December 2019 Review
by Gun Control Network on 13-01-2020
GCN is committed to preventing gun violence and we work to pursue that objective through changes to the legal system, public services and attitudes to guns. We collect and analyse data to provide all stakeholders with the evidence needed to initiate change.
GCN collects data on gun incidents and related sentences, inquests, and investigations in England, Scotland, and Wales as reported in the British media. We know our information is incomplete, though we believe nearly all the most serious crimes are included.
This Review refers to incidents that occurred during December 2019 and to earlier incidents for which further information has now been reported, often as a result of a court case or inquest. Please note that the data used for the Figures is derived solely from incidents that occurred, or first came to our attention, in December 2019.
Figure 1: December 2019 incident reports by type
We monitor FATAL GUN INCIDENTS in Great Britain and compile a list that summarises the available information. Our summaries for 2017-18 and 2018-19 are available at www.gun-control-network.org
We are aware of at least two reports in December 2019 concerning gun deaths:
- A man has been shot dead by an unknown assailant outside his home in Battersea, South West London. A police spokesperson said that a motive has yet to be established.
- A post-mortem has revealed that a woman, found dead in her car in Earls Barton, Northamptonshire, died as a result of a shotgun wound to the head. Two men, one of whom is the deceased’s estranged husband, have since been arrested. Police have appealed for information.
We are aware of at least four inquests in December 2019 relating to gun deaths:
- An inquest has been opened into the death of a man in Charlton, Wiltshire. The victim, found by his gardener outside the family home, is thought to have shot himself with a shotgun. The police confirmed there were no suspicious circumstances in relation to the death. N.B. The police refused to reveal the status of the shotgun, however GCN believes it was legally held by the deceased.
- The coroner at the inquest into the death of a man in Stock, Essex in July this year has recorded a verdict of suicide, cause of death being severe gunshot injuries. The deceased was discovered in the kitchen of his home with a “significant injury” to his head. N.B. The media report confirms the deceased was a legal gun owner.
- An inquest into the death of a man in Newton, Derbyshire has heard that he took his own life with a shotgun after he struggled to manage his studies at university. At the inquest, the victim’s family raised concerns about the way the university handled his non-attendance; however, a spokesperson from the university said that staff had reached out and given advice about support and help available. The coroner said she remained concerned about the university’s policy regarding non-attendance and would be compiling a report aimed at preventing future deaths. N.B. The inquest failed to record the status of the shotgun, however GCN believes it was likely to have been legally held by the deceased or a member of his family.
- A 50-year-old man from Ashbourne, Derbyshire, who was found dead in November this year, is believed to have killed himself with a shotgun. An inquest has been opened and adjourned. N.B. There is no information regarding the status of the shotgun, however GCN believes it was likely to have been legally held by the deceased.
Armed Domestic Violence and/or Victim Known to Perpetrator
We are aware of at least four reports in December 2019 that we believe to be armed domestic violence and/or victim known to perpetrator, including:
- See Gun Deaths above − A woman found dead in her car in Northamptonshire, and the arrest of her estranged husband.
- A man has been handed a suspended sentence after shooting a neighbour with a BB gun in a row over noise at a flat in Spalding, Lincolnshire.
- A man from Swindon, Wiltshire was jailed for attempting to hire a revolver, stun gun and knife from an undercover police officer, saying he planned to murder his ex-fiancée.
- A 25-year-old man has been sentenced to eighteen months in prison after pleading guilty to possession of a firearm with intent to cause fear of violence and possession of a firearm and ammunition while prohibited because of an earlier suspended sentence. After a family row last year, the man threatened to shoot at the family home. When his stepfather went to “have it out” with him at his home in Plymouth, Devon, the man fired an air rifle from a window, hitting his stepfather in the thumb and the head.
Licensed Gun Owners/Dealers/Legal Guns and Ammunition
We are aware of at least seven reports in December 2019 that we believe relate to licensed gun owners/dealers/legal guns and ammunition, including:
- See Inquests above — Two men from Wiltshire and Essex, both of whom apparently retained access to their shotguns despite depressive illnesses, and two further inquests into shotgun related deaths, both occurring in Derbyshire.
- A police spokesperson has confirmed that a police officer shot a man on a street in Hull, East Yorkshire after reports of a male believed to be in possession of a firearm. The victim, treated in hospital, was said to be in a critical but stable condition. The shooting has been referred to the Independent Office of Police Conduct (IOPC); a spokesperson from that organisation said, “We are carrying out an assessment to determine whether the IOPC needs to be involved in any investigation.”
- Conducting a warrant under the Offensive Weapons Act, police officers searched a house and shed in St. Helens, Merseyside and retrieved a large number of weapons, including 57 firearms, 40 large knives and machetes, 38 air pistols, 20 folding knives, ten swords, three crossbows, two axes, two flick knives, two knuckle dusters, a zombie knife and a Taser. The male householder was arrested for firearms offences and a large number of the weapons were surrendered to police for destruction or examination. A police spokesperson said, “Although a large number of these weapons were legally held by the occupier, we were hugely concerned about the sheer amount of weapons we found and the risk to the community if they fell into the wrong hands. Storing weapons anywhere, let alone a garden shed, whether they are legally held or not, is worrying to say the least.”
- See Stolen Guns below — Seven guns and ammunition stolen from a home in West Yorkshire.
In addition, we note at least eight incidents involving the use of police Tasers.
Stolen Guns and Ammunition
We are aware of at least one report in December 2019 relating to seven stolen guns:
- See Licensed Gun Owners/Dealers Legal Guns and Ammunition above — A man has been handed a custodial sentence of six years, five months after pleading guilty to burglary and seven offences of possession of a prohibited firearm. In August 2019, the man and three accomplices broke into a house in Gomersal, West Yorkshire and stole seven guns, bullets, shotgun cartridges and other items from a safe. Police have since recovered five of the stolen firearms.
Animal Death and Injury
We are aware of at least two reports in December 2019 of animal cruelty and/or death involving a gun, including:
- A cat owner in Newcastle, Tyne and Wear saw her pet limping home with serious injuries and initially thought that he had been hit by a car. Subsequent X-rays revealed, however, that the cat had been shot at least twenty times with an airgun. One eye had to be removed, while there was evidence of ricocheted shots above the other eye. It is believed that the cat was “trapped and used as target practice”.
- A young barn owl has been discovered fatally shot between the eyes in an airgun attack in Thixendale, North Yorkshire.
Imitation, Airsoft, airguns and BB guns do not currently require a licence in England or Wales. These guns are responsible for many gun injuries to both humans and animals.
N.B. Since January 2017, airgun owners in Scotland have been required to have a licence, and airgun crime in Scotland has since decreased by one third.
Gun Control Network, The RSPCA, The Cats Protection League, other organisations and individuals are calling for similar legislation in England and Wales. MPs and families bereaved as a result of ‘child on child’ airgun fatalities are concerned about the unacceptable delay in announcing the outcome of the Home Office review of air weapon regulation, which was announced in October 2017.
Border Force and National Crime Agency
We are aware of four reports in December 2019 relating to illegal firearms:
- Five men have been arrested after armed National Crime Agency unit recovered a gun and several rounds of live ammunition after searching a vehicle and property in Rochester, Kent.
- A man has been sentenced to 20 months’ imprisonment, suspended for eighteen months, and 150 hours of unpaid work after pleading guilty to five counts of possession of a weapon capable of the discharge of a noxious liquid or electrical incapacitation. In September 2018, Border Force officials seized a stun gun that the man had ordered from a US-based website. Police officers called to the man’s home in Swindon, Wiltshire where he showed them pepper sprays and a stun gun disguised as a torch. The court heard that he had bought the weapons after a series of burglaries in his area and threats made against him and an associate in the autograph-dealing business. He claimed he did not know the items were illegal. He must also pay costs of £500.
- Following a seizure of drugs in Dover in October 2017 and the subsequent recovery of a firearm, two men have been arrested by National Crime Agency officers in Tamworth, Staffordshire. The suspects have been charged with conspiracy to import firearms, the possession of firearms and ammunition for sale or transfer and other charges.
- A man has been convicted of possession of firearms and working with two others to import weapons after 79 handguns and thousands of rounds of ammunition were seized in July 2017 by Border Force officers based in France, and seventeen firearms were retrieved in Iver, Buckinghamshire and from across the UK.
Sentences and Convictions
We are aware of at least 43 reports in December 2019 of sentences and convictions for gun crime, including:
- A 41-year-old man has been jailed for two-and-a-half years after pleading guilty to two charges of possessing an imitation firearm with intent to cause fear of violence and other offences. In August this year, after drinking and taking drugs, he called police and spoke about his mental health, adding threats to shoot officers and himself. Armed police were sent to his home in Scarborough, North Yorkshire, where he pointed an air rifle at an officer’s face. The officer grabbed the barrel of the gun and disarmed him. Weapons, including knives and a BB gun, were found in his home. The court heard that the man had told his barrister that he wanted to go to prison to get off drugs.
- A 22-year-old ex-soldier, who was fascinated with armoury, has been handed a custodial sentence of six years after admitting possessing a prohibited weapon, a rifle component, four cans of pepper spray and ammunition. Police searching his home in Hinkley, Leicestershire, discovered a semi-automatic rifle, three pepper sprays and 155 rounds of ammunition. He claimed to have built the rifle “because he was interested in the engineering behind it” but had not considered it safe enough to fire; however, a police firearms expert subsequently test-fired it successfully. He claimed the pepper sprays were brought to the UK after an army exercise in Germany; the parts for the rifle were obtained via the internet, while one part had come from an unnamed source. Some of the ammunition, he claimed, had been given to him by a friend while he had kept the rest after an organised shoot. On sentencing, the judge said that he did not believe the story about the ammunition saying: “You deliberately stole it (ammunition) from the army.”
- A 25-year-old man has been handed a 23-month prison sentence, suspended for two years, after pleading guilty to affray and possession of an imitation firearm with intent to cause fear. In August 2017, he locked himself into his flat in Wenn, Shropshire and brandished a knife and a long-barrelled BB gun at attending police officers. He eventually gave himself up after negotiation. The court heard that he had been on bail awaiting trial for sex offences at the time of the offence and had been “struggling to cope” with allegations made against him on social media. He was ordered to carry out 100 hours unpaid work, complete a rehabilitation programme and pay £750 court costs.
- A 33-year-old man has been jailed for fifteen years, with an extended licence of eighteen years, after being found guilty of three counts of robbery, one count of attempted robbery, four counts of possession of an imitation firearm and one count of possession of a prohibited weapon. In December 2018, the man was involved in a disturbance at a takeaway restaurant after which he took a firearm from his trousers and placed it in a wheelie bin outside. Following his detention and the recovery of the weapon, he was linked to four armed robberies at shops in and around Croydon, South London in the preceding three months. During some of the robberies, he took staff members out of the stores at gunpoint to aid his escape.
- A 17-year-old boy, who cannot be named for legal reasons, has been handed a seven-and-a-half year prison term after being found guilty of two counts of conspiracy to possess a firearm with intent to endanger life, possession of an offensive weapon and possession of ammunition. In May 2018, after observing the teenager and two men acting suspiciously, police officers seized a bag from a car in Barking, East London that contained a loaded shotgun, shotgun cartridges, a black revolver and four bullets, and other items linked to the teenager by fingerprints.
- Two men have each been jailed for life after being convicted of manslaughter and conspiring to possess firearms with intent to endanger life. After a 17-year-old boy was fatally shot in Huyton, Merseyside in October 2017, DNA matching that of one of those jailed and another person was recovered from a cartridge retrieved at the scene. DNA evidence was also retrieved from other incidents taking place in 2018 that linked the suspects to other crimes.
- A former Royal Navy warfare specialist and award-winning marksman, has been handed a five-month jail term, suspended for two years, after admitting possession of ammunition without a firearms certificate. In April last year, police officers responded to a report that the man had violently assaulted his partner, leaving her with more than 50 injuries. During a subsequent search of his flat in Penrith, Cumbria, officers found 23 9mm bullets and a mobile phone inside a safe. The phone revealed that he had sent messages to two people, stating, “I’ve got bullets”. The court heard that he had been depressed and taking drugs at the time of offending. The judge ordered the forfeiture and destruction of the seized bullets.
- Eight members of a gang that ran a drugs operation in Ipswich, Stowmarket and East Suffolk have been jailed for a total of 54 years, ten months. Evidence of their exploits was found in YouTube videos, during which they boasted about their criminal activity. Gang members were linked to a number of incidents, including the stabbing of two teenage boys, one of whom died from his injuries, and firing a shotgun at a house door in Leiston, Suffolk. Offences included conspiracy to supply Class A drugs, possession of a shotgun and robbery.
- A man has been sentenced to six-and-a-half years in prison after admitting three counts of possessing a prohibited firearm, one count of possessing ammunition without a certificate and three counts of possessing prohibited weapons. In September this year, police officers visiting his home in Huyton, Merseyside to arrest him on an unrelated matter, found a Russian pistol, an Italian pistol and 63 live bullets, an improvised gun with a bullet, two stun guns disguised as torches, a police baton, handcuffs, a CS gas canister and seven shotgun cartridges. The man’s DNA, and that of at least three others, was found on the pistols, both of which had their identifying marks erased, while ten of the bullets had been converted from blank rounds. The man, a cocaine addict who suffers from bipolar disorder and depression, claimed to have been holding the weapons for a third party whom he could not name for fear of reprisals.
- Following an investigation by Counter Terrorism Policing, a man from Durham, Co. Durham was jailed for two-and-a-half years after pleading guilty to affray and unlawful possession of bladed articles, offensive weapons, prohibited weapons and explosives. He was arrested after he was seen threatening a man with a crossbow in June this year. Police officers searched his motorhome and retrieved more than 100 knives, three swords, two crossbows, an axe, bolts, ammunition, stab proof vests, handcuffs, explosives and electrical components. Chemicals and other items of concern were discovered during a subsequent search of a lock-up in Middlesbrough. The man described himself as a weapons enthusiast and said he had been experimenting with the chemicals out of “misguided curiosity”.
- Armed police were deployed following reports of a man with a firearm on a street in Stoke-on-Trent, Staffordshire. Following a three-hour siege, managed by specially-trained negotiators, the man surrendered and was detained under the Mental Health Act. An air weapon was recovered from the property in which the man had been sheltering.
- A 52-year-old man has been fined £120 and ordered to pay costs of £650 after being found guilty of two charges of possessing an offensive weapon in public. In June this year, the man was seen holding and pointing a rifle on a canal path in Wrexham, North Wales by several members of the public, including an off-duty police officer. When tackled, he told people that he was shooting rabbits and squirrels with the permission of the landowner. The off-duty officer alerted police and the man was detained at a nearby bus stop. He was found to be in possession of an air rifle, a gas-powered revolver and a Stanley knife. He was not charged for possession of the knife after he told officers it was used to skin rabbits. Magistrates declined the prosecution’s application to order the destruction of the guns.
Incidents by Weapon Type
Many incidents involve the use of airguns*, Airsoft, imitation and BB guns, which do not require a licence and may not contain ammunition but are used by perpetrators to capitalise on the fear of victims who believe they are about to be shot. Traumatised victims are often unable to identify the weapons used. It is extremely difficult to distinguish between imitation and live-firing guns unless the weapons are fired and/or recovered, and, for this reason, guns involved in incidents frequently remain unidentified.
Shotguns and rifles can be legally held by those granted a licence. Ultimately, legally-obtained guns in every country tend to find their way into the wrong hands, whether through theft corrupt gun dealers, and/or the failure of the licensing procedure to identify legal gun owners who pose a risk to themselves and/or others.
Please see the endnote for further explanation of gun types and current legal status.
Figure 2: December 2019 reports by weapon type
See Gun incidents in the UK page for details of incidents involving these gun types.
Guns that do not require a licence: Airguns* (so-called ‘low-powered’); Airsoft; ball-bearing; imitation; paintball; antique; deactivated; bolt guns** and starting pistols/blank firers. These guns are cheap, accessible and available to buy on impulse. Moreover, lack of secure storage requirements enables theft. Many are capable of being converted into more powerful weapons. Guns deactivated to early specifications are capable of reactivation and recent, more rigorous specifications are not retrospective.
There is no legal definition of ‘antique’ and, although possession of antique guns is prohibited to those having served or received a criminal sentence, it is unclear how this is administered during sales and transfers.
Airsoft guns are exempt from the terms of the Violent Crime Reduction Act 2006 and are ‘self-regulated’ by the Airsoft industry. The Home Office fails to collect data on the proliferation of Airsoft skirmishing sites.
- *From January 2017 airgun owners in Scotland have required a licence.
- ** A ‘slaughter licence’ is required for a bolt gun.
Guns that require a licence: Airguns in Scotland; shotguns; rifles; police firearms/ Tasers.
The inadequate licensing procedure is subsidised by taxpayers to the tune of £20 million a year. Any number of shotguns can be held on one certificate, which lasts for five years. The licensing procedure consistently fails to protect the public from licensed gun-owning perpetrators and women are particularly at risk of domestic violence involving licensed gun owners. However, the Home Office fails to publish data regarding the number of Licensed Gun Owners/Dealers/Legal Guns and Ammunition involved in crime, and the status of guns used in suicides is not recorded at inquests.
Guns that are prohibited: Handguns (revolvers, pistols etc.); Olympic starting pistols; Tasers; submachine guns; and ‘other’ weapons (pepper spray/CS Gas; home-made guns and explosive devices). Certain handguns are exempt from prohibition. Handgun, Taser and pepper spray use is authorised for police, but there are concerns regarding fatalities and Taser training.
Imitation/Airsoft guns are available without background checks. Crimes reported in the media as involving handguns are likely to involve imitations, airsoft, air pistols or other guns that look like handguns, resulting in misleadingly-inflated reports of handgun crime.
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