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Scarred by mass shooting, Britain to check social media, medical records of gun license applicants

British police in Plymouth in August, shortly after a man perpetrated a mass shooting in the seaside city. (Finnbarr Webster/Getty Images)
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Britain’s first mass shooting in more than a decade occurred in August. Just over two months later, London is requiring British police to check medical records and in some cases delve into applicants’ social media history before issuing gun licenses.

Jake Davison killed five people including his mother and a 3-year-old girl in a shooting rampage in the southwestern seaside city of Plymouth in August, before taking his own life. The attack stunned a nation where gun violence is rare.

The 22-year-old posted YouTube videos filled with despair and self-loathing ahead of the rampage, and reportedly showed interest in the involuntary celibate, or “incel,” male supremacist subculture that has been linked to a number of violent acts around the world.

Britain has one of the lowest gun homicide rates in the world and some of the strictest gun laws, including comprehensive background checks.

But the Aug. 12 attack raised questions about whether those checks are sufficient, after Davison had his previously confiscated gun and firearms license returned to him just weeks before the mass slayings. Davison, who had admitted to assaulting two people, participated in an initiative that aims to keep offenders out of the criminal justice system.

“The UK has some of the toughest firearms laws in [the] world, but we must never become complacent about these high standards,” British Home Secretary Priti Patel said in a statement Wednesday.

Britain’s first mass shooting in more than a decade leaves 5 dead, plus suspected gunman

From Nov. 1, people hoping to get a gun license must agree to share their confidential information with authorities. They will also be required to submit a form, signed off on by a physician, as part of the application process. Doctors will have to pass on any health concerns when the license is up for renewal, as well as alert police to potential signs that an applicant may pose security threat.

“Doctors owe a duty of confidentiality to their patients, but they also have a wider duty to protect and promote the health of patients and the public,” according to the new guidance.

British doctors have long resisted handing over confidential medical information, the Guardian newspaper reported, due to concern it might deter patients from seeking assistance. The latest measures were agreed upon after discussions between physicians, law enforcement and the government.

“As doctors we support the government’s overall message — that gun ownership is a privilege and not a right — and that firearms must be in the hands of only those who are deemed safe and responsible,” Mark Sanford-Wood, a physician with the British Medical Association, said in a statement.

The new rules state that additional checks should be carried out if officers need more evidence of an applicant’s suitability, including following up with probation services and domestic violence agencies, interviewing members of shooting clubs and examining applicants’ financial records and social media posts.

Police have said that Davison participated on incel forums, often populated by young men who cannot find a sexual or romantic partner, and justify violence against women as retribution for rejection.

Britain is grappling with ways to address what officials have called “an epidemic” of violence against women, after the killings of Sarah Everard and Sabina Nessa earlier this year. A watchdog last month called on police to treat the issue with as much urgency as fighting terrorism.

The country’s deadliest mass shooting took place in 1996, when a gunman killed 16 children and their teacher and injured 15 others in Dunblane, Scotland. That massacre led to an overhaul of gun laws and the government pursued legislative bans on assault rifles and handguns.

The need for medical records to be viewed by officers carrying out licensing checks is something police have been “encouraging for many years,” Chief Constable Debbie Tedds of the National Police Council said in a statement. “Any advancement on the already extensive checks will help to ensure that only those who are safe to carry a firearms license will receive one.”

Read more:

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