Today the Home Office begins consulting on new statutory guidance for the police on their responsibilities for considering firearms and shotgun licence applications.
We have listened to the police, medical practitioners and shooting groups and it is clear that we all agree that there is a need for greater consistency in how these applications are decided.
This will help us ensure the highest standards of public safety are met.
The draft guidance we are proposing includes a requirement for the police to obtain medical information from an applicant’s GP about their medical fitness to hold a firearms licence before it is issued or renewed.
We must scrutinise all those who have legal access to firearms. But the police cannot do this alone, they need the help of medical professionals.
If a patient has a history of mental or physical conditions, which could affect their safety and the safety of others if they possess a firearm, notifying the police may not just save the life of the applicant, it could also prevent something catastrophic from occurring.
Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services was clear that this sharing of information has not been happening consistently across the country.
While we are determined to keep the public safe, we also recognise the pressures on GPs.
This is why we have come together with the BMA to sign a landmark agreement on respective responsibilities.
This puts in writing that the Home Office and the police fully recognise that the legal responsibility for assessing the suitability of firearms applicants, as well as their ongoing risk, lies solely with us and not you.
We also believe it is important to put a firearms marker on patients’ records so that the GP is reminded to notify the police if a firearms licence holder develops a relevant medical condition.
But we fully acknowledge that GPs cannot always have the information to raise the right alerts at the right time and so are working with the medical profession and the Department for Health and Social Care to see how we can make improvements in this area.
This is not about the Government holding you responsible for anything that may go wrong. This is about us all working together in the interests of the public.
GPs have a very tough and demanding job. So while we have to be rigorous about keeping the public safe, it is important we try to make this process as straightforward as possible.
And if this work comes at any extra financial cost to you, then you must be able to recoup it through appropriate fees.
GPs have already dedicated their lives to the health of others. If you do have concerns about firearms licencing, we know they come from the right place and we recognise that in the past, this process has put you in a professional dilemma.
So, I am urging GPs to take part in this consultation and ensure we get these changes right. Not only for the interests of the police and the public, but for you too.
Nick Hurd is the Home Office minister for policing