Saturday, 5 June 2010
Tragedy in Cumbria: will it lead to an overhaul of gun laws?
Both the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary stated that there would not be a "knee-jerk" rush to legislate further. This approach is sensible but it is to be questioned whether either further legislation or tighter enforcement (or both) can be avoided. It is true that there are strong controls over guns but The Guardian has already highlighted a number of weaknesses in the system - see "The loopholes in Britain's gun laws" (Alan Travis, Home Affairs Editor 3rd June 2010). Problems include: treating shotguns with a "lighter" touch than other weapons; renewal processes; acceptable reasons for requiring a gun etc. The legislation on firearms has been extensively amended over the years and is exceptionally complex. [See the 2002 Police Guidance]. The situation with regard to devolution of aspects of firearms law to Scotland should also be examined. Would it not be preferable to maintain a United Kingdom approach to firearms regulation (including air guns)? [Note: The Calman Commission on Scottish Devolution recommended devolution of control over air guns to Scotland but recognised the strong arguments for maintaining control at a UK level over firearms - see para. 5.156 of the Calman report].
The Police response: Cumbria Police clearly faced major difficulties in dealing with this situation and there is a level of criticism. They are not a massive force since they police a large - (mainly rural/coastal) - area which has little very serious crime. They were faced with an unfolding; highly serious and, mercifully, very rare situation. There will undoubtedly be lessons to learn. The Daily Mail carried an interesting article on the Police response.
Timeline of witness testimony: The Guardian 9th June (Helen Pidd) published a "timeline" of the Cumbrian shootings.
Memorial services were held on 9th June 2010 and the House of Commons observed a minutes silence. The Guardian reports that the Cumbrian Police response is to be "peer reviewed" by firearms experts. Prime Minister David Cameron told the House of Commons that there would be no rush to legislate but the law would be examined - Guardian 9th June. This is surely the sensible way forward. For a further article see Guardian 10th June.