Plymouth shootings: the police gun licensing backlash

by Deborah Hadfield and Charlie Jacoby 

Shooters in Dorset, Devon & Cornwall say the police are punishing them as a kneejerk reaction to a shooting in Plymouth in August 2021. Now the facts support them. The number of gun certificates revoked in the South-West is nine times higher than normal. BASC uncovered the figures following a freedom of information request to Devon & Cornwall Constabulary.

During the last three months of 2021 Devon & Cornwall police revoked 54 shotgun licenses. Among them is a deerstalker who has been a certificate holder for 43 years, farmers, shoot captains and a member of the local regional crime squad.

BASC firearms director Bill Harriman says the results do not surprise him. “We’d heard little pings on the radar and that’s one reason why I asked the question,” he says, “because I needed that hard intelligence. I said I was unsurprised but I’m actually quite disturbed that they are running at such a high level. I draw one conclusion that in the aftermath of a single mass killing, there is going to be a great examination of matters.

“But I wonder whether or not the conclusion that people might draw is that the revocations are actually being made because the police didn’t do the job properly in the first place. And they’ve gone back and thought, oh, we really shouldn’t have given this man a certificate. Or it could be a complete overreaction and a disproportionate risk averse reaction to what, at the end of the day, is a very serious breach of public safety.”

Jake Davison, you had a shotgun certificate killed five people in Keyham in six minutes before turning his shotgun on himself. The Independent Office of Police Conduct issued two disciplinary notices to Devon & Cornwall Constabulary staff for issuing the mass murderer with a shotgun certificate. Since then, shooters feel that the police are unfairly targeting them.

Ian Hodge, of Ian Hodge Fieldsports in Wadebridge, says he didn’t need the freedom of information statistics to confirm how bad things were in Cornwall with police seizing guns. He says: “In January, it was absolutely unbelievable. Every day there was one or two phone calls from people. Some people were really, really upset being treated like criminals when all their lives they’ve been fine examples of a good citizen. Because as you know, firearms license holders, shotgun licence holders are the most law-abiding people in the country, and that’s a fact. And then all of a sudden to be treated like a criminal for sometimes for no reason – or certainly not being told a reason – really upset them. And we had people on the phone in tears, upset that guns have been taken or they’ve been told to drop them into us. We were running out of storage room.”

Derek Spearman had a gun shop in Tavistock in Devon. He lost his licence over a hearing problem. He says: “They’ve gone into a totally negative mode focussing on anybody who’s had a messy divorce, anybody who might have any health problems it seems to me, and certainly if you if he was being prescribed anti-depressants. They’re sending things out to all the doctors, requesting them basically to say, ‘Are these people suitable to have a gun?’, which is really a simple way of dodging their own responsibilities. If anything goes wrong, the police will simply say, well, the doctor said it was all right. It’s not our responsibility.”

Nigel Appleton is a deerstalker, rabbit shooter and retired army officer in Cornwall. He fears the police in the South-West are over-reacting to the Keyham shooting. Nigel says: “I’m becoming increasingly disturbed at the way they’re acting at the moment, taking people’s guns off them. They appear to be confusing complaint with evidence. When they do turn up, they’re giving no excuse, no reasons. They’re not producing any sort of documentation that says ‘this is why we’re doing this’. It’s quite apparent to me that they’re confident that the average Joe can’t afford to take them to court so they can just get away with doing what they want.”

In a statement, Devon & Cornwall Police says: ‘In November 2021 the Home Office issued new firearms licensing, statutory guidance for chief officers of police. Devon & Cornwall Police has implemented these, which has led to an increase in revocations and refusals.’

Shooters point out that this statement dodges questions about police responsibility for firearms licensing. It is true that the Keyham shootings led to Priti Patel’s revised November 2021 guidance to constabularies on gun licensing.

Pressing questions remain: why has Devon & Cornwall Constabulary been confiscating guns since August 2021? and why have other police forces, which have received the same guidance, not been confiscating guns?

Although no constabulary has gone as far in its mass seizures as Devon & Cornwall, BASC’s firearms department says that firearms licensing is in a chaotic state, with at least seven police licensing departments having arbitrarily suspended grant applications. It adds that these seven are just the ones that have made a formal announcement; in all probability there are more as there is no way of determining whether grant applications are still being processed. Equally, there are long delays with certificate renewals and variations. If your certificate is due to be renewed in 2022, BASC advises that to in order to be bombproof, you should make an application four months (16 weeks) before it expires. This will ensure that the application is made in plenty of time to qualify for the statutory two month extension.


Here are our stories about the Devon & Cornwall gun grab:

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