UK firearms: Licence applicants may need partners' approval

Theresa May Mrs May pledged to analyse the evidence before deciding whether to proceed with the policy shift

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People applying for gun licences could be asked to prove that their current or recent partners have consented to the application, Theresa May has suggested.

The home secretary said it was "not appropriate" for people with a history of domestic violence to own guns.

Ministers are examining if the extra check could "reduce the risk to domestic violence victims", she said.

Her comments came in a letter to MPs which was sent soon after the Newtown massacre, but published on Wednesday.

The massacre took place on 14 December at Sandy Hook Elementary School, near Newtown in Connecticut, leaving 20 children and six adult staff members dead and re-opening debate in the US on gun controls.

Suspended sentences

Mrs May wrote to the Home Affairs Committee, advising MPs that the government was working with the Association of Chief Police Officers on how to strengthen "guidance on how reports of domestic violence should be treated by police considering firearms applications".

She told the committee: "Although each case is considered on its merits, we will discuss with ACPO [the Association of Chief Police Officers] amendment of the guidance to make it clear that it is not appropriate to issue a firearm or shotgun certificate where there is a history or successive reports of domestic abuse.

"The proposal that the Canadian practice of consulting the partners of firearms applicants should be introduced here needs greater scrutiny and analysis of the evidence base, to establish whether such a measure would reduce the risk to domestic violence victims as intended."

In Canada, spouses or recent ex-spouses are required to sign gun licence application forms. If they decline, additional checks are carried out on the applicant.

Current UK gun-control laws

  • Almost anyone with a gun need to have a certificate, issued by their local chief police officer - exceptions include members of the armed forces
  • The certificate must be renewed every five years, and can be revoked
  • Applicants need a "good reason" for owning a gun, such as "sporting or competition purposes or for shooting vermin"
  • The chief police officer is expected to take into account previous cautions or convictions when deciding whether to grant or renew a certificate
  • They should also consider evidence of mental health problems, aggressive behaviour and alcohol or drug abuse
  • They may also consult the applicant's GP to obtain medical data
  • Convicted criminals sentenced to three years or more are banned permanently from owning a gun; those sentenced to three months or more are banned for five years

Mrs May's letter constituted a "supplementary" response to the committee's 2010 report into firearms control, which was prompted by the murder of 12 people in Cumbria by gunman Derrick Bird.

The statement marks a shift in tone from the government's initial response, which said it would look into the proposal despite its "concerns that involving partners and recent ex-partners in signing applications may put them in a position of vulnerability and increased risk of renewed violence and abuse.

"Also, consent from a current partner may mean that the partner signs the application to ensure their imminent safety without consideration for future safety."

The home secretary also said that the government was considering ways to tighten medical background checks on applicants for gun licences.

Under the current gun-licensing regime, criminals who are sentenced to three months or more in prison face a temporary ban on firearm possession; those who are sentenced to three years or more are banned permanently from possessing a gun.

Supplying a firearm laws

But Mrs May told MPs that the government was now exploring the recommendation, also contained in the committee's 2010 report, to extend the ban to criminals receiving suspended sentences.

The report said: "The legislation should be amended to clarify that persons in receipt of wholly suspended sentences are subject to the same prohibitions from obtaining a licence to hold... firearms or shotguns as they would be if their sentence had not been suspended.

Start Quote

We do not believe it appropriate for those convicted of offences which are serious enough to warrant a custodial sentence to retain their firearms”

End Quote Home Affairs Committee

"We do not believe it appropriate for those convicted of offences which are serious enough to warrant a custodial sentence to retain their firearms.

"We are also of the view that those who receive shorter custodial sentences should not be allowed to possess firearms."

Twenty years before the Cumbria shootings, Bird had been sentenced to six months in prison, suspended for a year, for stealing decorating materials from his then employer. He also had a drink-driving conviction.

But he had been allowed to keep his shotgun certificate, obtained before his 17th birthday.

In October 2012, Mrs May pledged to create a new criminal offence of supplying a firearm to tackle people who hire out weapons to gangs.

Ms May said those supplying guns were "as guilty" as those using them as the impact was just as deadly.

The maximum sentence for the offence, which will apply in England, Wales and Scotland, will be life imprisonment.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 137.

    FYI its very clear to me on licence renewal day that my GP has the final say on whether it is renewed. Im also interviewed by the local police firearms officer and your residence is inspected and storage location checked. So you should be more worried about the GP`s who charge for this check and have a rubber stamp....

  • rate this

    Comment number 136.

    "Britain's crime rate "is a direct consequence of the fact that people can't defend themselves with a gun"?"

    I would imagine that most crime in this country is white collar crime or petty stuff. You know, things like filling in a tax form fraudently, insider dealing in the City, insurance fraud, corruption and the like.

    How then, please, would my owning a gun prevent this?

  • rate this

    Comment number 135.

    "124. John M"
    I think you need a different solution to a plague of mice than a gun. I don't think a gun will make a massive dent in a mouse plague. Poison would probably be the best solution. Firing a gun at pigeons might scare them for five minutes, again, not really a solution unless you're waiting an unlimited supply of pigeon pies.

  • rate this

    Comment number 134.

    I thought the gun debate was over in Britain? oh well, here comes more useless nannying. I guess if the US is doing it so it MUST be cool.

  • rate this

    Comment number 133.

    What we could do with is a law whereby politicians who misuse their positions, and lie to the public are banned from ever holding office again.
    How many times have we heard retoric from MP's who not only do not practice what they preach they destroy our human rights and persecute innocents. While their crimes go unnoticed.

  • rate this

    Comment number 132.

    I see the londoners and office workers are here, forgetting that not everyone lives in a city or works in an office - some of us have hobbies like target and clay shooting, others hunt and there are the farmers and pest controllers - we're not talking assault rifles in the UK, people are getting worked up over the word 'gun' - owning one/getting a license isnt as simple as just handing over money

  • rate this

    Comment number 131.

    None of the perpetrators of any of the recent mass shootings have displayed a "history of domestic violence". Not atypical for a Home Secretary who prefers to get her information from Daily Mail editorials rather than read the Reports on her desk. Deporting people because they have a cat, indeed. What's the point of more life sentences when they're closing down the prisons? Woman's a shambles

  • Comment number 130.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 129.

    123. WunderfulBBC
    I do not understand?
    Why does anyone need to own a gun, except for people like farmers?
    If you want to shoot, fine, join a gun club and fire away at clay pigeons.
    You need a gun licence to shoot at a gun club. The insurance cost of allowing unlicenced people to 'borrow' a gun is so high most won't even offer it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 128. at a term that comes to mind. NOBODY should be 'granted' a firearm certificate if there is ANY background of illegal or domestic misdemeanours. It is the Polices duty to investigate PROPERLY before granting licences, and, in the past, that is not what they have done i.e. Dunblane, Hungerford, Cumbria.

  • rate this

    Comment number 127.

    re117 trout

    well what about the clay shooting clubs that are held on privatre land?as most of them are!
    please do some research before commenting on things you clearly know nothing about.

  • rate this

    Comment number 126.

    @105.cbryan1976 - "The deliberate taking of life, through such a violent means, is a sure sign of psycho-pathic tendancies."

    Every step on a bug, spritz a spider or pull up a weed? You nutter, you...


    @119 steppenwolf69

    Actually Magna Carta has mostly been repealed. Only six or so of the original charters remain and none have to do with bearing arms.

  • rate this

    Comment number 125.

    Spot on UnderDefeat! Why don't we stop pussyfooting around with potential major incidents.

  • rate this

    Comment number 124.

    I hate to disrupt this townie-rural hatefest with boring things like FACTS but here you go:

    This is the state of affairs with regular shooting. Take away the guns and it won't be £50 million, it will be the entire crop.

  • rate this

    Comment number 123.

    I do not understand?

    Why does anyone need to own a gun, except for people like farmers?

    If you want to shoot, fine, join a gun club and fire away at clay pigeons.

    What possible reason can there be to own a gun, personally?

  • rate this

    Comment number 122.

    Maybe Teresa should be asking why those convicted of shooting others only serve 4 years in prison?

  • rate this

    Comment number 121.

    Another wheeze by the coffee and buns Government at their weekly what will we do this week and let's have fun Cabinet meeting. What next!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 120.

    "In Canada, spouses or recent ex-spouses are required to sign gun licence application forms. If they decline, additional checks are carried out on the applicant."

    Why not just go straight to the additional checks? Better safe than coerced partners and/or vengeful ex-partners putting up false testimony.

  • rate this

    Comment number 119.

    The 1100 English charter, 1215 Magna carta and the Bill of Rights of 1689 actually gives the common people of the country the right to bear amrs. As far as I know the Magna Carta and the Bill of Rights haven't been repealed yet, so we still have that right. It can't be taken from us only we can give it up by consent.

  • rate this

    Comment number 118.

    Oh goody now my spitefull ex can have my licence revoked and scupper any chance of olympic qualification! we won gold this year by the way but peter wilsons success gets little praise in this country. I find it amusing im labeled a dangerous oddball for shooting clays by people who think its normal to stay up all night on a xbox playing call of duty!


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