scrutinised by the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) firearms licensing lead.
Number of certificates
Number of which subsequently returned
Source: Data submitted by 43 England and Wales police forces and Police Scotland
Notes: Some police forces were unable to report separately on numbers of seizures and surrenders and grouped these categories together. Where this happened, the figures have been recorded in the category in which they were reported.
As a result of this review of returned licences, in eight cases the original decision was overturned and licences have been re-surrendered or revoked.
The findings set out above provide reassurance that the police have in place robust processes for issuing and reviewing firearms and shotgun licences.
The new Statutory Guidance to Chief Officers of Police on firearms licensing, which was published on 20 October and comes in to force today, will help to further enhance safety checks and ensure greater consistency in licensing decisions taken by police forces.
The guidance has been developed following extensive consultation with, and cooperation from, the British Medical Association (BMA) and the police, and both the BMA and NPCC have welcomed the new guidance.
The Statutory Guidance makes it a requirement for information to be provided to the police about any relevant medical conditions, including mental health conditions. It also makes explicit that firearms’ applicants may be subject to open source social media checks as part of the licensing process, as well as interviews with associates, and checking to see if they have any previous record of domestic violence. The police will have a legal duty to have regard to the new statutory guidance.
Ensuring that public safety is prioritised remains foremost in our approach to the processes for considering applications for legitimate firearms possession. The Statutory Guidance, and its implementation, will be kept under close review and further updated as necessary, including in the light of any lessons or recommendations arising from ongoing reviews of the terrible events in Plymouth.
This statement has also been made in the House of Lords