Medical markers in the spotlight

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 involvement of the medical profession in the firearms licensing process has generated a lot of misunderstanding, especially as regards markers placed on the medical records of certificate holders. Bill Harriman explains more…

BASC has supported the introduction of ‘medical markers’ in England and Wales but has come under fire from some shooters for doing so.

Before I explain BASC’s position on this, we need to rewind to 2016 and the snappily named Home Office Medical Issues Working Group. BASC was a member of this group, and we were happy to support its recommendations. These were twofold; when a certificate had been granted, the licensing department would send a letter to the holder’s GP asking for any concerns to be voiced with 21 days.

In addition, the GP would be asked to place an “encoded reminder” (posh-speak for a medical marker) on the medical records to draw attention to the fact that the patient had guns, should he or she present with any condition that gave concern about their continued possession in the future. (Regrettably the British Medical Association reneged on its support just days after this agreement).

It helps to think of the marker as a tripwire that rings an alarm that enables the GP to alert the licensing department that a certificate holder gives cause for concern about his continued suitability to possess firearms, e.g. presenting with depression or suicidal thoughts/intention.

Continuous monitoring

The marker is also about integrating firearms licensing with the medical profession to allow for the continuous monitoring of certificate holders.

“Continuous monitoring” sounds very Big Brother and could be seen as repression. I take a different view.

I think the continuous monitoring of certificate holders would be to the shooting community’s advantage because it would pave the way to extending certificate life. I think this is something we would all welcome.

The current system only looks at a person’s suitability to own firearms once in every five years; the other four years and 364 days are unconsidered. It’s like an MOT on your car, it is only accurate on the day it was issued.

If continuous monitoring was in place this would not only open up the possibility for longer certificate life, but it would also secure the private ownership of firearms.

Firearms ownership will only be tolerated if society is confident that they are in the hands of responsible people who have been properly vetted.

The ability to point to the continuous monitoring of certificate holders is a very strong point against those fundamentalist anti-gun groups who would disarm us tomorrow.

Ultimately, society’s confidence in a robust and integrated firearms licensing system is fundamental to the continuing ownership of firearms by private citizens.

Not a new idea

The integration of the medical profession into firearms licensing is not a new idea.

In 1998, the new Firearms Rules required a certificate applicant to allow the Chief Officer to contact his GP to ask factual questions about any medical condition.

The idea of the wider involvement of GPs when a patient presented with a condition that gave cause for concern comes from 2008. Shropshire businessman Christopher Foster had become very depressed after his business failed and had expressed suicidal tendencies to his GP. These were not communicated to the police and Foster went on to murder his wife and daughter, to shoot the family’s pets and torch their house before committing suicide.

The coroner in the case called for better communication between the police and a certificate holder’s doctor.

Reducing the risk

Recently, I did some work examining cases where certificate holders had murdered people using legally owned guns. Fortunately, there were not very many. However, of these cases, 60 per cent of the cases I looked at had a discernible medical element within them.

Whenever such an incident happens, society is outraged, and the default position is to call for further restrictions on gun ownership. In truth, had medical markers been in place there would have been a much lesser likelihood of any of these incidents happening.

I don’t hand up medical markers as a 100% safeguard against such events, that is simply not possible. Nobody can legislate against the switch that suddenly flicks in someone’s head.

However, any early warning system that could forestall such an atrocity has got to be good for everyone.

This in turn is the reason for BASC’s support of medical markers in England and Wales. We are not siding with those mindless elements that would see restrictions imposed for restriction’s sake.

Rather, we support a system that would not just make society more confident about private firearms ownership, but would also make extended certificate life a real possibility.

Under the shadow of Plymouth

The whole issue of firearms ownership is still under the dark shadow cast by the mass murders perpetrated in Plymouth on 12 August by Jake Davison, a shotgun certificate holder.

The facts of this dreadful incident will not be known until the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) reports upon its investigation. Equally, the Coroner has yet to conduct the inquests into the victims and the perpetrator.

There has been speculation aplenty by the press as to what happened, but nothing is certain. Consequently, I do not want to fuel that fire until the learned Coroner has concluded his hearings. That would be most improper.

However, the NHS has revealed that Davison had been receiving support during the Lockdown from Livewell Southwest, a mental health charity. It does not take the brains of an archbishop to deduce that the interchange between police firearms licensing and medical professionals will be an issue for both the IOPC and the Coroner.

Medical markers will be under the spotlight.

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