I am grateful for the opportunity to raise this issue; I know that a number of right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House are interested in this subject.
In the early hours of the new year, I was greeted in my constituency by the shocking news that four people had lost their lives in a shooting in the close-knit former mining community of Horden. They were Susan McGoldrick, 47, her sister Alison Turnbull, 44, and niece Tanya Turnbull, 24, as well as the gunman, Michael Atherton, 42, who turned the gun on himself.
Following the shooting, I called for a calm and measured response, but the high emotions at the time were not conducive to constructive debate. In the months that followed, I had the opportunity to meet family members on a number of occasions. They have acted in a considered and dignified manner throughout, and looked for practical improvements that will hopefully avoid such tragic circumstances, and such a tragedy, befalling another family.
A public debate on firearms licensing is still needed, and the time is right for the public and Parliament to consider whether the current level of protection is adequate. It is said that Britain has some of the toughest gun control laws in the world, but we should not be complacent. Current firearms laws consist of 34 separate pieces of legislation, which is complex and difficult to navigate for the police and the public. The Home Office’s official police guidance is more than 200 pages long. The rules are difficult to interpret, and their application can vary greatly across the 43 police forces responsible for issuing firearms licence certificates.