Firearms and Hate Crime

– in the House of Commons at 12:43 pm on 2nd March 2022.

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Motion for leave to bring in a Bill (Standing Order No. 23)

Photo of Luke Pollard Luke Pollard Shadow Minister (Defence) 12:50 pm, 2nd March 2022

I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to prohibit the keeping of pump action firearms in homes, with exemptions for professional pest controllers and farmers;
to make provision about medical requirements for holders of firearms certificates;
to make provision about the disclosure of mental health concerns relating to holders of firearms certificates;
to extend offences of stirring up hatred to cover hatred on the basis of sex or gender;
to make motivation by misogyny an aggravating factor in sentencing for violent crimes;
and for connected purposes.

It has been more than six months since the first shots were fired in Keyham in Plymouth. On that day—12 August—we tragically lost five members of our community. I want to remember them now: Maxine Davison, Stephen Washington, Kate Shepherd, and Lee Martyn and his three-year-old daughter, Sophie Martyn. We also remember two others who were injured and taken to hospital that day.

This incident has devastated the proud and tight-knit communities of Keyham and Ford. I have already spoken in the House about the pain and hurt caused to our community. Plymouth has faced a collective trauma. We know that there were nearly 300 eyewitnesses to the shootings—people who saw a body or blood on their streets—and many of them were children, who have seen things that no child should ever witness. Biddick Drive, where the shooting began in Keyham, could be any street in any of our communities. That is what makes this so scary, and that is why we need to be sure that it never happens again.

I have been pleased and proud to see the community in Keyham come together to support and help each other. People from across our city have worked together across party lines for a Team Plymouth approach. I am pleased that together we have secured £1.8 million for Keyham by working with the Government. That money has been spent on social workers, educational psychologists, counsellors, extra policing and home security upgrades to make people feel safe in their homes again. On top of that, thousands has been raised by the community for the Plymouth Together fund.

Keyham is still grieving, but through that grief comes clarity. We never want this to happen to any other community again. For that, we need to learn the lessons of this tragedy. Our community awaits the invaluable work of the inquest and the result of the investigations by the Independent Office for Police Conduct and Devon and Cornwall police, but we do not need to wait to act.

In the months after the tragedy, Ministers changed gun laws to require gun certificates to be signed by a GP and a social media check to take place on those applying for a certificate. Those changes are welcome. Today, I present the first part of what we are calling Keyham’s law—a set of proposals that I hope and expect will expand over time. It has been a privilege to work on the proposals with many of the family members of the victims, many of whom are watching from the Gallery today; others are watching live from Plymouth. I pay tribute to them for the steadfast way in which they have conducted themselves. Grief is painful, but, under the glare of international media, it can be even more stark and difficult. I am very proud of them.

The first part of Keyham’s law has three proposals. The first is a ban on pump-action shotguns and pump-action rifles being kept in homes. The second is to introduce a requirement that medical records and gun certificates be linked, with a requirement for medical professionals to report any concerns about a gun holder’s mental health to the gun licensing authorities so that their suitability for holding a gun licence can be reviewed. The third is to adopt the Law Commission’s proposals to make violent misogyny a hate crime.

The first proposal is to ban pump-action shotguns from being kept in homes. A person can apply for a gun certificate from the age of 14. In answers to parliamentary questions, the Home Office confirmed that there are 23,955 current certificates for pump-action shotguns and 1,918 current certificates for pump-action rifles on issue in England. One certificate can allow its holder to keep many guns.

I do not see any good reason why anyone in Britain should need a pump-action weapon in their home. My Bill would change the law and require pump-action weapons to be held in a gun club or a gun shop. That would have the effect of removing pump-action weapons from residential areas. I recognise that there may be a need for limited exceptions. When a gun certificate holder can demonstrate a legitimate reason for keeping these weapons in their home—those who work as a farmer or pest controller, for instance—there should be a permitted exemption, but I do not envisage many of them. I want to rid our communities of these dangerous and unnecessary pump-action weapons that are currently held in homes throughout the country.

The second proposal is to link medical records to gun certificates. People experiencing a mental health crisis should not have access to a gun, for the safety of themselves and others. We need a legal requirement for concerns about an individual’s mental health to be shared with the police if they have a gun. Progress is being made—slowly—in that respect, but my Bill seeks to go further. That means a simple marker on a person’s medical records, introduced and maintained by law. If any concerns were flagged about that individual’s mental health, the medical professional would be required to notify the gun licensing authority for a review of their suitability to have a gun, for their own safety and that of others.

At present, GPs are asked to confirm only that there are no health conditions or reasons that would prevent someone from receiving a gun certificate on application, and perhaps again on renewal, but they can be five years apart. I have heard of cases where no supporting statement has been provided but gun certificates have still been issued. Omission must never be a reason for approval. That link should be not just at the point of application; there must be a legal requirement to maintain a connection so that concerns that arise can be acted on swiftly. There is precedent for that: that is what happens when, for instance, heavy goods vehicle drivers present with a serious health concern; and a similar system already exists in Northern Ireland.

Mr Speaker, I know that parliamentary rules prohibit me from seeking to raise taxes or charges in the Bill, but I do believe that the fee for a gun certificate needs reviewing, embracing full cost recovery, with the greater fee paying for a better gun licensing system than the one we have today.

The third and final proposal in Keyham’s law is to make violent misogyny a hate crime. Incel culture is a sickness that is being allowed to creep its way into the lives of far too many young men. Festering in the dark corners of the internet, they are being taught to channel their frustration into an insidious hatred for women. Incel culture is a cancer that is growing. It is a rotten cesspit of hate, loathing and anger, and, if we are to tackle it, we need to better understand the extent of the problem. How do we stop our young men going down the path towards hate? What is the cure for this terrible disease? I would like to discuss with Ministers the commissioning of new research into incel culture. That would help to inform the Government’s work on violence against women and girls. Britain does not yet have a full strategy to tackle incel culture or the resourcing to make inroads, but, on a cross-party basis, I think that we need one. That is why, though discussing our community’s pain and loss is difficult, we must not shy away from being part of that conversation or having our voices heard.

I am presenting the first part of Keyham’s law, but this is the start of a campaign, not its end. It is not an exhaustive list or a final set of requirements to change gun laws. The campaign may take some time, but I am so pleased that it is a cross-Plymouth and, importantly, a cross-party campaign backed by so many MPs from across the country who share concerns about our nation’s gun laws. I look forward to meeting the Minister responsible for this area later today alongside the families of the victims of the shooting. I hope that he will see the merit in taking further steps to reform gun laws to keep us all safe.

Big hearts have prevailed in giving Keyham the support that we have needed to date, and I thank everyone for that support. Now, cool heads must prevail as we change our nation’s gun laws for the better so that we can stop a tragedy like this ever taking place again.

Question put and agreed to.

Ordered,

That Luke Pollard, Johnny Mercer, Sir Gary Streeter, Mrs Sheryll Murray, Mr Ben Bradshaw, Abena Oppong-Asare, Karin Smyth, Caroline Lucas, Alyn Smith, Alex Sobel, Valerie Vaz and Anne Marie Morris present the Bill.

Luke Pollard accordingly presented the Bill.

Bill read the first time; to be read a Second time on Friday 18 March, and to be printed (Bill 265).