Firearms Licensing. Handle with Care.

The tragic evidence revealed by the trial of John Lowe in Surrey remind us what a difficult job policing firearms is.

Mid-Wales has the highest number of firearms licenses per head in the country. That is not surprising given the nature of the area. Farmers, gamekeepers, huntsmen and hobbyists all have a right to hold legal, licensed weapons. Many depend on these licenses for a living.

On the other hand the public have a right to be protected. Dyfed Powys Police are responsible for vetting licenses. They must balance the rights of license holders against the risk to public safety. That is no small task.

I have watched the outcome of the Lowe trial, and the clear anguish of the family with great sympathy and interest. I do not know whether the police did or didn’t follow proper processes. With the benefit of hindsight, the decision to return Mr. Lowe’s guns was a mistake. But hindsight is a wonderful thing.

We must resist the temptation to assume that all these events can be prevented. You cannot legislate for everything. Good policy means balancing rights and responsibilities.

We must not penalise the farmer who needs his shotgun for the actions of a single disturbed individual. Nor should we penalise those within the police who must balance those rights against unknowable risks to public safety. You cannot eliminate all risk. When you try, you usually create some other, unseen, risk.

By far the majority of complaints I receive relating to firearms are about over-zealous policing. What this tells us is that the police are painfully aware of the importance of their decisions.

Some complaints are fanciful but some have merit. The licensing process can be cautious to the point of absurdity and fearful to the point of paralysis. The result is a bureaucracy where people are terrified of a mistake and a slave to process. That clouds judgement. And all these decisions come down to judgement in the end.

Our best hope of avoiding tragedy is to keep a clear head. We have to trust license holders to act responsibly. And we have to trust the police to exercise their judgement. There will be mistakes. But there will be fewer mistakes in a thoughtful atmosphere than an accusing one.