Police want shooters to report mental health issues

by Deborah Hadfield

Feeling depressed? A new campaign in Scotland aims to encourage gun owners to report mental health issues and hand in their guns. The message from the Scottish Association of Country Sports (SACS) and others is that public safety is more important than gun ownership.

The Scottish Firearms Licensing Practitioners Group is putting out advice leaflets. The SFLPG is made up of organisations which represent shooting interests, including BASC, the Gamekeepers Welfare Trust and SACS, plus the Scottish Government and Police. It is printing more than 100,000 of the leaflet, which  highlights the support that is available to certificate holders and encourages people with concerns to come forward and seek help.

Fraser Lamb of SACS says he believes shooters are reluctant to approach officials, including their doctors, as they fear the police will take their guns away. He says: “I regularly visit sporting estates through the whole of Scotland and I hear this concern all the time. So it was really important to address those concerns and explain what really happens.”

Fraser says he is in a fortunate position to help people understand as, between 2013 and 2017, he was head of Firearms Licensing at Police Scotland. He says: “It was the largest licensing authority in the UK. I saw it from the other side. I saw that people took their own lives and it was very often the case that the last person to know was the police or the doctor.” 

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.

Other police forces are less keen to end gun ownership. Chris Downs has been a police officer for 22 years and London’s firearms licensing manager at the Metropolitan force for two years.  He appeals to shooters to tell police firearms enquiry officers if they have problems. He says it won’t inevitably lead to them taking away your guns. He says: “There is very little in your past, if anything, that is an absolute bar to having a firearms or shotgun certificate.”

Fraser believes it is important for the public to understand police have a statutory duty to protect life. He says: “If you look at what a gun is, its definition is ‘lethal weapon’. So it can kill or be used as weapon to overcome others. So, the police service have that duty to make sure that everything’s okay and to protect life.”

He says police have to judge what do they need to do about someone who may be ill. He says: “There are lots of risk management tools in the police toolbox to actually deal with that, and not to take guns off people.”

Chris says that problems only arise if people do not create or build trust with officers.

Fraser Lamb agrees that a relationship with local police, especially your firearms licensing officer can be helpful. Fraser says he is a shooter himself, who has had a passion for the sport since he was a child. He says he understands why people get frustrated: “I get how important shooting is as a stress reliever. How it can be a way to go out and engage with friends and colleagues.” 

Fraser says there are times when the police are left with no choice but to remove guns. In that situation, he says, even if officers enter your home and seize your guns,  it does not have to be permanent. He says: “It doesn’t necessarily mean that is forever and you’re not getting your guns back. People get help, people get well, people recover to their previous life when they were responsible people. Once it is all sorted then the police will likely get the guns back.”

Fraser says if people are struggling it is important to understand what happens next and have the contact details of support agencies. He says: “This is so important when people are perhaps not at their best. Additionally, we know that the wider, legitimate firearms owning community in the UK is a law-abiding and very responsible community who instinctively do the right thing.”

Chris says in his experience shooters are great to deal with. He says: “I’ve got the best job in the Met. I absolutely love it. Generally speaking, I come out and talk to a load of really nice people who just have a particular interest in a sport that needs certification and has some form of regulation to it.”

Chris says that the vast majority of people he meets are absolutely lovely to him. He says: “We get on really well. We have really good conversations. There is a small percentage of people who are not. And my view is I want shooting to continue for my kids, for their kids. And these people present a threat to that. And my main goal, this public safety.”

Helen Benson of the Gamekeepers Welfare Trust says that the new Scottish publication provides important information and guidance for those who are concerned for their mental wellbeing. She says: “It is imperative that support can be sought without fear of removal of essential tools of the trade. There is nothing more vital to us all than health and we hope this clear advice will provide reassurance for anyone who seek support. There are sensible options available.”

Fraser says his experiences for the last four years as a firearms licensing advisor for a shooting organisation and his previous four years as head of a firearms licensing department have shown him that there can be confusion and fear about gun ownership. He says: ‘There are myths and misunderstandings sometimes within the firearms licensing world.”

He advises people to read source documents so that they know what will happen. Fraser warns against taking the advice from friends or unqualified sources.

Jim Hume of the Rural Mental Health forum says everyone can experience poor mental health at some point in their life and it is important that they get support as quickly as possible. He says leaflet gives you all the information on where to go to for advice and help. He says: “It is okay to not be okay and it is everyone’s business to tackle mental health, so we can all lead our lives to the full and carry on with the activities and work that we love.”

Fraser is urging people to read the leaflet and if they have any concerns act upon them. He says, “It’s just a certificate. Your mental health, long term wellbeing health and the health of your family and friends and how they want you to get better is really important.”

Fraser advises people to go to their GP first. He says: “If you tell the doctor and then they can decide if they should tell the police. They may decide they don’t need to.”

Download the leaflet from SACS

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