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Training needed to prevent gun deaths

Image by Ingrid Corina for White Ribbon Relay 2012

Image credit: Ingrid Corina, White Ribbon Relay 2012

Changes to Home Office guidance aim to prevent domestic abusers owning guns.

New guidelines forming part of the recently issued Firearm Guidance used by police forces are to help the police decide whether to award individuals with a firearm certificate.

The three-page guidance replaces one sentence on domestic violence in the previous guidelines, which said that “domestic disputes” should be a factor for consideration in deciding gun ownership.

Under the new guidelines, “an incident of domestic violence taking place should trigger a need for police to review whether the certificate holder can be permitted to possess the firearm or shotgun without causing a danger to the public safety or to the peace.

“In general, evidence (including a history) of domestic violence and abuse will indicate that an individual should not be permitted to possess a firearm or shotgun.

“Each case must be assessed by the police on its merits, on the basis of the strength of the evidence available”.

Police interviews with partners who may be victims of domestic violence “may be judged essential to making a complete assessment of an application”.

Evidence from family members, “friends or associates” of domestic abuse victims and perpetrators can now also be taken into account.

The UK’s minister for policing, Damian Green, said, “Domestic violence is unacceptable in any society and perpetrators should be in no doubt that their chances of ever holding a firearms certificate are greatly diminished …I am confident this guidance will continue to protect the public from people who are not suitable to hold firearms.”

The Infer Trust, which raises awareness of the dangers of guns and offers support to those affected, estimates that in the last 10 years, almost three quarters of all female shooting fatalities in the UK occured as part of domestic abuse.

According to the Crime Statistics for England and Wales (2000), one in three women killed by their husbands is shot with a legally-owned – as in ‘licenced’ – weapon.

This new guidance was prompted by calls for changes in the law following the shooting by Michael Atherton in 2012 of his partner Susan McGoldrick, her sister Alison Turnball and her daughter Tanya Turnball. He then shot himself.

At the inquest, the coroner described the shooting as “avoidable” and concluded that the “the four deceased would not have died when they did in the manner in which they did had there been robust, clear and accountable procedures in place.”

Despite a history of domestic abuse and threats to harm himself, Atherton was awarded licences for three shotguns and three other firearms.

The case mirrors the death of Caroline Parry in Gwent last week, who was found outside her home alongside her ex-partner, Christopher Parry.

Both had suffered gunshot wounds, although Christopher Parry survived and was described as being in a ‘critical but stable’ condition in the immediate aftermath of the accident.

Police are not seeking anyone else in connection with the shooting.

On 20th September 2013, Gwent police detectives were still waiting to question Parry as he remained in hospital in a ‘stable’ condition.

The case has been referred to the Independent Police Complaints Commission to explore the actions of Gwent Police in the months before the shooting. Christopher Parry legally held three shotguns, despite his ‘relationship problems‘ being known to the police, who confirmed several previous visits to the house.

Bobby Turnball, the son of Alison and brother of Tanya Turnball, has actively campaigned for changes to the laws related to gun ownership.

While welcoming this updated guidance, he warned that “a few tweaks in the guidelines is nowhere near good enough as legislation would be.

“Police don’t have to use guidelines. In the case of what happened with my family, police didn’t abide by the guidelines and it’s going to be the same across the country.”

The guidance underlines the importance of police knowledge of the reality of domestic abuse, stating that “Officers must have received adequate training so that they are aware of the indicators of domestic abuse and how to support victims and keep them safe.”

Laura Richards, co-director of Paladin, a new national service for victims of stalking, and adviser to the Parliamentary Stalking Law Reform Inquiry, believes that police training will be central to successfully implementing the new guidance.

Laura said, “This guidance will only be effective with knowledge and training in domestic abuse, stalking and risk assessment.

“There needs to be a commitment for mandatory training in domestic abuse for all police staff so that they understand the serious and often dangerous nature of domestic abuse, which leads to so many women and children losing their lives.

“Domestic abuse and stalking are high risk behaviours and too often are treated as low level with an attitude that it is ‘just a domestic’.

“This is compounded by the fact perpetrators can appear very plausible and many are manipulative, using power and control dynamics on those they interact with and within their relationships.

“Comprehensive checks by speaking covertly to partners, family members and ex partners need to be undertaken in every case and any intelligence received regarding domestic abuse, physical and/or psychological to include coercive control, harassment and stalking should mean automatic refusal.”

An edited version of this story originally appeared on Women’s Views on News on 14th August 2013.

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