November 2020 Review
by Gun Control Network on 18-12-2020
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 November 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 November 2020.
Figure 1: November 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 November 2020 concerning gun deaths:
- Police, paramedics and an air ambulance were called to a shooting club in Tameside, Greater Manchester, following reports of an incident. A man was taken to hospital but died a short while later. Police believe there were no suspicious circumstances surrounding the death.
- Following reports of a shooting in Ilford, East London, police officers and ambulance staff found a man who had suffered gunshot injuries to the head; he was declared dead at the scene. No arrests have yet been made.
- A man has died after being shot by a police officer in Swindon, Wiltshire. In the early hours of the morning on 8th November, firearms officers were deployed following reports of an argument between two men, one of whom was armed. A firearms officer shot one of the men in the chest and he died in an ambulance shortly afterwards. The Independent Office for Police Conduct has opened an investigation.
- A teenage man has died after being shot on a street in Stockbridge, Merseyside. Emergency services personnel responded to reports of the shooting and carried out CPR on the seriously-injured victim, who died at the scene shortly afterwards. A police spokesperson appealed for information, saying: “This was a cold blooded, targeted attack on a residential street which has taken away the life of a young man and tonight a family are mourning their tragic loss. The people responsible for this attack knew exactly what they were doing and they need to be caught.” A man has since been arrested on suspicion of murder.
- A man has died after being shot in a house in Sheffield, South Yorkshire. He was treated in hospital for gunshot wounds but could not be saved. One man has since been arrested on suspicion of conspiracy to murder, while a second man has been arrested on suspicion of perverting the course of justice in connection with the investigation.
We are aware of at least three reports in November 2020 relating to gun deaths:
- The coroner at the inquest into the death of a man in Brixton, Devon in March this year has concluded that he took his own life, cause of death being a shotgun wound to the head. The victim, a retired doctor who had suffered repeated bouts of depression, saw his GP in 2017 to tell her that he had taken up pheasant shooting and planned to apply for a shotgun licence. His GP then wrote to the local police licensing team to inform them of the man’s medical history. The day before he died the victim’s former work partner emailed the same GP to raise concerns about the man’s depression having returned. The email noted that the man had voiced fears that he would be asked to return to work to manage the Covid-19 crisis. The inquest heard that the deceased kept two legally-owned shotguns in a locked cabinet in the family home.
- The coroner at the inquest into the death of a man in Swarthmoor, Cumbria in August this year has concluded that he took his own life with a homemade ‘slam gun’. The inquest heard that the deceased, a farmer with Motor Neurone Disease, had struggled to walk and get in and out of his tractor. He had refused to see friends and had started to refer to his home as a prison. When asked by a doctor if there was anything he could do, the man had said he could “get him a loaded gun”. After he man’s wife found his body in a locked garage at their home, police officers found items that were “consistent with three separate parts of a homemade firearm”.
- The coroner at the inquest into the death of a man in Wrexham, North Wales in May this year has recorded a verdict of suicide, cause of death being a shotgun wound to the head. The inquest heard that the deceased, a manager at a care home, had “struggled to cope” with the Covid crisis, “finding it difficult to deal with seeing the residents suffering, securing PPE for staff and trying to get medical help for the home”. The deceased shot himself in his car in the car park of a police station.
Licensed Gun Owners/Dealers/Legal Guns and Ammunition
We are aware of at least five reports in November 2020 that we believe may relate to licensed gun owners/former licensed gun owners/dealers/legal guns and ammunition:
- See Gun Deaths above − A man has died following a shooting at a shooting range in Greater Manchester.
- A man has died after being shot by a police officer in Wiltshire.
- See Inquests above − A coroner recorded a verdict of suicide regarding the death of a retired doctor from Devon known to suffer from repeated bouts of depression.
- A man has failed in his attempt to appeal his 2019 conviction for breaching the terms of his firearms licence. In July 2018, a fire broke out at his house in Insch, Aberdeenshire while he was away on holiday. The attending firefighters discovered a Tikka bolt action rifle propped up against a wall inside the property. The man said that after using the rifle to shoot vermin the day before his holiday, he had removed its bolt and left it outside the gun cabinet to dry. Reducing the fine from £3,000 to £1,000, but upholding the original charge of failing to comply with the conditions of the firearms licence, in particular the requirement to prevent access to the weapon by an unauthorised person, the sheriff noted that the man’s failure to securely store the rifle “had been an oversight rather than a deliberate contravention of the appellant’s firearm certificate”. The man’s firearms licence, taken away on the day of the fire, was returned to him this summer.
- A 61-year-old man has been jailed for five years after admitting possession of a prohibited weapon and possession of a firearm without a certificate. In October last year, police discovered 40 cannabis plants and a sawn-off shotgun with two cartridges in a detached garage at the man’s home in Westleigh, Devon. A further four shotguns and three rifles, all legally held, were found inside a locked cabinet inside his home. He claimed to have found the sawn-off shotgun and vintage shotgun in a field near his home three or four years previously. He kept the sawn-off shotgun in a filing cabinet in his garage to “deter intruders”. The judge rejected his explanation, saying it “bore all the hallmarks of a fabrication”.
We note at least nine reports involving the use of police Tasers including:
- A police officer has been dismissed from his post and placed on the College of Policing Barred List after Tasering a colleague at Stanstead Airport police station, Essex.
- It has emerged that, in March last year, a police officer Tasered a man multiple times in Hammersmith, West London, after chasing him in an Uber taxi and on foot. The officer discharged his Taser towards the male suspect as he ran along the Thames footpath, firing at him five more times after he fell into the river. A Metropolitan Police disciplinary panel found that the officer committed misconduct by keeping his Taser armed and his finger on the trigger while in the back of the Uber, and gross misconduct for the final three Taser discharges. The Independent Office for Police Conduct found that there was a case for gross misconduct but not enough evidence to support criminal charges. The suspect was not injured as a result of being Tasered.
Animal Death and Injury
We are aware of at least eight reports in November 2020 of animal cruelty and/or death involving a gun, including:
- Three cats have been injured in separate airgun shootings in Hertfordshire, Scottish Borders and West Suffolk and another cat has died after being injured in an airgun attack and running into the road where it was hit by a car in Hertfordshire. A 60-year-old man has been fined for shooting at his neighbour’s goats with an airgun after they nibbled his hedge in Dorset. A swan has been shot dead in an airgun attack in Berkshire, a sparrowhawk has been put to sleep after being seriously injured in an airgun attack in Lincolnshire, and a badly-injured buzzard has also had to be put to sleep after being found with four pieces of shot lodged in its wing in Kent.
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 that the failure to publish the outcome of a Home Office Review of air weapon regulations is undemocratic.
We find it deplorable that the Home Office has chosen to ignore the statistical evidence from Scotland regarding the country’s significant reduction in airgun crime since the introduction of licensing for airgun owners, and launch another review which, at the outset, clearly rejects licensing for airgun owners in England and Wales.
Border Force and National Crime Agency
We are aware of three reports in November 2020 relating to illegal firearms:
- A 22-year-old man has been handed a five-year jail term after pleading guilty to possession of a revolver and ammunition. In January this year, National Crime Agency (NCA) officers searched the man’s home in Luton, Bedfordshire and found a Turkish-made revolver loaded with nine rounds of live ammunition in a bedroom wardrobe. The man’s DNA was matched to the weapon, the serial number of which had been “obliterated” to make it untraceable. The man claimed that a friend had given him the weapon and that he had believed it to be a BB gun. After initially saying he had never fired the gun, he admitted under cross examination that he had fired shots at home. Following sentencing, an NCA spokesperson said: “This type of gun is not easy to get hold of, and they are traded for up to £2,500 in the illicit market, meaning there was serious criminality behind its presence in (his) home.”
- A man has been handed a suspended eighteen-month prison sentence and ordered to abide by a three-month home curfew after pleading guilty to two charges of purchasing or acquiring a prohibited weapon, two of possessing a weapon for electrical incapacitation, one of acquiring ammunition for a firearm without a certificate, and production of a Class B drug. In August last year, UK Border Force officials intercepted a parcel sent from China to the man’s address in Hartlepool, Co. Durham. Inside, was a stun gun disguised as a mascara container. The following month, a parcel sent from the Netherlands was intercepted; this contained an anti-riot Taser and three ammunition cartridges. When police officers raided the man’s home in November 2019, telling him they were looking for prohibited weapons, he showed them the two Tasers. The judge ordered that the stun guns be forfeited and destroyed.
- As part of Operation Venetic (the National Crime Agency’s EncroChat investigation into the criminal supply of firearms), eight people were arrested after cash, drugs and a suspected stun gun were found at addresses in Ilford, East London, Havering and Essex.
Sentences and Convictions
We are aware of at least forty-five reports in November 2020 of sentences and convictions for gun crime, including:
- A 44-year-old man has been jailed for five years after admitting possession of an air weapon while prohibited, possession of air weapon ammunition while prohibited, assaulting an emergency worker and arson with intent to endanger life. In May last year, the man caused a fire at a hospital in Cardiff after smoking while using an oxygen mask, despite repeated warnings. Following this incident, armed officers searched his home in Treherbert, Rhondda and found an air weapon and air ammunition, both of which he was banned from owning for five years after a 2016 conviction. The court heard that the man had mistakenly believed the ban was for three years. He expressed remorse for causing the fire, which resulted in £47,500 worth of damage and led to the evacuation of staff and patients.
- A 20-year-old man has been sentenced to two years in a young offenders’ institution after being found guilty of possessing a firearm, possessing ammunition and carrying a knife in a public place. In October last year, during a routine operation tackling anti-social behaviour on the Docklands Light Railway, the man was stopped at All Saints Station in Poplar, East London. He was carrying a knife and a homemade double-barrelled handgun, customised with Louis Vuitton branding. During a subsequent search of his home, officers recovered “makeshift ammunition”, which the gun was capable of firing.
- A 27-year-old man has been jailed for eight months after pleading guilty to possessing an imitation firearm in a public place and breach of a suspended sentence. In April this year, armed police officers were deployed following a report that the man had brandished a BB gun on a street in Oldham, Greater Manchester. As officers told the man to get on the floor, what looked like a handgun fell out of his tracksuit bottoms. The court heard that the man, who had been showing the firearm to friends when reported, had slipped “off the radar” after completing 36 out of 50 hours of unpaid work for a previous conviction for knife possession.
- A 42-year-old man was handed a suspended twelve-month prison sentence and ordered to be deported to Poland after arriving on a ferry in Hull, East Yorkshire with weapons including a pistol, stun gun, pepper spray, axe, kitchen knife, catapult, multi-tool and a crossbow.
- A 22-year-old man has been sentenced to four-and-a-half years’ imprisonment after admitting two counts of possessing a firearm with intent to cause fear of violence, and one count each of assault, making a threat to kill and damaging property. In July this year, police in Clacton, Essex responded to reports that a man had threatened a woman with what appeared to be a gun. On arrival, officers discovered that the woman had been shot in the shoulder with a suspected air rifle. The man had fled the scene but was subsequently found and arrested in Colchester.
- A 34-year-old man has been jailed for fourteen years for two attempted murders. In June last year, the man fired a shotgun at a gang rival in Renfrew, Renfrewshire. Missing the man targeted, the bullet almost hit the occupant of a nearby flat. Following an investigation involving specialist forensic police and ballistics experts, the man was identified as a suspect.
- A 57-year-old man has been handed a custodial sentence after admitting possession of a stun gun disguised as an iPhone. The stun gun was discovered by police officers who called to the man’s home in Paisley, Renfrewshire on an unrelated matter in July this year. The man claimed the weapon had been brought to his home by someone else but the judge, commenting of his previous convictions, jailed him for six years.
- A 53-year-old man has been handed an eighteen-month prison sentence after being found guilty of possession of an imitation firearm with intent to cause fear. The man asked a door-to-door salesman to leave his home in Bridlington, East Yorkshire before pointing a BB gun at him and threatening to shoot him if he ever came back. The court heard that the man had been under the mistaken impression that the salesman, who worked for an energy-switch company, had been trying to procure the bank details of his elderly neighbours for nefarious purposes. The victim was said to have been terrified, having feared for his life. The perpetrator, a collector of air rifles, cleared all the weapons from his home following the incident.
- A 29-year-old man has been jailed for nineteen years after being convicted of five counts of robbery, one count of rape and one count of possession of an imitation firearm with intent to commit one of the robberies. Over a period of three months in 2019, the man robbed and violently assaulted three women whom he arranged to meet in hotel rooms in London, Nottingham and Birmingham, West Midlands. He raped one of the women and threatened another with an imitation firearm. The court heard that the man had stolen money from his victims to feed a gambling habit. He was arrested after police officers seized clothing and mobile devices that identified him as the perpetrator.
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: November 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. 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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