May 2020 Review
by Gun Control Network on 15-06-2020
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 May 2020 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 May 2020.
Figure 1: May 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, 2018-19 and 2019-20 are available at www.gun-control-network.org
We are aware of at least five reports in May concerning gun deaths:
- A woman has died after being shot at her home in Barham, Suffolk. Emergency staff found her in a critical condition and rushed her to hospital; she was pronounced dead a short time later. The woman’s husband has been arrested on suspicion of murder.
- A man was found dead in the garden of his home in Minety, Wiltshire last month, cause of death being a brain injury due to firearm discharge. A police spokesperson said that the deceased man had a firearms licence. The death is not being treated as suspicious.
- A man has died after being shot at a house in Ardrossan, North Ayrshire. A gunman reportedly stormed into the property occupied by the victim and a woman, before opening fire. Police have opened an investigation.
- A woman died in hospital shortly after she was shot in the chest from a passing car in Blackburn, Lancashire. Police confirmed she was not the intended target. Four men and one woman have since been charged with the woman’s murder and attempted murder of their intended victim.
- A man died outside his home in Haringey, North London after being shot in the head on his doorstep. It is thought that the victim answered the door to two assailants, one of whom reportedly opened fire before the pair fled on a moped. Police believe the man was not the intended target.
We are aware of at least one report of an inquest in May relating to a gun death:
- The coroner at the inquest into the death of a man in Didcot, Berkshire in February has recorded a verdict of suicide, cause of death being a gunshot wound to the head. Armed police were deployed after the man called emergency services to say he was going to shoot himself in his garden. By the time officers arrived at the property, the man had died. The inquest heard that the man held a shotgun licence. A suicide note was left that “indicated suffering, pain and distress”.
Armed Domestic Violence and/or Victim Known to Perpetrator
We are aware of at least eight reports in May 2020 that we believe to be armed domestic violence and/or victim known to perpetrator, including:
- See Gun Deaths above − A woman shot in Barham, Suffolk.
- A man has been jailed for eight-and-a-half years with an additional two years of licence after admitting conspiracy to cause grievous bodily harm and possession of a firearm. The man’s nephew was sentenced to seven years in prison after being found guilty of conspiring to cause grievous bodily harm with intent. In July last year, the nephew drove a van towards a man with whom he had a long-running feud over money but drove away after realising that he and his uncle, in the van at the time, were being filmed. The two men then tracked their victim to a public park in Whitstable, Kent where the nephew argued with him before the other man emerged from a nearby bush and shot the victim in the knee with an antique gun. The perpetrators then fled, leaving their victim bleeding on the ground. Both men later handed themselves into police.
- A man has been handed a custodial sentence of ten months after admitting possession of a firearm with intent to cause fear of violence. In February this year, following a drinking session, the man argued with his wife before pointing an airgun at her head. The incident was witnessed by the couple’s daughter, who managed to get between them and push her father away. After the couple’s son also intervened, the father fired the gun into the corner of the room before saying he was going to take an overdose. Police were called to the house in Pontlanfraith, Caephilly but the perpetrator was unconscious by the time they arrived. During interview the following day, he admitted pointing the firearm at his wife but claimed he did not intend to hurt her. The judge ordered the destruction of the air rifle.
- A 24-year-old man has been handed a suspended twelve-month prison sentence after denying possession of an air weapon with intent to cause fear of violence but admitting a lesser offence of affray. In September 2018, the man held a BB gun to his ex-girlfriend’s head during an argument near her home in North Shields, Tyne and Wear, only later telling her the weapon was not a real handgun. The judge said the perpetrator was not being sent to prison as he had “made significant improvements to his life since the offence”. The perpetrator was ordered to abide by a further curfew from 7pm until 7am for two months.
- A man has been jailed for 21 years after pleading guilty to attempted murder and possessing a firearm with intent to endanger life. In October last year, in Washington, Tyne and Wear, he shot a former friend in the chest with a sawn-off shotgun. He had previously exchanged insults, abuse and threats over “women and money” and sent a text message containing threats that one day it would be “pop pop”. On the day of the shooting, the victim approached the man’s car and threw a bottle of water in through the window. The man told his victim to come closer before he discharged the shotgun at point blank range. Members of the public witnessed the attack and took the victim to hospital where he underwent surgery. The court heard that the victim still has fluid on his lung and shotgun pellets in his body. In an impact statement, he said: “I feel a shadow of the man I used to be. I can’t face people and I’ve not been able to sleep without nightmares about the attack.”
- A man has been jailed for nine years after pleading guilty to possession of a firearm and ammunition, possession of an offensive weapon in a public place, kidnap, assault occasioning actual bodily harm and drugs offences. In December last year, the man picked up a school friend in his car in Rotherham, South Yorkshire. He threatened his victim, saying he would kill him and his family unless he repaid a drug debt of £300, then pushed a loaded pistol into his side and punched him in the face several times before allowing him to leave the car. The perpetrator was arrested a few days later at his home where police officers seized the firearm used together with four live rounds, £3,500 cash, cocaine and cannabis, valued at around £34,000, and other drugs. In an impact statement, the victim said: “I genuinely thought I was going to die in the car. What if the gun had gone off by mistake?”
- Two men, aged 40 and 53, have been jailed for nine years, six months and two years, five months respectively after each admitted burglary. The younger man also admitted possessing stolen firearms and ammunition, and a stolen prohibited shotgun with a shortened barrel. In July last year, the two men stole a gun cabinet containing five shotguns, two rifles, ammunition and other items from a property in Cossington, Leicestershire, the home of a friend of one of the robbers, who knew his friend would be away on holiday at the time of the robbery. One shotgun and a rifle were recovered by police, but the four other shotguns were never recovered.
- Armed police officers were deployed following reports of a man threatening someone with a handgun at a property in Stratford, Warwickshire. The suspect was arrested on suspicion of making threats to kill and possession of a firearm. It is believed the gunman knew his victim.
Licensed Gun Owners/Dealers/Legal Guns and Ammunition
We are aware of at least four reports in May 2020 that we believe relate to licensed gun owners/dealers/legal guns and ammunition:
- See Gun Deaths above − A woman shot in Suffolk, whose husband, reported to be a gun dealer, has been arrested.
- A man found dead with gunshot injuries in Wiltshire is reported to have been a licensed gun owner.
- See Inquest above − A coroner reached a verdict of suicide relating to the death of a licensed gun owner in Berkshire.
- See Gun Theft below − Five shotguns, two rifles, ammunition and other items have been stolen from a home in Leicestershire.
We note at least six reports involving the use of police Tasers including:
- A police officer has been suspended pending an investigation by the Independent Office for Police Conduct into two alleged assaults and use of a Taser. The officer allegedly Tasered a man following a pursuit in Birmingham, West Midlands in February this year. The incident was recorded on a phone video.
- Police officers Tasered a man at a petrol station in Stretford, Greater Manchester after he was stopped for driving over the speed limit. The officers confronted the man as he was holding his young son in front of him, Tasering him shortly after he put the child down. On video footage of the incident, the child can be heard crying and screaming, “Daddy”, throughout the episode. The matter has been referred to the Independent Office for Police Conduct and to the professional standards branch of Greater Manchester Police.
- Police officers Tasered a man who ran away as they approached him in Haringey, North London. The man, who was Tasered as he jumped over a wall, fell and suffered serious, life-changing back injuries. The incident has been referred to the Independent Office for Police Conduct.
Stolen Guns and Ammunition
We are aware of at least three reports in May 2020 relating to stolen guns and ammunition:
- See Licensed Gun Owners/Legal Guns and Ammunition above − Five shotguns, two rifles and ammunition stolen from a home in Leicestershire.
- A high-powered air rifle, component parts, accessories and pellets have been stolen from the boot of a parked car in Ipswich, Suffolk.
- A man has been handed a suspended sentence of seven months and a 30-day rehabilitation activity requirement after being found guilty of burglary. In February 2018, the man broke into a shop in Stoke, Staffordshire and stole three airsoft rifles and four airsoft pistols, worth £823. He was identified from CCTV and DNA found at the scene. Two of the stolen weapons were found when a car registered to the man was stopped by police the following month.
Animal Death and Injury
We are aware of at least 24 reports in May 2020 of animal cruelty and/or death involving a gun, including:
- A cat has been shot dead in Cheshire, and a further three cats sustained injuries so severe that they had to be put to sleep in South Yorkshire, Suffolk and Norfolk. A fifth cat received treatment after being shot in Hampshire and went on to give birth to four healthy kittens; another cat was injured in North Wales and another is recovering after being shot in the head in Tyne and Wear.
- A gang of men allegedly fired an airgun from a van at a farm in Dalmellington, Ayreshire, killing a lamb and seriously injuring a ewe. The farmer shared images of the stricken animals and the van on social media and appealed for information. Police are investigating.
- A swan and four mallard ducks have been found shot dead in South Anston, South Yorkshire and the dead swan’s mate is said to be “fighting for his life” after suffering gunshot injuries while trying to protect her. The swans had been incubating a nest of eggs; these did not survive after getting too cold. A woman who runs a local animal rescue centre has used social media to organise a reward fund that will be offered to find the culprits.
- Three gulls and a fledgling blackbird have been found shot dead in different locations in Denbighshire; three ducks have been found shot dead in a park in Dorset and a pigeon had to be put to sleep after being shot in West Midlands.
- Two buzzards have been found injured in North Yorkshire, one with injuries was so severe the bird had to be put to sleep; three red kites have been found dead in Powys and a peregrine falcon has been found shot dead in West Yorkshire.
The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds has reported being "overrun" by reports of birds of prey being illegally killed since the Covid lockdown began. Species targeted have included hen harriers, peregrine falcons, red kites, goshawks, buzzards and barn owls.
A spokesperson from the charity described the attacks as “orchestrated”, adding that the “vast majority” had connections with shooting estates, or land managed for shooting. Anyone with information is asked to call the RSPB’s confidential Captor Crime Hotline 0100 999 0101, or the police on 101.
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 two reports in May 2020 relating to illegal firearms:
- After UK Border Agency staff intercepted a parcel at Birmingham Airport earlier this month, police officers searched a property in Tavistock, Devon and seized a knife and what was thought to be a starting pistol. A man was arrested at the scene and subsequently charged with two offences relating to importation of goods with intent to evade prohibition and possession of a firearm during a five-year period following a suspended sentence. He has been remanded in custody.
- Following a tip-off from the Organised Crime Partnership (a joint National Crime Agency and Metropolitan Police unit), police officers seized a pistol, 20 rounds of ammunition, a holster and gun oil from an address in Exeter, Devon as well as a quantity of cocaine from a car. A man was subsequently charged with possession with intent to supply Class A drugs and possession of a firearm.
Sentences and Convictions
We are aware of at least 31 reports in May 2020 of sentences and convictions for gun crime, including:
- A man jailed for two-and-a-half years in February this year for four counts of possessing prohibited weapons, two counts of possessing prohibited ammunition and possessing a sawn-off shotgun, has had his sentence increased to five years. Acting on intelligence, police officers raided the man’s home in Walsall, West Midlands in November last year and retrieved six handguns, some of which had been converted to fire live ammunition, and 23 adapted 9mm blank rounds, retro-fitted with ball bearings or lead shots. He had imported blank-firing pistols via a Spanish website and converted some of the weapons in his garden shed. Following intervention by the Solicitor General, the Rt. Hon. Michael Ellis QC, MP, the Court of Appeal found the original sentence to be unduly lenient.
- A 27-year-old man has been handed a suspended sentence of eight months after pleading guilty to possession of an imitation firearm with intent to cause fear of violence. In March this year, the man waved a replica pistol at people in the town centre of Middlesbrough, North Yorkshire, while “hurling abuse” and threatening them. He pointed the firearm at one man, who jumped into a taxi to escape before alerting police. The gun, found at the perpetrator’s home along with pellets, was a gas-powered pistol, unable to be fired. The court heard that the man has significant mental health issues and that, on arrest, had told officers that he wanted to kill himself live on Facebook.
- A 50-year-old man has been sentenced to twelve years in prison, with an extended licence of four years, after pleading guilty to robbery and threatening a person with an offensive weapon in a public place. In November 2014, he and another man threatened staff at a jewellery shop in Bury, Suffolk with what looked like a handgun. The second man then used a hammer to smash a display cabinet before the pair made off with 28 Breitling watches. A handgun cartridge, found at the scene, revealed DNA matching that of the 50-year-old. After serving a sentence in Northern Ireland for another offence, he was brought to England in January this year and charged. Following sentencing, a police spokesperson said: “This was a terrifying incident for the staff and customers who were inside the shop on that Tuesday afternoon, with three of those present children under 16 … he did not commit this robbery alone and we remain committed to pursuing his accomplices”.
- A 43-year-old man has been jailed for three years after admitting two charges of possession of a firearm with intent to cause fear of violence, attempted robbery, damaging property, two charges of assaulting an emergency worker and possession of cannabis. During what was described as a “psychotic episode”, the man walked around the streets of North Hykeham, Lincolnshire in the early hours of the morning, claiming to be “with the feds” when he was found in a resident’s garden. Later, he forced a man out of a car at gunpoint and smashed his phone. After the victim managed to drive away, the 43-year-old screamed at residents who witnessed the scene and punched one of them. He was brought to the ground and restrained until police arrived. A blank-firing gun was subsequently found at the scene. The court heard that the perpetrator had “underlying mental health problems exacerbated by his misuse of drugs”.
- A man has been handed a suspended sentence of seven months and a 30-day rehabilitation activity requirement after being found guilty of burglary. In February 2018, he broke into a shop in Stoke, Staffordshire and stole three airsoft rifles and four airsoft pistols, worth £823. He was identified from CCTV and from DNA, found at the scene. Two of the stolen weapons were found when a car registered to the man was stopped by police the following month.
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: May 2020 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. See Gun Deaths above – A woman has died after being shot at her home in Suffolk, her husband, reported to be a gun dealer, has been arrested. 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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