February 2024 Review

by Gun Control Network on 09-03-2024

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 February 2024 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 February 2024.

                                       Figure 1: February 2024 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 four reports in February 2024 concerning gun deaths:

  • A man died after being shot while walking his dog on a remote track in Pitilie, Perth and Kinross. His death was initially treated as non-suspicious and medical-related, and it was only after an examination four days later that injuries “consistent with being fatally shot” were discovered. A police spokesperson later confirmed that evidence may have been lost because of the delay in establishing the cause of death.
  • It has emerged that a man was fatally shot in a field in Bretby, Derbyshire in January 2024. A man was arrested at the scene on suspicion of murder. A police spokesperson confirmed that the two men were known to each other.
  • A man died in hospital after being shot outside a gym in Skelmersdale, Lancashire. A few days after the shooting, police officers raided a property in Liverpool and arrested a man on suspicion of murder.
  • A man died in hospital almost a week after being shot in the face at his flat in Liverpool, Merseyside. A man has since been charged with murder. Police believe the shooting was a targeted attack.

Inquests

We are not aware of any reports of inquests in February 2024 relating to gun deaths.

Armed Domestic Violence and/or Victim Known to Perpetrator

We are aware of five reports in February 2024 that we believe to relate to the above:

§   See Gun Deaths above — A man was fatally shot in a field in Derbyshire in January 2024. A man was arrested at the scene. A police spokesperson confirmed that the two men were known to each other.

  • A 59-year-old man has been jailed for thirteen years after being convicted of causing grievous bodily harm with intent and possession of a firearm. In June 2022, the man fired a handgun twice at a man in Waltham Cross, Hertfordshire. One bullet lodged in the man’s hand, while another went right through. The two men then began fighting before the victim's colleagues helped restrain his attacker. The court heard that the assailant had previously been married to the victim's aunt, a dispute arising after the relationship ended in acrimony. The injured man told the jury that he suffers flashbacks, needed multiple surgeries and has been unable to work.
  • A 56-year-old man has been jailed for two years and three months after being found guilty of possessing an imitation firearm with intent to cause fear of violence, making a threat to kill and racially aggravated fear or provocation of violence. In August 2023, the man verbally abused a neighbour and threatened to cut his throat on a street in Canterbury, Kent. Shortly afterwards, he confronted the man again, making racist comments while pointing a gun at him and threatening to blow his brains out. A five-year restraining order was made banning the man from having any contact with the victim.
  • A 47-year-old man has been jailed for four years and eight months after pleading guilty to possession of a firearm with intent to cause fear of violence, arson and criminal damage. In April 2023, the man threatened to kill his wife and set fire to their flat in Newport, South Wales. His wife fled to a neighbour's flat but the man broke in and was fought off. As he left, his wife saw that he was carrying an air rifle. He went on to brandish the firearm at responding police officers and members of the public outside, forcing them to take cover. He then fired at a police car and at one officer, missing his target. The court heard that the man, who has depression and psychosis, had smoked two cannabis joints before the incident and had not been taking his prescribed medication. Intending to take his own life, he had wielded the air rifle so police would “shoot him dead”.
  • A 37-year-old man has been jailed for three-and-a-half years after being convicted of assault occasioning actual bodily harm, possession of an imitation firearm with intent to cause fear of violence and two counts of possession of an offensive weapon. In May 2023, he and a woman assaulted a member of his staff after accusing him of stealing dirt bikes and quad bikes. He went on to pull the trigger of a blank-firing pistol close to his victim’s face, causing a burn injury. He also threatened to shoot the victim with a shotgun and made threats to his family. The attack took place at the man’s home in Dartford, Kent, from where police officers subsequently recovered a baseball bat, a large knife, knuckle dusters, a case for a blank-firing pistol, 9mm blank firing bullets, two air rifles and three shotgun cartridges. Eight shotgun cartridges were found inside a wardrobe at another address.

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

We are aware of at least four reports in February 2024 that we believe to relate to the above:

  • A 45-year-old man has been given an absolute discharge after pleading guilty to two charges of possessing a 12-bore shotgun without a licence and one of falsifying a certificate to acquire the same shotgun. In November 2022, the man took a shotgun to be repaired at a gun shop in Shrewsbury, Shropshire. After being told the weapon would not be accepted without paperwork, the man provided an image of someone else’s licence, claiming it covered him. The court heard that the man had held a licence for many years but had forgotten to renew it.
  • A 36-year-old man has been handed a two-year conditional discharge and ordered to pay costs after admitting failing to ensure that two of his legally-owned guns were securely stored. Police officers carrying out a weapons’ check at the man’s home in Dufton, Cumbria found only three of his five firearms in his secure gun store. A loaded rifle was subsequently discovered in a locked shed, while a second gun was found in his farmhouse property. He  claimed to have recently used both guns during his work: one to humanely destroy injured livestock and, the other, for pest control.
  • A 53-year-old man has been handed a suspended twelve-month jail sentence and ordered to complete fifteen days of rehabilitation activities after being convicted of possession of a stolen army sniper rifle. The English-made bolt action rifle was found by police officers who searched a stable block in Kirkby, Merseyside in April 2020. The weapon had been stolen from a business that had applied to paint to the weapon on behalf of the army. The man, whose DNA was found on the trigger, claimed to have been “minding” the firearm for others. On sentencing, the judge said that although there was “no suggestion” that the man intended to use the rifle, it would have been available to organised criminals.
  • Following reports that a 4x4 vehicle containing firearms had been stolen from land in Stranraer, Dumfries and Galloway, police officers arrested three teenage boys. The vehicle and firearms were recovered.

We are aware of at least five reports in February 2024 involving the use of police Tasers, including:

  • A man allegedly assaulted a woman and stole her car from a car park in Cirencester, Gloucestershire, before crashing the vehicle and fleeing on foot. Police officers found him nearby and Tasered him after he became violent.
  • Police officers Tasered a man after he slashed his neck with a broken bottle in Wigan, Greater Manchester. The man was rushed to hospital, where his condition was described as critical.
  • Police officers responded after a man allegedly threatened bus passengers with an unknown substance in Thornton Heath, South London. He was Tasered and arrested on suspicion of affray. The man, suspected of having taken drugs, was treated in hospital.
  • Police officers Tasered and arrested a man at a park in King's Lynn, Norfolk after he approached them with two knives in his hands. The officers had responded to a distressed call from the man suggesting that he was going to harm himself. The man later apologised for his actions.

Animal Death and Injury

We are aware of at least five reports in February 2024 of animal cruelty and/or death involving a gun:

  • After a cat was shot with an air weapon in Kings Langley, Hertfordshire, she underwent surgery to remove a pellet lodged in her abdomen. Police have appealed for information.
  • After a cat was taken to a vet with an infection, it was discovered she had been shot with a BB gun and had been left with a pellet embedded in her head. Police appealed for information, saying the pet was shot in Scourie, Scottish Highlands between the 8th and 12th of February.
  • A 56-year-old man has been fined £800 and ordered to complete 60 hours of unpaid work after admitting to being in possession of an Air Rifle Lethal Load weapon without authority and using it to kill a deer without permission in Morham, East Lothian in April 2023. After the man tried to claim the shooting deer was considered “acceptable” in the area, the sheriff told him, “…I can tell you that it's certainly not acceptable to poach these animals.” The man’s firearm and ammunition will be forfeited.
  • After two poisoned red kites were found, police officers raided a farm near Colchester, Essex and recovered firearms and “other articles”. No arrests have been reported.
  • A peacock has been put to sleep after being shot several times with an air gun near Market Drayton, Shropshire. After being found in a field, the bird was taken to a wildlife hospital where it was discovered that several pellets had lodged in its legs and body, causing severe damage to muscles and tendons. The RSPCA has opened an investigation, with a spokesperson from the organisation saying, “Anyone caught deliberately using an air gun to injure an animal can face up to five years in prison and or an unlimited fine if found guilty under the Animal Welfare Act.”

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 aware of one report in February 2024 relating to the above:

  • A 48-year-old man from Liverpool, Merseyside has been jailed for 30 years after being convicted of being concerned in the evasion of a prohibition on the importation of firearms and cannabis, being concerned in the supply of cocaine and participating in the activities of an organised crime group, and having admitted being concerned in the supply of cannabis and conspiracy to transfer criminal property. The man was arrested by National Crime Agency personnel in February 2022 after the criminal messaging network, EncroChat, was decrypted. It was discovered that he was involved in the trafficking more than £2 million worth of drugs and had imported a shipment of guns into the UK hidden inside a vat of chemical waste. The firearms, some of which had been sourced from Yemen, were sold onto Albanian gangs.

Sentences and Convictions

We are aware of at least 37 reports in February 2024 of sentences and convictions for gun crime, including:

  • A 51-year-old man has been jailed for 30 years after pleading guilty to offences including conspiracy to supply Class A drugs, conspiracy to sell prohibited ammunition and conspiracy to sell prohibited weapons. After the criminal messaging network, EncroChat, was decrypted in 2020, messages on the man’s phone revealed that he was involved in sourcing and supplying firearms, ammunition and “industrial quantities” of drugs. He was arrested in Darlington, Co.Durham in May 2020. Following sentencing, a police spokesperson said, “… a very dangerous man who cared only about making vast amounts of money through the supply of illegal firearms, ammunition, and drugs. He did not give a second thought to how lethal these commodities were or the devastating consequences they could have on the communities of County Durham and Darlington.”
  • Three men have each been jailed for 32 years after being found guilty of attempted murder. In March 2023, the oldest man fired a converted blank-firing pistol at a teenage boy in Eccles, Greater Manchester as part of ongoing “hostilities” between two rival groups. The youth suffered a collapsed lung. A second man sourced the gun and the third man drove the oldest man to the scene on a motorbike. Following the shooting, the three men went clay pigeon shooting in an effort to explain any gunshot residue. On sentencing, the judge described the crime as a “joint offence” for which all three were “equally culpable”.
  • A 34-year-old man has been jailed for 26 months for possessing an imitation firearm, causing significant fear of violence, affray and two charges of criminal damage. In December 2023, after rowing with his partner, the man “binged” on alcohol and Diazepam before barricading himself in an upstairs room. After his partner called police to report fears for his safety, officers attended their home in Milford Haven, Pembrokeshire, only to see him at a window, goading them to shoot him. He then fired a BB gun at officers and a negotiator several times while sitting on the window ledge and made slitting throat gestures with his hands. He was eventually Tasered and arrested.
  • A 35-year-old man has been jailed for eight years after admitting robbery, attempted robbery, possession of a firearm, possession of an imitation firearm, theft, going equipped for theft and attempted theft. Between November 2022 and July 2023, the man robbed betting shops and service stations, armed with what looked like a handgun. Starting at a bookmaker’s in Potters Bar, Hertfordshire, he went on to steal a total of around £100,000 from various premises, sometimes using an angle grinder and crowbar to break into cash payout machines. His DNA was found on the magazine of a BB pistol recovered after one robbery and he was eventually arrested while carrying out another offence. The court heard that one victim, a 20-year-old woman, felt “genuine terror” while he stood above her and pointed a gun at her. The robbery “changed her life completely”, causing her to leave her job and defer her university place. The man’s offending was said to be caused by drug and gambling habits.
  • A 26-year-old man has been jailed for eight months after pleading guilty to possession of an imitation firearm and possession of a bladed article in a public place. After he was pulled over for running a red light in Southampton, Hampshire, police officers found an air pistol in the glove box of the man’s car. He claimed to have the weapon for shooting rats on farmland.
  • A 22-year-old man has been jailed for 22 years after being found guilty of attempted murder and possession of a firearm and ammunition, and pleading guilty to causing actual bodily harm. During a row at a pub in Stevenage, Hertfordshire in December 2022, he threw glasses at two brothers, hitting and knocking out their sister who was standing nearby. He and his 25-year-old co-defendant then confronted the two brothers outside and, after being encouraged to shoot by his accomplice, the 22-year-old man fired two shots from a converted blank pistol at the brothers. The assailants fled the scene but were arrested the following month. The gun has not been recovered. The co-defendant was jailed for eight-and-a-half years after being found guilty of possession of a firearm with intent to endanger life.
  • A 55-year-old man has been jailed for five years and seven months after admitting possession of a firearm and ammunition. Following a tip-off in June 2023, police officers searched a wooded area in Bootle, Merseyside and recovered a buried handgun. The firearm, a blank-firing gun, had been converted into a viable weapon. Ammunition was also discovered, including eight 8mm calibre bullets (converted from blanks by attaching ball bearings), thirteen other converted bullets and two gold bullets. Of this stash, only the gold bullets were potentially compatible with the firearm, although they were believed to be defective. The man was arrested after his DNA was found on a trowel seized at the scene and on the internal parts of the firearm. Pictures found on his phone included that of a self-loading pistol, a silencer and ammunition. The man claimed his dog had dug up the weapon during a walk in the woods but, on sentencing, the judge said he was “…in all likelihood, being used to mind this gun on behalf of someone else”.
  • A 26-year-old man has been jailed for six years after being found guilty of making an explosive substance, having an explosive substance and possession of a bladed article. Police officers arrested the man in February 2023 after he was seen carrying a starting pistol in communal areas at Leeds University, West Yorkshire. He was re-arrested in May the same year after threatening police officers on the phone, saying he would use weapons against them and university staff members. He was found in his room, lying next to what was described as an assault rifle. Camouflage and chemicals that could be used in explosives were also recovered. The court heard that he was “aggrieved by others, students, females, the doctors not medicating him, people in authority, and the police” and had told a friend that he was preparing something “for walking into uni one day in full military-style get-up to shoot everyone for the lols”. Before his second arrest, members of two shooting clubs visited by the man reported being alarmed by his behaviour, including carrying a large combat knife in his bag. Psychiatric evidence concluded that he has a mixed personality disorder, ADHD and mental and behavioural disorders due to multiple drug misuse.
  • A 41-year-old man has been jailed for nine years after pleading guilty to possession of a firearm without authority, possession of air weapons and having firearms and ammunition following receipt of a sentence of over three years. In February 2022, police officers executed a drug warrant at a property in Airdrie, Lanarkshire and found a bag containing firearms and ammunition under the floorboards of a locked bedroom. In total, they recovered a working gas alarm pistol (with manufacturer's details, model and serial number removed) that allowed the discharge of bulleted cartridges, a box magazine with nine bulleted cartridges loaded with a full metal jacket, two air pistols and 23 shotgun cartridges. The man's DNA was found on all of the items. He explained this by saying that his late brother had hidden the items and he had only checked to see if they were still there.

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: February 2024 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. 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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