Both Barrels:
conscientious
objection

Bill Harriman

Bill Harriman

Bill Harriman is a nationally recognised expert in firearms, ballistics and related matters. Before joining BASC in 1991, he worked for 10 years for a firm of auctioneers specialising in arms, armour and militaria. He is regularly seen on television as part of the team of experts on the BBC’s Antiques Roadshow programme.

The pretext to this blog is the deviation of number of police forces in England and Wales from Home Office guidance in imposing mandatory GP screening for all applications for shotgun, firearm and explosives certificates.

Subsequently, many members have contacted BASC’s firearms team to say that their GP surgery has taken the stance of conscientious objection towards private firearms ownership.

With that in mind, I’ve given the matter some serious thought.

A moral belief

The concept of conscientious objection to bearing arms is well known in military circles. However, those soldiers who genuinely believed that it was morally wrong to take a human life invariably proved their sincerity and courage by becoming stretcher bearers in order to assist their comrades. Private Desmond Doss at Hacksaw Ridge on Okinawa in 1945 was a sterling example of this.

By contrast, I have never met a GP whose conscientious objection to firearms ownership was actually predicated on a sustainable moral belief that the public good would benefit from it.

A public health issue?

There is a nonsensical belief in some medical quarters that the private possession of firearms is a public health issue. That is simply not sustainable, because the mortality rate from licensed firearms in the UK is microscopically small.

In a recently published consultation document, Home Office figures showed that there were 43 homicides with licensed firearms in a nine year period from 2009 – 2019.  That is an average of 4.7 per annum.

During the same period, 21,381 people died on the roads.

On that basis, the ownership of cars is far more detrimental to public health than the ownership of firearms is.

Yet, I have never heard of any GPs voicing any conscientious objection to owning a motor vehicle. To me, that suggests canting hypocrisy on the part of those doctors who allege they are conscientious objectors.

Similarly, some 150 – 200 people die from paracetamol overdose in the UK per annum. This is far higher than deaths from licenced firearms and yet paracetamol is available over the counter without prescription.

Whilst the number of tablets that may be purchased are limited on each occasion and venue, such ultra-light touch regulation is easily circumvented.

No further questions

I recall seeing this misguided attitude at first hand when I sat on the government Firearms Consultative Committee in the 1990s.

One of the members was an eminent surgeon who, in calling for further restrictions on shotgun ownership, said that he and his colleagues had to deal with the results of their misuse.

I was on him like a shot (pardon the pun): “Will you tell the committee how many gunshot wounds you have treated during your long career?”. He went a funny colour before stammering that he had never treated a single one.

I took great satisfaction in asking him to repeat the answer for the record, before telling the chairman that I had no further questions for him.

A question of liability

Other than this mistaken notion that lawfully owned guns pose a significant risk to society, I think that some GPs cite a conscientious objection to their ownership in order to mask other concerns.

In particular, there seems to be a concern of liability in the event that there is a subsequent incident with the certificate holder. That is without foundation too, as any responsibility for a systemic failure in the licensing process devolves upon the chief officer who issued the certificate.

Other GPs don’t want to play because there may not be any money it in for them. It is particularly despicable of them to put financial gain before public safety.

At a higher level, parliament has passed legislation that allows for the possession of some types of firearms by individuals who have satisfied various statutory tests. It is breathtakingly arrogant for some GPs to set themselves above the law by thinking they know better.

It is time that some GPs stopped hiding behind conscientious objection. Instead, they should accept that they have a civic duty to sustain public safety by participating and placing an encoded reminder on the patient’s record to flag up any future concerns.

Physician, heal yourself!  

Do you need assistance from BASC?

So that members are not left without hope where a GP won’t play, BASC has set up its own panel of medical professionals who will undertake the independent medical verification process for a reasonable free.  Access to the BASC panel is available to members only. Contact our firearms team here for more details.

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