Written evidence submitted by Robert David Ware (FLR0017)

 

Robert David Ware

How adequate are firearms licensing regulations in the UK, and in Scotland in particular?

As a member of the public, I have little knowledge of firearms licensing regulations in my domicile of Scotland. However, as a resident of the peninsula of Sleat in the Isle of Skye I am concerned that rare and ultimately tragic incidents such as those that occurred in my area on 10th August do now require a thorough review particularly in remote and rural areas. Following that tragic event it was revealed that the nearest armed response unit of Police Scotland to the Isle of Skye is Inverness over 100 miles away. Such incidents could not be foreseen, and I am assuming that the PIRC report will thoroughly investigate that occurrence particularly as it is likely that the individual concerned would have undergone personal vetting for his last employment.

I believe that it is totally correct that Police Scotland is the licensing authority for firearms and shotgun certificates. Local knowledge should, in theory, establish a network of officers familiar with those who hold licenses and firearms legally but it is evident from recent media reports that there are significantly more firearms held per person in rural areas than in densely populated areas of the central belt and major cities in Scotland. It is accepted that rural areas will require more weapons as I will refer to in Question 2. However, it must be asked how many unlicensed firearms are ‘under the radar’ and of those how many are held at insecure locations.  A former neighbour in my own village held a licence for recreational use whilst on shooting holidays and it was good to note that his weapons and their storage was reviewed by officers every five years.  Perhaps those checks should now be every three years. I recall several years ago Police Scotland issued an amnesty in the Highlands for people hand in air rifles at local police stations. Such amnesties could be repeated more often perhaps bringing more dangerous weapons off the fields rather than off the streets. What if a known license holder had a weapon in his or her vehicle and that vehicle was stolen to order, would that weapon be recycled to perhaps be used in criminal activity.

I am in no doubt that Police Scotland have a robust and resilience regime in place for the monitoring of weapons in rural areas but how many licenses are still actually needed for recreational or land management purposes. However, in my view, rural communities cannot become complacent when firearms are clearly prevalent in many locations. Is it also a fact that neighbours may be reluctant to notify the authorities about any suspicions that a license holder or otherwise might not now be suitable to possess weapons. Is there a danger that reporting concerns might cause a backlash if weapons are removed from ownership by the police for whatever reason.

As said, I have little knowledge of the shooting sector but would strongly welcome a UK or Scotland wide inquiry that could prevent just one death from an unlicensed weapon in our communities. As the acclaimed founder of a charity in Skye that raises funds to provide defibrillators in our communities on the west coast of Scotland recently said ‘we always said, if we can save just one life it would have all been worthwhile’.

I welcome an inquiry in the hope that such incidents as happened in August this year may have been possible to be prevented and lives now torn apart might still be as before.

 

To what extent are firearms licensing regulations adequate and relevant to Scotland’s particular circumstances, including its agricultural communities and its strong connections with countryside sports?

Again, I am not qualified to evaluate the adequacy of licensing regulations in agricultural and sporting estate communities but it is evident that the profusion of firearms will be greater than in the urban areas. It is well documented that recreational and commercial shooting on estates and wild land provides an economic boost to fragile areas including employment as well as land management in its many forms. It is hoped that commercial operators are totally diligent in their management of shooting parties and wildlife control. I know of one local estate who have promised to publish dates and times of shooting on the hill, but none has been forthcoming for as long as I can remember. That may not always be possible to be done every time but improved communications by estates might help avoid safety issues. Users tell me that a rifle in trained hands can kill at 1000 yds. That is a significant distance.

Given the significant numbers of known licenses are in remote and rural communities I welcome the inquiry seeking views from those who are responsible for professional land managerment but from the public who regularly participate in country sports both by paying commercially as visitors or enthusiasts or those who require weapons for the removal of vermin or other species that damage crops or endanger protected wildlife.

Should the process for obtaining a licence for firearms be changed (for example, to place greater emphasis on applicants’ mental health)?

Absolutely yes, and not just in respect of recent local events but what seems to be an ever-increasing epidemic in mental health issues in our modern but troubled society. It would be nonsense for the country sports community, for example, to say that all is well and that mental health concerns is not the case in this sector. I have been alerted to articles written as far back as 2017 where mental health support is highlighted. One was as recent as August this year https://www.fieldsportschannel.tv/police-want-shooters-to-report-mental-health-issues/ and https://fieldsports-journal.com/fieldsports/shoot/mental-health-in-shooting

In the first article a former Police Scotland firearms licensing officer is quoted Fraser says everyone has stresses and strains, and shooters are just the same as the rest of the population. He says although some people may need their guns for their occupation, for example gamekeepers or deer stalkers, there are many who use them for a hobby such as hunting. He believes that they should give up their guns’.

This article recently seen offers help and a leaflet to those involved in the sector.

https://www.sacs.org.uk/news/mental-health-leaflet

In conclusion the incident that prompted Mr Blackford to call for the Committee to undertake an Inquiry is thankfully almost a once in a generation occurrence if not more, but if changes to regulations took place after Dunblane then I would support this review. That incident, terribly tragic, but rare, has shaken the local community to the core and needlessly devastated a number of families who will never really recover. If the authorities, NHS, Police Scotland, local authorities, community leaders and industry bodies can collaborate in this Inquiry and try to seek improved firearms licensing, management and use then this can only be a good thing.

Thank you for allowing an individual to comment.

 

October 2022