December 2023 Review

by Gun Control Network on 14-01-2024

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 2023 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 2023.

                                     Figure 1: December 2023 incident reports by type

Gun Deaths

We monitor FATAL GUN INCIDENTS in Great Britain and compile lists that summarise the available information. Our summaries for 2017/18 to 2022/23 are available at www.gun-control-network.org

We are aware of three reports in December 2023 concerning four gun deaths:

  • A post-mortem examination confirmed that a man and woman, found dead at their farm in Saddington, Leicestershire, died from gunshot wounds. It is believed that the man shot his wife before turning the gun on himself. Police confirmed they are not looking for anyone else.
  • A man was rushed to hospital following a shooting in Sheffield, South Yorkshire. The victim died the following day from a single gunshot wound. Two men have since been arrested on suspicion of murder.
  • A woman died at the scene after being shot outside her home in Hackney, North London. A man and a teenage boy were also shot and injured but have since been discharged from hospital. A teenage male has been charged with murder, attempted murder, possession of a firearm with intent to endanger life and possession with intent to supply Class A drugs.

Inquests

We are aware of two reports of inquests in December 2023 relating to gun deaths:

  • An inquest into the death of a man at his home in Wallingford, Oxfordshire in November 2023 has been opened and adjourned. It is believed that he died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound. A full inquest has been listed for April 2024.
  • The coroner at the inquest into the death of a man on Birkrigg Common, Cumbria in March 2023 has recorded a conclusion of suicide, cause of death being a self-inflicted gunshot wound. The man, whose own rifles, shotguns and ammunition had been seized by police following reports of a “significant concern” for his mental health, shot himself with a rifle borrowed from a friend, purportedly to put down a lamb on a farm. He was given CPR by paramedics after the shooting but died later on the way to hospital. The inquest heard that the man had attended an A&E department after his guns were removed, voicing suicidal intentions due to financial concerns and stress.

Armed Domestic Violence and/or Victim Known to Perpetrator

We are aware of two reports in December 2023 that we believe to relate to the above:

  • See Gun Deaths above — It is believed that a man in Leicestershire shot his wife before turning the gun on himself.
  • A 39-year-old man has been jailed for 26 months after admitting false imprisonment and possession of a prohibited firearm. In March 2023, he lured one of his employees to his house in Station Town, Co. Durham. While another man kept watch outside, the perpetrator tied the man up and told him he wanted to discuss his dishonesty with money at work. During a two-hour ordeal, he showed his victim a gun and ammunition, and called associates to discuss what they should do with him. The man was then driven home. After he contacted police a week later, officers discovered the gun at the home of the perpetrator. Tests proved it to be a prohibited firearm.

Licensed/Former Licensed Owners/Dealers/Legal Guns and Ammunition, Police Weapons/Stolen Guns and Ammunition

We are aware of at least two reports in December 2023 that we believe to relate to the above:

  • See Armed Domestic Violence and Victim Known to Perpetrator above — It is believed that a man in Leicestershire shot his wife before turning the gun on himself.
  • A teenage woman was treated in hospital after suffering a firearm injury during a clay pigeon shooting event at a gun club in Tarbert, Kintyre. Police do not believe there were any suspicious circumstances.

We are aware of at least four reports in December 2023 involving the use of police Tasers, including:

  • A police officer who Tasered a 10-year-old girl has been cleared of gross misconduct by a Metropolitan Police misconduct panel. In January 2021, the officer attended an address in Brixton, South London after a woman reported that her daughter had threatened her with garden shears and hit her with a hammer. The girl was Tasered after she failed to comply with instructions to drop the shears and the officer concerned told the panel that he believed she had posed a risk to him and others in the house. A barrister acting for the Independent Office for Police Conduct argued that the girl had not posed any immediate threat and that her age had not been properly factored into the officer’s decision-making. However, the panel concluded that the officer’s “use of Taser on the girl was necessary, reasonable and proportionate in all the circumstances”.
  • Police officers Tasered and arrested a teenage male suspected of stealing a van from outside an address in Southampton, Hampshire.
  • Following the death of a man who was Tasered by police, the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) has found, “no indication that the actions of any officers involved in this incident justified the bringing of disciplinary proceedings or that they had committed a criminal offence”. In November 2022, the officers responded to reports of a disturbance outside a property in Braintree, Essex. A single Taser was discharged “multiple times” at the man after he allegedly assaulted an officer. He became “unwell” shortly afterwards and was declared dead at the scene by paramedics. An inquest opening into the man’s death was told that he died from complications related to cocaine ingestion. The IOPC will provide further details about its findings after the inquest proceedings have concluded in July 2024.

Animal Death and Injury

We are aware of at least seven reports in December 2023 of animal cruelty and/or death involving a gun:

  • The bodies of two foxes that appeared to have been shot in the head have been found dumped in a community garden in Swindon, Wiltshire. The incident has been reported to police. 
  • The bodies of three foxes that had been shot dead have been found on a public footpath in a nature reserve in Swindon, Wiltshire. While it is legal to shoot a fox in the UK, they must not be shot in urban areas and undue suffering must not be caused.
  • A swan is recovering after being shot in the head at a park in Clapham Common, South London. After an RSPCA officer rescued the injured bird, an X-Ray revealed it had been shot with a suspected airgun.
  • After a homeowner in Matlock, Derbyshire found an injured fox in their garden, the RSPCA discovered the animal “was bleeding from multiple parts of his body from what are thought to be gunshot wounds”. The fox was put down to “end his suffering”.
  • It has emerged that, in July 2023, at least ten dogs were dumped in Moffat, Dumfriesshire, with another four having reportedly been shot. A man has now been charged in connection with the offence.
  • A fox has been put down after being shot with an air rifle in Eastbourne, East Sussex. After it was found, collapsed, the fox was taken to a wildlife sanctuary where X-rays revealed an air gun pellet lodged in its mouth. It is believed that the fox was shot some time ago and had developed an infection from the wound. The incident has been reported to police.
  • Two Swans have died after being shot at a park in Leeds, West Yorkshire. The male of the breeding pair died at the scene, having been shot in the neck. The female died at an animal hospital after suffering five shots to the head. Police have appealed for information.

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 decreased by one third.

Gun Control Network, The RSPCA, Cats Protection, other organisations and individuals are calling for similar legislation in England and Wales after 300,000+ members of the public petitioned in favour of airgun licensing. The Government launched a consultation followed by a further consultation but as a result of responses, the overwhelming majority of which came from members of the shooting community, they concluded not to license airguns in England and Wales.

Border Force and National Crime Agency

We are not aware of any reports in December 2023 relating to the above.

Sentences and Convictions

We are aware of at least 29 reports in December 2023 of sentences and convictions for gun crime, including:

  • A 30-year-old man has been jailed for life after being found guilty of murder. In April 2028, he used a self-loading pistol to fatally shoot a man who was sitting in his car in a car park in Birmingham, West Midlands. The victim was shot from behind at near point-bank range. The court heard that the perpetrator and two others had travelled to the car park to meet three other men for an unknown reason but one which was "likely about serious criminality” and that the meeting had been “facilitated by a group of prison inmates who made phone calls from their cells”. The perpetrator was arrested in 2022 through DNA found in a glove left at the scene and after being tracked on CCTV.
  • Three men aged 22, 23 and 24 years old have each been jailed for 23 years after being found guilty of attempted murder and aggravated vehicle taking. In May 2023, the three men were in a stolen car from which they fired shots towards rival gang members on a street in Wolverhampton, West Midlands. Two children in a nearby playground were shot and injured in the legs. Both victims recovered from their physical injuries but the mother of one said that her child suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder.
  • A 45-year-old man has been jailed for 30 years after being convicted of attempted murder, while his 42-year-old brother received fourteen years for illegally possessing a firearm. After the brothers confronted members of a gang whom they believed were trying to steal their motorbikes in Greenhithe, Kent, the 45-year-old fired a pistol, hitting one man in the arm. The gun used was found underneath a car parked a few streets away from the older perpetrator’s home address, while bullet casings were forensically linked to the brothers. The court heard that the defendants had bought illegal semi-automatic firearms and travelled to America for target practice before the attack.
  • A 32-year-old man and a 30-year-old man have been jailed for 24 years and fourteen-and-a-half years, respectively, for conspiracy to supply Class A & B drugs, conspiracy to acquire/use/possess criminal property and conspiracy to sell/transfer firearms/ammunition. The two men were part of an organised crime group involved in drug and firearms supply across London, the Home Counties and Scotland. Following an extensive investigation, police discovered that the younger man was a customer of the older man and that the pair had colluded in a plan to sell firearms including assault rifles, submachine guns and handguns. During the investigation, three vulnerable people were safeguarded after being identified as being victims of exploitation by the gang.
  • After being found guilty of murder, a 22-year-old man has been jailed for a minimum term of 27 years, while two 22-year-old men received minimum terms of 26 years. In June 2021, the three men, members of a drug-dealing gang, set out to find a man after hearing that he was on a “rideout” on “their turf” in Hornsey, North London. The man was shot in an alley, with at least four .32 calibre bullets being fired from a suspected revolver. He died in hospital the following day. The shooting was part of a long-standing gang feud.
  • A 22-year-old man has been jailed for a minimum term of six years after admitting preparing to commit acts of terrorism. In September 2022, the man was stopped and arrested as he travelled to Lewisham, East London to buy a converted gun and bullets. The court heard that, after converting to Islam, he downloaded extremist propaganda and planned to shoot a Christian preacher at Speaker’s Corner, as well as anyone with her and any police officers or soldiers in the area, to send a “strong message”. He also identified Queen Elizabeth’s funeral as a possible target. He received a concurrent term of four years for causing grievous bodily harm with intent after attacking a fellow prison inmate with boiling water and two razor blades for “disrespecting his religion”.
  • Six members of an organised crime group that dealt in firearms and drugs have been jailed, while a seventh is to be sentenced at a later date. After the criminal messaging network, EncroChat, was decrypted in 2020, detectives discovered that the group operated a “stash house” in Ancoats, Manchester, where they stored large quantities of Class A and B drugs, cash, ammunition and weapons including sub-machine guns. Police officers also discovered a black handgun, bullets and large quantities of cash in the footwell of a car linked to the group. One of the men, responsible for storage and couriering, was arrested shortly afterwards. A second man, whose name was used to set up a company as a front for importing weapons into the country, was detained along with a conspirator, who recruited couriers for the gang, at a property where two sub-machine guns, two self-loading pistols, two magazines containing ammunition, a bag of 1098 rounds of ammunition, cocaine, large quantities of amphetamine and a suitcase containing £616k cash were found. A man responsible for brokering deals with other gangs was picked up next, while a man, who bought a firearm from one of the group, was picked up at his home where officers discovered a Taser, cocaine and high-value items. Six of the men were jailed for crimes including drug offences and possession of a firearm with intent to endanger life, receiving sentences that totalled 174 years, while another man is yet to be sentenced. A firearms expert told the court that the group had acquired 52 pistols and, after keeping a few of the weapons, sold at least 48 to various criminal associates. Following sentencing, a police spokesperson said, “These were very dangerous men who only cared about making vast amounts of money. They didn’t care how lethal their commodities were or the consequences for the communities and innocent people who would be irrevocably affected by this.”
  • A 21-year-old man has been jailed for thirteen years and four months for possession of a firearm, possession of a machete, possession with intent to supply a Class B drug, possession of a Class B drug, possession of an offensive weapon, Section 18 wounding with intent and possession of a kitchen knife. In June 2021, the man was found carrying cash, cannabis, and an extendable baton, while in November the following year, he threw a modified blank-firing pistol under a car following a disturbance that saw a group of people chased with a machete. In June 2023, police officers seized a loaded handgun at his home in Leeds, West Yorkshire. This firearm had also been converted from a blank-firing pistol. Following sentencing, a police spokesperson said, “Illegally held firearms and ammunition such as these have the potential to kill or cause serious injury and have absolutely no place in the hands of criminals.”
  • A 56-year-old man has been handed a suspended six-month prison term for sexual assault, attempted sexual assault, possessing an imitation firearm, failing to surrender and a Section 4 public order offence. In April 2021, the man made gun noises while pointing a plastic imitation firearm at members of the public in Kingsbury, North London. Upon arrest, he told police that he had been at a children's party and was carrying the toy gun for his son. Two weeks later, he sexually assaulted a teenage girl on a train and tried to assault a second girl.
  • A 47-year-old man has been jailed for seven years after pleading guilty to two counts of possession of a firearm. In 2020, police officers recovered a sub-machine gun and ammunition from under a bed pillow at an address in Leeds, West Yorkshire. After another man was jailed for possession of the prohibited weapon and ammunition, a forensic scientist said that the 47-year-old man was a billion times more likely than an unknown individual to be the major DNA contributor to that found on the weapon. After further weapons, including a second sub-machine gun, two self-loading pistols, a Taser and more than 1,000 rounds of ammunition were subsequently recovered, the 47-year-old’s DNA was found on a number of the items. Police also found messages on the decrypted criminal messaging network, EncroChat, that linked him to firearms trafficking.
  • A 46-year-old man and a 29-year-old man have been jailed for twenty-two years and ten years, respectively, after being found guilty of conspiracy to supply firearms and conspiracy to supply ammunition. In August 2019, police officers stopped a taxi in Birmingham, West Midlands and seized a bag of firearms and ammunition. The find led to the home of the older man, where officers recovered boxes of live and blank ammunition, booklets for firearms, component parts of a gun and a bag containing a broken blank-firing pistol. The property was said to contain the equipment and materials required to convert blank-firing weapons and construct homemade ammunition. The seizures enabled the National Ballistics Intelligence Service to link the items to eight other recoveries of weapons and ammunition in Birmingham, Oxford and addresses in the Hampshire area. Two other men involved in the enterprise were jailed in April 2023.

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 2023 reports by weapon type

Notes

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 at least £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 — suspected murder suicide in Leicestershire. The Home Office fails to publish data regarding the number of Licensed Gun Owners/Dealers/Legal Guns and Ammunition involved in non-fatal crime. 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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