BMA's comment on gun licensing

by BMA media team

Press release from the BMA

Location: England
Published: Friday 20 August 2021

Dr Mark Sanford-Wood, the BMA’s lead on shotgun and firearms licensing policy said:

“Doctors at the BMA have had and continue to have significant involvement in the development of Home Office guidance on firearms licensing because our priority is, first and foremost, public safety. Gun ownership is a privilege and not a right; firearms and shotguns must be in the hands of only the most safe and responsible people.

“The new statutory guidance needs to be published without further delay; it’s something the BMA is more than keen to see because, if correctly drafted and properly applied, it should support a system of firearms licensing that allows only the most suitable candidates to hold a licence and most importantly, help keep all of us safe.

“Many letters from firearms licensing officers to GPs ask the doctor to place a 'flag' in the patient record to identify the subject as the holder of a firearms licence. We support this in principle but as with the sharing of patient information, there are practical concerns that we have raised with the Home Office and which need the Department of Health and Social Care to resolve before the system is safe to use. For example, it isn’t clear under what circumstances that flag could be removed and there isn’t currently any reliable software to facilitate the surveillance and cross-referencing of flags with diagnoses of concern. The BMA has been working with NHS England and relevant IT systems suppliers to rectify this and provide further safeguards.

"The issues within the existing guidance are complex and whilst the Home Secretary, stated in her written statement that, 'It will mean that that no one is given a firearms licence unless their doctor has confirmed to the police whether or not they have any relevant medical conditions, including an assessment of their mental health,' we really need to see the detail behind that assertion. It’s a declaration full of promise and assurance but for it to be effective, doctors need to be involved in the mechanics for making it work in practice and for there to be an agreed standard process across England.

“But the guidance is not a cure all. We also need more resources to help all of those involved in deciding who does and does not get a licence and how or when it is time to revoke it. The police and doctors somehow must find the physical and emotional time and commitment to assess whether someone is truly capable of being licensed to own something, which if not used safely, can cause damage that may never be repaired."

Notes to editors

BMA guidance on gun licensing 

The BMA is a professional association and trade union representing and negotiating on behalf of all doctors in the UK. A leading voice advocating for outstanding health care and a healthy population. An association providing members with excellent individual services and support throughout their lives.