Social media ‘may be used as one source’ in firearms licence checks

Nearly 70,000 people across Scotland hold a firearms certificate approved by Police Scotland. Picture: Getty
Nearly 70,000 people across Scotland hold a firearms certificate approved by Police Scotland. Picture: Getty
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Police are considering carrying out social media background checks for extremist views as part of the vetting process for firearms licences.

HM Inspectorate of Constabulary in Scotland (HMICS) identified online activity as a key source of information about whether a person should be allowed to own a gun.

But HMICS said officers do not routinely check social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook when considering whether to grant firearms licences.

Police Scotland said it was looking at expanding its use of social media as a means of checking on the suitability of an individual to hold a gun licence.

The report, published today, said firearms licensing had become more consistent across the country since the establishment of Police Scotland in 2013.

But it identified “several areas” for improvement, making a total of 24 recommendations.

Derek Penman, HM Chief Inspector of Constabulary in Scotland, said: “The primary purpose of firearms licensing is to protect and promote public safety.

“Whilst the vast majority of firearm certificate holders use their firearms responsibly and safely, tragic incidents in the past have shown the need for effective licensing and processes, which assess the suitability of individuals to possess and use firearms.”

There are currently nearly 70,000 people in Scotland who hold a firearm, shotgun or air weapon ­certificate. Police have recorded a 74 per cent fall in number of crimes and offences involving a firearm in the past decade.

Members of the public who wish to possess a firearm must make an application to Police Scotland. If their application is successful, they receive a certificate which lasts five years before they are required to renew it.

The HMICS report said social media was not currently being checked on a routine basis as part of the application process.

It said: “HMICS is aware of situations in England and Wales in which an applicant’s social media has indicated their support of extremist views, or featured photos of an applicant behaving inappropriately with a firearm.

“Both situations would have merited further inquiry by the police to establish the person’s suitability to hold a firearm.”

However it said there were “capacity and capability constraints” currently preventing officers reviewing social media posts.

Police Scotland Assistant Chief Constable Mark Williams said: “Where concerns are raised, we may use social media as one of a number of sources of information during our checks.

“Looking to the future, we are considering expanding this approach as part of the national licensing process.”

The HMICS report said that it had been suggested that “insufficient weight” was being given to a firearms owner’s involvement in domestic incidents and suggested the views of an applicant’s partner or ex-partner could be sought as part of the suitability assessment.

It said: “Some stakeholders told us they would like to see more involvement of an applicant’s partner (or ex-partner, where relevant) in the suitability assessment. Their comments were prompted by incidents in which a certificate holder had seriously injured or killed their partner or ex-partner.

“In some such cases, investigations have subsequently found that intelligence about the certificate holder’s involvement in domestic incidents had been given insufficient weight in the suitability assessment.”

But the report welcomed the increased focus on gathering information about an applicant’s medical history and their suitability to possess a firearm.

Police Scotland and the SPA will be asked to create an action plan to address the recommendations contained within the report.
Liam Kerr, MSP, justice spokesman for Scottish Conservatives, said: “Yet again, a shambolic approach to IT is hampering police in a vital part of their work.

“It’s essential these records should be called upon quickly and easily. Instead, under this SNP government, failure to properly operate computer systems means there’s a shocking hole in the system.”

Scottish Labour’s Justice spokesperson Daniel Johnson MSP said: “Firearms are dangerous and ownership of them is rightly restricted. Any effort to improve vetting for firearms certificates and licences is of course welcome.”