Gun law "needs tightening" after Cumbria deaths

LONDON (Reuters) - Britain’s current gun licensing system could not have prevented the mass shooting earlier this year by Derrick Bird but it still needs to be tightened, a report said on Tuesday.

Taxi driver Bird carried out Britain’s worst gun killings for years when he shot dead 12 people and injured another 11 as he blasted victims during a three-hour rampage through towns and villages in Cumbria in northern England in June.

The shootings, which involved people Bird knew as well as random strangers, only ended when he turned one of his guns on himself.

Bird, who used a shotgun and a 0.22 calibre rifle with a telescopic sight, had been licensed to own both firearms, despite having convictions for drink-driving and theft.

However, a report from the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) concluded that there were no reasonable changes to the law which could have prevented the shootings and that Cumbria’s police had been right to grant him a licence.

“The decisions and actions they took were fully in accordance with the law, regulation, Home Office advice and ACPO guidance,” said Assistant Chief Constable Adrian Whiting, ACPO’s lead on firearms. In the aftermath of the shootings, Prime Minister David Cameron said there should be a debate over Britain’s already tough gun control laws but added there should not be a knee-jerk response.

Whiting called for formal links to be set up between doctors, the mental health service and police to allow medical experts to alert officers if they have concerns about those with gun licences. He also said police should make a formal approach to an applicant’s family when licences were granted or renewed and bring in a single licence for firearms and shotguns. His review found that 10 percent of all gun holders had a criminal conviction and he said parliament should consider a change in the law so that those who are given a suspended prison sentence are banned from owning a gun.

“The recommendations I have made in this review may not have prevented the tragic events,” Whiting said.

“However, I think it is important to bring certain aspects of our broader firearms licensing regime to the attention of the public.

“There is a clear opportunity to legislate to mitigate against certain risks before a tragedy occurs, and to draw the legal provisions together into one piece of legislation.”

Editing by Steve Addison