Home Secretary Priti Patel is facing accusations in the wake of the Plymouth shootings of dragging her feet over advice to tighten the rules on issuing firearms and shotgun licences.
The Liberal Democrats said Ms Patel had so far failed to act on recommendations in a Home Office consultation document calling for new suitability checks before a licence is awarded – despite warnings of “fundamental gaps” in the system.
It follows the disclosure that the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) is investigating whether the mental health of the gunman, Jake Davison, was “appropriately considered” when police returned his firearms licence earlier this year.
A Tory source hit back accusing the Lib Dems of “playing politics” just days after the killings.
The consultation issued in July 2019, the month Ms Patel became Home Secretary, recommended police should consult an applicant’s GP on whether they had been treated for any medical condition which could affect their ability to possess a firearm safely.
It said relevant conditions would include suicidal thoughts or self-harm, depression or anxiety, and any form of personality disorder.
The Lib Dems said that although the consultation closed in September 2019, Ms Patel had still not taken up the recommendation, even though the Policing and Crime Act 2017 gave her the power to issue statutory guidance on firearms licensing.
The party said that even before Ms Patel became Home Secretary, the issue of medical suitability checks for firearms licence applicants was known about in the Home Office.
In 2015, a report by HM Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) recommended a licence should not be issued without a current medical report from an applicant’s GP, obtained and paid for by the applicant.
It said that while applicants were required to disclose any relevant physical or mental health condition, police were not required to contact their GP before a licence was issued, unless they were notified of such a condition.
While police would write to the GP after a licence was granted to ask whether there was any reason why it should not have been, there was no obligation on the GP to respond.
The report described the arrangements as “unsatisfactory” saying they left “fundamental gaps” in the firearms licensing system.
Lib Dem home affairs spokesman Lord Paddick, a former senior Scotland Yard officer, said Ms Patel should bring in new statutory guidance without delay.
“As the horrifying, tragic events in Plymouth reminded us all, guns are lethal weapons that must be kept out of the wrong hands at all costs.
“Priti Patel’s hapless hesitation on the new rules is shocking and shameful,” he said.
“It’s almost six years since the Government was told it needed new guidance, and more than four years since Parliament legislated for it. It’s time to get on with it.”
“Priti Patel must stop ignoring expert advice on stronger gun control. Tougher guidance has been on her desk ever since she became Home Secretary in 2019. It is inexcusable that no progress has been made on her watch.
“Priti Patel should urgently announce the outcome of the Government’s consultation, halt the delay in the Home Office and immediately bring in the statutory guidance.”
A Home Office spokesman said: “The shocking murders in Plymouth just two days ago are tragic and devastating, and our thoughts are with the families and loved ones of those who died and the entire community of Devon and Cornwall.
“As the Home Secretary has said, lessons will be learned from this appalling event.”
A Tory source added: “That the Liberal Democrats have chosen to start playing politics less than 48 hours after five people were shot dead is appalling even for them.”