A pensioner will spend at least a year behind bars after being convicted of possessing a loaded shotgun in a public place after a policeman spotted the gun on the seat of his car when he tried to report a crime.
Something of great concern to the licensed firearms community is how the police deliberately word the firearm and shotgun certificate application forms to obtain totally unregulated access to applicants’ sensitive medical data.
But there may be a way to bring the police back within the law while restoring the privacy, dignity and autonomy of shooters and maintaining public confidence in the licensing system: make the police trade in medical data and reports subject to the Access to Medical Reports Act 1988.
The AMRA was passed to prevent insurance companies and employers from trading in private medical data behind an individual’s back, reflecting popular concern that inaccurate or fraudulently obtained data, in the form of medical reports compiled by doctors, was being used to deny people access to services, employment or related benefits of the latter.
All this would need is a simple amendment to section 1 of the act to include law enforcement agencies using medical reports to make any decision as to whether to grant or withhold any certificate or licence, or for connected purposes.
If the police have nothing to hide while “providing a fair and transparent service to the public” then they should welcome such a move. More cynically, it would be difficult even for the notoriously truth-shy PR and lobbying tentacles of agencies such as NABIS and the NPCC to resist a simple transparency measure.
There are no published transparency standards for medical data relating to firearm and shotgun certificate holders. Police forces do not release information on how they make use of medical reports. There are no published criteria on what sort of medical conditions trigger a police demand for a medical report, or other police contact with an NHS GP. Neither are there any published data about how medical reports are used by police, or any codes of practice controlling and regulating their use.
It is entirely likely that police employees with no formal medical training whatsoever are using such reports to make decisions on fitness to possess firearms, with no informed understanding of the information in front of them.
The entire police trade in sensitive medical data is beyond any public oversight and is, for practical purposes, totally unregulated. This situation needs to be brought to an end, while maintaining the integrity of the certification system.
The Information Commissioner has heavily criticised the insurance industry for using a similar method of circumventing privacy and security laws as the police impose on the licensed firearms community. UK Shooting News is considering contacting the ICO for their thoughts on our situation.
Despite all of this, the police, in conjunction with the Home Office and doctors’ trade union the British Medical Association, are trying to widen their access to sensitive medical data about individuals without oversight or a mechanism for appeal. The Home Office refused to tell UK Shooting News anything about this initiative when we exposed it earlier this year.
UKSN suggests readers who intend responding to the Law Commission consultation paper include something to the effect of “please bring the police trade in medical data within the scope of the Access to Medical Reports Act” in their responses.
Technology website Wired is reporting that hackers can disable sniper rifles or even aim them at something the operator doesn’t intend to hit. This makes excellent copy but skates over the hard truth that these “sniper rifles” are just ordinary rifles fitted with an electronic telescope and a firing solenoid instead of a mechanical trigger. Moreover, there are few of these rifles in circulation because no organisation yet trusts the technology – and with good reason.
Rifles are dumb mechanical objects built to launch a projectile onto a defined mark. TrackingPoint, the company whose technology is at the heart of the Wired feature (available here), wants to put smart technology onto a dumb rifle that would allow Average Joe to score a first-round hit at distances of up to a mile. This would let militaries and law enforcements skip long, expensive and resource-intensive marksmanship training; an obvious winner from the financial point of view.
Wired’s journalism here is great; they’ve been following the TrackingPoint saga for ages. But to blindly repeat “omg, sniper rifles can be hacked now, we’re all doomed” is just to run around crying wolf. As Runa Sandvik, one of the two hackers, said to Wired, “If the scope is bricked, you have a six to seven thousand dollar computer you can’t use on top of a rifle that you still have to aim yourself.”
The threat to public safety is minimal. TrackingPoint claims to have sold 1,000 rifles fitted with its system, although there is no immediate way of verifying what is, after all, a marketing claim. All companies boast about how popular their wares are and TrackingPoint is going to be no different.
Moreover, they’re bloody silly when it comes to basic information security principles. Who puts an unsecured Wi-Fi connection onto a critical piece of hardware? What idiot sends a critical patch “out to customers as a USB drive”? That goes against every piece of common sense advice issued by reputable infosec firms.
Various pressure groups – most with an ulterior motive in mind – have pushed for smart technology to be introduced into firearms for years. It’s never caught on because it introduces a critical point of failure with no easily repairable solution. A few years ago Morini sold a .22 long-barrelled pistol in the UK which was fitted with an electronic trigger switch. The idea was you could turn your trigger “off” for dry firing and for security when not in use. It was little more than a gimmick.
As ever, the only cause of concern around firearms is when someone stupid gets hold of one. Technology just isn’t something we need to worry about.
An internal British Shooting Sports Council report, seen by UK Shooting News, reveals that licensing fees are set to increase again, there will be more intrusive involvement of GPs in the firearms licensing process, and the Home Office approval criteria for rifle clubs will change in the near future.
Flash eliminators are subject to licensing laws in the same way as complete working firearms and moderators, the Court of Appeal confirmed earlier this year.
US shooters and companies have rallied round to help the South African Palma target rifle team after overzealous American customs and BATF employees seized their ammunition.
UK Shooting News has extracted the questions from the Law Commission’s scoping paper into its upcoming review of firearms laws and presents them here for general discussion and comment.