North-East shooting tragedy will be repeated, warns MP who wants tougher gun laws (From The Northern Echo)
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North-East shooting tragedy will be repeated, warns MP who wants tougher gun laws
A NORTH-East shooting tragedy will be repeated because of a failure to toughen gun laws, the Government was warned yesterday.
Easington MP Grahame Morris said he feared more people would suffer the pain of a family in his County Durham constituency if ministers continued to refuse to act.
Michael Atherton, 42, shot dead his partner, Susan McGoldrick, 47, her sister Alison Turnbull, 44, and her niece Tanya Turnbull, 24, before killing himself, in Horden, near Peterlee, last year Atherton, a taxi driver with a record of drunken domestic violence, had his weapons removed by police in 2008, but he successfully applied to have them returned to him.
Bobby Turnbull, Alison’s son, gathered 20,000 signatures on a petition calling for an outright gun ban for anyone with a similar history of violence at home.
But the Home Office rejected the campaign for a new law in favour of revamped guidance to forces to consult more widely on the suitability of gun applicants.
Staging a Commons debate, Mr Morris urged ministers to think again, saying: “I believe the only way to safeguard the public will be through legislation.
“It would mandate that chief police officers conduct a full range of background checks on applicants, involving GPs, police, and previous and current domestic partners.
“There would be a presumption to refuse an application where there is a pattern or evidence of behaviour indicating violent conduct, domestic violence, mental illness or substance abuse.
“This is in stark contrast to the current legal requirement, which legally requires the police to make just a single home visit, prior to issuing a license.
Mr Morris pointed out that one in every three women killed by their domestic partner is shot with a legally owned weapon.
And, remembering the Horden scandal, he said: “I would love to stand here and say that will never happen again, but I don’t believe that to be the case.”
But, in response, Home Office minister Damian Green said the problem was the way some forces had interpreted the law on gun ownership – not the test itself.
Furthermore, victims of domestic violence could be at greater risk if their partners became aware that they were the cause of a refusal of a gun licence.
Mr Green said: “The Firearms Act specifies that the police must be satisfied that an applicant can possess a firearm, or a shotgun, without a danger to public safety.
“I believe the law is sound in this respect and there is no need to change it.”
But the minister did pledge to respond, within weeks, to a highly-critical report by the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) into Durham police’s handling of Atherton’s case.
Labour - which backs Mr Turnbull’s campaign - has vowed to force another vote on the controversy when the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill returns to the Commons next month.
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