The families of the victims of gunman Jake Davison are calling for changes to shotgun licenses in the wake of the slayings, an investigation heard.
They want the law updated to end the distinction between shotgun and rifle licenses.
Changes in the law could see limits placed on the types of shotguns legally held, the type of ammunition a certificate holder can purchase, and the amounts they can store.
Devon and Cornwall Police had awarded Davison a five-year shotgun certificate in January 2018, and he later purchased a Weatherby pump-action shotgun and hundreds of rounds of cartridges suitable for shooting large game.
On August 12, 2021, Davison killed his mother Maxine, 51, Sophie Martyn, three, his father, Lee, 43, Stephen Washington, 59, and Kate Shepherd, 66, in Keyham, Plymouth.
The Exeter inquest heard evidence from civil servant Nicholas Hunt, who is the head of the firearms policy unit at the Home Office, to explain UK firearms legislation and guidance to police forces.
Dominic Adamson KC, representing the families of the victims, asked: “Does the Home Office accept that the distinction between shotguns and firearms in Section 1 in the 1968 Act is such that the legislation is not adequate for its purpose?”
Mr Hunt responded: “I think since the 1968 Act there are clear differences between firearms and shotguns, like around referees.
“We are considering whether we need to change that. We have strict conditions in this country, such as home checks and medical reports.”
Hunt said the 1968 Act did have “teeth” and said the differences arose because shotguns were historically used by farmers and rangers, while rifles were more popular for sport.
Adamson said: “One of the outcomes of this inquiry should be that the Home Office bring forward legislation to amend or repeal the Firearms Act.”
Mr. Hunt responded: “I can’t comment on that. If the coroner makes such a recommendation, we’ll look into it.
“If we were to align shotguns with Section 1 firearms, we would have to change the primary legislation.”
He said the Home Office would also consider whether to introduce a legal statement on those providing references on behalf of shotgun applicants.
Following the Dunblane tragedy in 1996, the Cullen report made a number of recommendations on firearms, including training for police personnel assessing applications and doctors providing medical information.
Adamson suggested that the Home Office failed to ensure that national training was introduced in the wake of Dunblane.
“The position is one of ad hoc arrangements without any national supervision,” he asked.
Hunt responded: “I’m not sure it’s fair. Cullen’s recommendations were accepted by the government at the time.
“Police guidance was provided by the 2002 guidance and training was provided throughout that time.
“I don’t quite accept your point of view.”
Mr. Adamson suggested that the government’s acceptance of the Cullen report was “just talk” and never developed a national training programme.
“It led to two Acts of Parliament and the development of Home Office guidance,” replied Mr Hunt.
“It would be up to the police to carry out the training as a whole. It would not be up to the Ministry of the Interior to carry it out”.
The hearing was told that a coroner who presided over the 2014 death of a woman and her daughter at the hands of her partner in Surrey said it was a “reason for concern” that there was no national training course available at the time. and wrote to the Home Office highlighting this in July 2019.
Hunt said: “It is my understanding that we responded in October 2019 and provided evidence to the coroner regarding guidance.”
He explained that new guidance was introduced in April 2016 saying police should seek medical information from GPs when considering applications.
Just two months later, the British Medical Association withdrew its support, meaning many GPs felt unable to provide the requested information.
Mr Hunt said: “The Home Office was very concerned at the time as the Home Office did a lot of work trying to engage with the BMA and trying to understand the decision.”
Following the Keyham incident, police are now required to verify an applicant’s use of social media before issuing a certificate.
The Home Office has released further guidance this week to help police forces assess their use of social media.
A new computer system has also been put in place to let doctors know if a patient is a firearms owner, the court heard.
He said a marker would be issued before a certificate is awarded and after, to allow doctors to report changes to the police in the intervening period.