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Big rise in the number of licensed guns in the region

By Dominic Robertson | News | Published:

The number of legally held guns in the region has increased significantly over the last decade.

Newly released figures from the Home Office show that in March this year, there were 25,086 licensed firearms in the West Mercia Police force area, up from 19,122 in 2009.

The number excludes shotguns, which are licensed separately.

It means there are 1,993 firearms for every 100,000 people in West Mercia, an increase of 26 per cent from March 2009 when local records were first collated. It is the highest rate at any point over the last decade.

In total, 7,171 valid firearm licences in West Mercia covered an average of 3.5 guns each.

There were a further 67,651 licensed shotguns in the area – a decrease on a decade ago.

In Dyfed-Powys there were 13,129 licensed firearms, up from 11,593 in 2009.

There were 35,787 licensed shotguns, again a fall on the number recorded 10 years ago.

Hard to explain

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Gill Marshall-Andrews, chairwoman of the Gun Control Network, said that society should be working towards fewer guns, and that the rise in legal firearms was difficult to explain.

She said: “We campaign strongly for tighter licensing laws and those have been introduced, by and large. It is becoming more difficult to get a gun licence, so I have no idea why it has gone up.

“Unless we are going to say that nobody should have a gun – and we have never said that – you should have a good reason to own a gun, and you should be a proper person.

"The guidance is stricter and the licensing regulations, if properly applied, should mean that fewer people have a gun.

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“For years and years, the shooting lobby has said that gun crime it is just a matter of illegal weapons, but it is not true to say that gun deaths are related to illegal weapons alone.”

Applications

Between April 2017 and March this year, there were 622 new applications for firearm licences in West Mercia.

Of those, 98 per cent were granted, and just 12 were refused. A further 1,586 licences were renewed. Just four licences were revoked.

In Dyfed-Powys there were 259 new applications for the licences, with 96 per cent were granted, and 10 refused. A total of 884 licences were renewed and 14 were revoked.

The firearm rate in West Mercia was higher than that across England and Wales, where 578,000 firearms – 989 for every 100,000 people – were licensed.

In 2016-17, the most recent year for which numbers are available, there were 31 fatal shootings in England and Wales. Altogether, there were nearly 10,000 offences in which firearms were reported to have been used.

Of those, 58 took place in West Mercia and 16 in Dyfed-Powys.

Many gun crimes involve the use of illegal firearms either weapons converted to fire live ammunition, or restored antiques.

But some high-profile cases, including the murder of MP Jo Cox in 2016 – which was carried out with a stolen gun – and mass killings in Cumbria, Dunblane and Hungerford, have involved licensed weapons.

A spokesman for the National Police Chiefs' Council said: "It is the responsibility of individual forces to issue firearms certificates, and there are several reasons why the number of legally-held firearms may have risen in the last decade, such as changes in legislation.

"Therefore, the increase in the number of legally-held firearms is not necessarily a cause for concern.

"The Home Office are constantly monitoring the types of weapons that are held on and off certificate and consult on changes to legislation when required.

"Only a tiny percentage, something in the region of 0.025 per cent, of legally-held firearms goes missing each year, and that is when they become a significant concern for police.

"The Home Office and local police forces provide guidance on the appropriate storage of firearms and ammunition to certificate holders and are continuing to work to ensure that this already small number of missing weapons is reduced further."

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