One of the National Police Chiefs’ Council’s current initiatives to reduce the number of people owning and enjoying firearms within the law is mandatory medical reporting on every single certificate holder. If you want any lawful access to firearms, the unaccountable police body says, your doctor must become one of their informants.
We, say Continuity ACPO, should be able to demand your doctor hands over any and every detail we can think of from your medical history, invading your privacy to the fullest extent on the flimsiest of justifications. We won’t bother getting a qualified professional to interpret those – oh no. We, PC Plod, whose medical training amounts to staunching bleeding and calling an ambulance, will read your medical history, with no real understanding of what we’re looking at, and decide whether or not you can take part in your lawful sport.
In this privacy-conscious age, where identity fraudsters operate with impunity and we’re constantly warned of the dangers of sensitive personal data getting into unauthorised hands, this is a clear and direct challenge: you can either have the privacy that every other citizen enjoys as his birthright, or you can take up the shooting sports and be subject to “24/7 monitoring” (in the words of Chief Constable Andy Marsh) of the sort which is routinely deployed against sex offenders.
The CACPO intent is clear: police employees want to put a legally-enforced social stigma on being a licensed firearms owner. By making our lawful pastime seem like an inherently unacceptable risk to public safety in the eyes of Joe Bloggs, police hope to reduce the number of firearm certificates on issue. The antis walk among us, and they’re wearing the black shirts of the constabulary.
Arr! There be gold in them thar shooters’ pockets…
Moreover, introducing doctors as a central part of the firearms licensing process also gives CACPO a means of artificially increasing the price of a firearm or shotgun certificate. NHS doctors refuse to do any work that isn’t in their gold-plated contracts unless they can charge extra for it. The police insist that any work they do for taxpayers must be charged again, over and above the council tax that every British household pays; a proportion of which directly funds police services.
CACPO has already successfully lobbied for a two thirds increase in the price of a firearm certificate, along with annual fee rises, guaranteeing themselves a healthy profit from a captive market. Introducing a mandatory medical report which taxpayers must stump up for, on top of the tax already paid to fund the operation of the NHS and the police, is the second step of the police campaign to attack the shooting sports by making it economically unviable for people to take them up. The police plan is to abandon the current system where medical reports are only sought in cases of genuine concern and move to a blanket reporting system, with little consideration for the workload this will generate. A Home Office working group has been formed to find ways around doctors’ rightful objections to the police proposals.
The final concern is that doctors introduce another uncontrolled element of personal bias into the equation, which, without frequent public scrutiny and robust challenge, can lead to wrongful conclusions being made. Take this Tweet from a self-described “junior doc based in East London”:
— Lozzle McFozzle (@lozzlemcfozzle) October 1, 2015
Would you trust her to give an unbiased opinion about you which could ban you from your sport? I certainly wouldn’t.
Approved GPs – a possible answer
Perhaps the answer is to set up a network of approved GPs to whom FAC and SGC holders can be registered. These GPs could be vetted by the shooting organisations to weed out any undesirables and to assess their practice’s data security procedures; in particular, ensuring that markers are not placed on medical records or made accessible to anyone other than the registered practitioner himself – so preventing casual staff with no need to have that knowledge, such as receptionists, from accessing it.
Further checks and safeguards could be introduced at the GP surgery end to prevent inappropriate access by non-medical personnel, or police fishing expeditions, from taking place without a lawfully granted court warrant. Medical confidentiality is one of the most sacred duties in 21st century medicine, and reading off someone else’s confidential medical history must never happen without the permission of either that person or a judge.
The details of GPs who pass a “shooting approved” audit could be published. As an incentive to sign up for the audit, perhaps GPs could be given some form of award or badge to display at their surgery, or be advertised on the shooting associations’ websites and in their journals. Shooters can then be encouraged to use these impartial and vetted doctors, reducing the risk and ensuring that medical reports are impartial and factual.
What nobody in authority appears to have considered is the impact of mandatory medical reporting upon people’s willingness to seek help. With the knowledge that your highly personal condition may be read off, at any time, by some faceless black-shirted bureaucrat and used to deny you the enjoyment of your peaceful hobby and the company of your likeminded friends, who would go to a doctor in this brave new world? Better to suffer in silence than see your sport brutally torn from you without warning.
Stopping the state from overstepping the mark
Any medical data supplied to your insurer or your employer by your doctor is regulated by the Access to Medical Reports Act 1988. This gives you the right to view and challenge such information. What the licensed firearms community needs now is an amendment to that act to cover firearms licensing decisions, to give us the protection we already have from malicious or reckless misuse of sensitive personal data in the private sector.
The current situation, where FAC and SGC holders must sign a waiver allowing the police to go on open-ended fishing expeditions at any time, must cease immediately. It is totally unacceptable that law-abiding people should have to give up on medical confidentiality just so the police can issue press releases about how hard they’re cracking down on the licensed firearms community. We are not Soviet Russia. Employees of the state have no more business prying into your medical records than a shop worker does.
Moreover, accepting the principle of supplying medical records on demand opens the door for prohibitively expensive psychiatrists’ reports later down the line. Physical health is rarely a factor in determining any risks to public safety posed by a member of the licensed firearms community; mental health, however, is vital. I don’t know about you, good reader, but I vehemently object to permitting the police to treat me as if I am potentially criminally insane unless I prove myself innocent of that charge.
As history tells us, no matter how many new and intrusive powers targeted the licensed firearms community the police demand, they rarely, if ever, exercise them in the cases where it matters. This medical records proposal is a stillborn shambles; the Home Office and elected MPs ought to tell the police to get out and start enforcing the law as it stands now – a message even HMIC concluded they should be told.