Police to undertake social media checks for gun licence applicants after Plymouth mass shooting

The news that police forces in England and Wales will be checking the social media accounts of gun licence applicants is very welcome news, especially as abuse by gamekeepers and other gun holders against conservationists intensifies (e.g. see here, here, here, here, here).

According to an article in The Times this weekend, the Westminster Government will publish statutory guidance this autumn outlining how police forces handle firearm and shotgun licence applications. This is in the wake of the horrific mass shooting in Plymouth last week by a 22-year old, who despite having a history of posting violent and misogynistic abuse on social media, was still approved to have a weapon, which he went on to use with utterly tragic consequences.

In another article, Former Metropolitan Police Commissioner Lord Stevens told the Telegraph this weekend that UK police forces should perform thorough online checks into people applying for firearms licences following the shooting on Thursday. He called for a more in-depth ‘trawl’ of internet posts to try to establish whether people trying to get police approval for a gun have a history of making hateful comments online.

The gunman was clearly a dangerous man – there is no doubt he was a threat. The videos he made should have been taken into account when he applied for a shotgun licence.

There needs to be trawling of online content for an in-depth assessment of who these people are and what they think. We need to ensure that guns do not fall into the hands of dangerous people“.

Referring to the highly misogynistic posts made by incels [involuntary celibates] on forums and chat rooms, he said: “I would suggest people posting these kinds of comments clearly pose a concerning threat“.

According to the Telegraph, Jonathan Hall QC, the Government’s independent reviewer on terrorism legislation, also supported calls for considering the social media profiles of those looking to get hold of a gun.

Obviously we don’t want to live in a society where what we do online is routinely looked at by the state, but I see the force of the point that social media may be a valuable source of information about risk in the context of firearm licensing“, he said.

Police Scotland are apparently ahead of the game. Three years ago a review by HM Inspectorate of Constabulary in Scotland (HMICS) concluded that online activity is a key source of information when deciding whether someone is suitable to own a gun.

In response to the report, Police Scotland Assistant Chief Constable Mark Williams said: “Where concerns are raised, we may use social media as one of a number of sources of information during our checks. Looking to the future, we are considering expanding this approach as part of the national licensing process.”

Hopefully the new statutory guidance of checking social media accounts won’t be restricted to just incidences ‘where concerns are raised’ [about an applicant] but rather this becomes a standard, routine examination for all applicants. The cost of this increased scrutiny should be placed firmly at the door of the gun licence applicants, and not be heavily subsidised by the tax payer as current gun licensing is.

It’ll also be interesting to see how the police deal with abusive and aggressive gun owners who maintain a hidden identity on social media. There are quite a few of those claiming to be from the game-shooting world, some of whom hide their identities quite successfully, others not so well, and none of whom are called out by the mainstream game-shooting organisations (indeed, some of those organisations even share the abuser’s posts!).

If you have any concerns about the suitability of someone who you believe is a firearms / shotgun certificate holder, whether they’re from the game-shooting world or not, please don’t hesitate to report him/her to the relevant police station.

17 thoughts on “Police to undertake social media checks for gun licence applicants after Plymouth mass shooting”

  1. I bet there’s a few of your ‘shooting friends’ quickly deleting their posts. I would be unfortunate if they were saved and supplied to the authorities.

  2. It has long been a suspicion of mine that one of the reasons people take up game-keeping is because they can carry a gun and they enjoy the power it gives them.

    1. Because their position carries potential for serious abuse there are filter mechanisms that are supposed to stop certain personalities joining the police force and armed services. I am not pretending they are fool proof or always applied as professionally and energetically as they should be, but there’s at least an acknowledgement that with a uniform and authority there’s also an appeal for inadequate types who want to compensate by having power over others for its own sake. There’s absolutely no formal filtering system like this for gamekeepers who are allowed to carry firearms around in a way that the police can’t!!! Well past time that this was recognised.

    2. Power don’t make me laugh as a fac and shotgun certificate holder we have no power we have to walk away from any agro .neighbour disputes .road rage bar brawl even posting hate on the web most public can get involved in anything like the above with no retribution

      1. Hi Paul, the shooting world does have a spectrum of personality types in it. No doubt there are a lot of cases like yours where concern over losing Certs makes people ‘walk away’ from conflicts or provocations. Equally, I bet you and your shooting friends (as I have done) often shake heads when talking about people you know and say things like, “how the hell did so-and-so ever get his bloody licence, he’s a f—g nutcase!” or “he wants to be careful, he’ll get his guns took off him”. Or here is the classic I’ve heard a couple of times down the years, maybe you have too…”he’s having a bad time, depression or something, but he can’t go to the doctors or he’ll lose his guns”. I don’t have the answers to all this, but I can’t deny the problems aren’t great either.

  3. Will they be investigating the “institutional bullying” allegations at BASC HQ a few years back? I will quote from the Mail article about it “Britain’s biggest pro-shooting group is riven with bullying and ‘a culture of fear and intimidation’, a leaked report has revealed.”

    1. I rather doubt if this ruling will make any difference at all a gamekeeper recently punished by the courts in leics for cruelty to badgers was well known for pulling up and shooting raptors no matter whos land he was crossing.

  4. Just looked at xxxxx xxxxx page . He proudly tells us he photographs Birds of Prey at their nest site and publishes them there…. If he has a licence I’d be surprised ( and horrified)

    [Ed: That’s not really relevant to this post, David, but I agree, if he is being given a Sched 1 disturbance licence, with his track record, that would be of some concern. Hope you’ll follow up with Natural England / NRW / NatureScot]

  5. Police won’t do it unless it’s a very high profile case as it takes too much time, paperwork and money (as said to me) plus I know from how social media is used against me, folk will just use xxxxxxxxxxxxx and fake profiles so will never be uncovered.

  6. I do think it is worthwhile to lobby our MPs about the cost and ease of obtaining a shotgun license, a lot of people don’t realise how cheap a shotgun license is, and the David Cameron tory government made the commitment to let the taxpayer subsidise people like the guy in Plymouth.

    To placate the shooting community it can be made fully tax deductible for all bonafide jobs, I.e farmers etc (which I presume it already is).

  7. Ruth’s last paragraph above is particularly important. It brings to mind the recently reported account by a retired lecturer of the intimidation which he and his wife suffered from gamekeepers in and around the village to which they had retired. Attempts to get assistance from the police were unsuccessful and they were accused of being ‘hysterical’. It subsequently transpired that the police officer, himself, was a shooter. See https://wmpuk.home.blog/author/wmpuk/page/4/ for the current series of four such accounts – an interesting read if you’ve not already come across them. My immediate reaction to this story was to question why they had not pursued the matter at a higher level. Ideally there should be a formal procedure – maybe there already is – whereby an official complaint can be made which will be properly investigated, rather than being dismissed out of hand. Maybe the proposed action referred to by the police regarding future licence applications could highlight the means by which such formal complaints could be made.

  8. We should all be equally interested in what was the reason for this killer, living in a town, for being given a shotgun licence in the first place. Was he a game shooter?..was he a “vermin” controller. What area of land was he allowed to shoot over?

  9. I bet there are a good few mysoginistic, bigoted, homophobic alcohol fueled supporters of extreme right wing organisations….. who are now concerned that they may have slipped out the odd online threat too many…

    …….if they dont want to talk about their online history to the police and they have deleted a few posts…. well I have saved several noteable ones for fowarding. You cant wrap those threats in lead and chuck them in the river.

  10. Nevermind the public subsidising shotgun licences. What the public don’t seem to realise is that they pay millions of pounds every year to wealthy land owners. If you own under 12 acres you don’t qualify!

  11. Without going into all the details, Sect 57 of the Firearms Act 1968 states – a firearm is defined as a lethal barrelled weapon of any description from which any shot, bullet, or other missile can be discharged.
    A shotgun is defined as a smooth bore gun with a barrel not less than 24 inches which does not exceed 2 inches in diameter.
    Air weapons are also defined within the Act.

    A section 1 firearm is basically any firearm other than a shotgun or air weapon.

    According to government statistics there were 159,483 firearm certificate holders (with around 604,920 firearms in ownership) , and 567,358 shotgun certificate holders (with around 1,383,777 shotguns in ownership) in the UK in March 2020. (source- HM Gov- Home Office)
    According to the BASC there are over 6 million air rifles in the UK.

    No certificate is required to own an air weapon in England or Wales. In Scotland an air weapon certificate is required.

    This equates to approximately 8 million firearms owned by the public in the UK- which is staggering!!
    Do we really want such a high number of firearms in public ownership?

    A person applying for a sect 1 firearms licence has to provide evidence to the police that they have a good reason for requiring such a licence, as well as details of the person granting permission over whose land they will shoot, or the gun club of which they are a member. (this is not a requirement of for applying for a shotgun licence) The applicant also has to provide details of 2 referees (only 1 referee required for a shotgun licence application).
    The police can be more restrictive on granting a sect1 firearms licence if they aren’t satisfied a person has a good reason for requiring the licence.

    Bearing in mind that shotguns and air weapons can be just as deadly as a section 1 firearm, it seems complete nonsense to me that neither shotguns or air weapons are subject to the same rigorous restrictions/control as a sect1 firearm.
    When the abuse of the General Licence is also considered, and goodness know how many birds are killed outside the scope of the terms of the GL by shotgun/ airgun owners- then this adds further weight to my belief that there should be far more restrictions on shotgun and air weapon ownership.

    If shotgun and air weapon licensing was tightened up to the same extent as Sect1 firearms, then not only might this help prevent further tragedies like the one we have just witnessed. It might also save thousands of animals and birds being killed by idiots who simply see them as targets to be shot at rather than a legitimate pest for which there is no other alternative means of control. (these idiots are actually committing a criminal offence if they shoot birds outside the scope of the conditions of the GL)
    It might also mean that I don’t have to read repeated reports of birds of prey being shot by criminals, who clearly by their illegal actions aren’t fit and proper people to own a firearm.

    Maybe this is a matter readers of this blog might wish to take up with their MP?

  12. There should be no casual ownership of firearms.

    The criteria for granting shotgun licences are themselves pathetically inadequate. Essentially they equate to “I want one”! Not only should the justification have to be much more extensive, but the whole investigation into suitability should be extended – and the cost of that process, and the ongoing monitoring of usage, should be included in the cost of the licence. i.e. it should cost several thousand pounds to be assessed for a licence and a similar ongoing cost to maintain it.

    Exceptions could be made for, for example, clay shoots – but the firearms should be owned, stored and maintained by the club and only brought out for a particular event, previously registered with the police. The same applying to target shooting with rifles, bows, crossbows etc.

    As for issuing shotgun licences because they want to kill wildlife – tell them to get, not take, a life.

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