Interview of Peter Squires by Danielle Perry on BBC Sussex Radio, 17 August 2022
by Gun Control Network on 25-08-2022
With me now is Peter Squires, Professor of Criminology and Public Policy at the University of Brighton. Good morning, Professor
Thank you so much for your time this morning and for your patience, hanging on the line there. Let's talk about this because we've been running this story all morning. It’s a huge tragedy, it's a really heavy story and so, so sad. The campaign - the focus is on toughening up and stricter gun licences’ laws as well. What do you think would be the best approach to moving forward with this?
Well, this is a long story and this case is only one in a series of very similar cases where the police licensing process has broken down totally and utterly unacceptable people have been allowed to acquire firearms. There are many cases - that's the first thing to say. I think we need to change the mindset about what licensing is about. It's not about a service to shooters it's about public safety - safety of the wider public, safety of families, and I think that perspective has been lost. In 2015 I was co-opted onto an inspectorate of constabulary (HMIC) enquiry into firearms licensing and it made a number of quite tough proposals for change - much more involvement with health services to ensure people with mental health problems didn't get through the licensing system. More checks. A license lasts for five years - there ought to be interim checks during that period to make sure that people's circumstances have not changed. Spot checks to make sure that people are keeping their guns securely at home. And all those proposals were in that report but I think the government (David Cameron - I think he was ‘nobbled’ by the gun lobby) sat on it, no changes were made and we're still seeing the same problems, as in Plymouth and as in Woodmancote. I think we have a licensing system at the moment that is not fit for purpose.
When we were talking to the Chief Superintendent he suggested that synergy between certain platforms would help as would communication from the wider public as well, so we're talking about GPs having a better flagging system for people that may be at risk in obtaining a gun, or a firearm, at some point but also who would do these spot checks, would that be down to the police in your mind to do those if they were to come into force?
At the moment it would be the police and that again is part of the problem. The cost of the licensing process falls upon the police. The licence doesn't cost what it costs the police to conduct the licensing system. One of the big changes we need to see is a full cost licensing system. In any area of government the cost of providing licences fall upon the persons that want them - the cost of licences is borne by the person that wants the licence. Yet the taxpayer is currently subsidising people's shooting hobby - that's ridiculous. So we need a full cost licensing system to pay for the kinds of detailed checks that the police will need to make. I think while ever this is a cost on the police it will be something they do less effectively because it is costing them money to do it well and this has to compete with all other policing requirements and needs. So, I think, firstly, we need a fit-for-purpose system, fully costed so that the police can do these extra checks, so that the systems can be aligned, so that health authorities and policing systems can talk to one another to ensure that people are not out there with guns and yet with unrecognised mental health difficulties. And finally, how someone can lie on a licensing application form and yet this can slip through the vetting process slip I cannot imagine - that suggests something about the diligence with which Sussex Police have handled this particular case.
Well, this is it; this is the thing that I keep coming back to in terms of - there was a phrase used earlier on about "accidental omission", which is a thing, but also when people are processing the forms, they're going off the information provided. It has to go through such stringent checks, maybe the forms need to be redesigned to make sure that certain things have to be signed off by other people but there is certainly work to be done here isn’t there?
Yes, and if you look in other countries - we often regard America as a sort of crazy, gun-freedom society but in many states there are requirements that partners of applicants for a gun permit have to sign off that they're happy for it to be kept in the house. There's more effective synchronisation between health care and the gun licence process which operates at the point of purchase in America so no-one with domestic violence arrests is allowed a gun in some states - so there's a whole raft of proposals which the UK Gun Control Network, which has been campaigning on similar cases for many years now since Dunblane. These proposals for a much wider scrutiny have been made repeatedly. Divorced partners, for instance: the issue of whether when someone who is divorced, whether their children could go to the house where guns are stored, is another issue. So there are a lot of people who know about the potential gun owner who could have some input, to comment on the suitability of this person as a gun owner. It's not just about mental health, it's about a wider set of factors that impinge directly on public safety.
It's a fascinating topic. Thank you so much for your insight. Professor Peter Squires, Professor of Criminology and Public Policy at the University of Brighton - thank you so much.
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