March 2020 Review
by Gun Control Network on 15-04-2020
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 March 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 March 2020.
Figure 1: March 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 four reports in March concerning four gun deaths:
- A man was fatally shot by specialist armed police officers in Westminster, London. The man, seen acting suspiciously near the Royal Festival Hall, was asked to stop by patrolling officers. When he failed to do so, the officers fired a Taser and called for back-up. Two more Tasers were fired before the man, who was in possession of two knives, was shot. The Independent Office for Police Conduct has opened an investigation into the incident, which is not being treated as terror related.
- A teenage male died after he was shot in Coventry, West Midlands. The victim, found with a serious back injury, was taken to hospital but could not be saved. Police appealed for information, particularly with regard to a black VW Golf seen in the area at the time of the shooting and later found burnt out.
- A man has been shot dead at his home in Southport, Merseyside. Four masked men are said to have been involved in the shooting, which police suspect was a targeted attack. The man was shot with a handgun in his abdomen and leg. Ambulance staff treated the victim, but he was declared dead in hospital. Police have appealed for information.
- A man has died after being shot in Enfield, North London. The victim, found with a serious head injury, was rushed to hospital but could not be saved. A man has since been arrested on suspicion of murder. A police spokesperson later said: “One line of enquiry is that this is gang-related, however enquiries are in the very early stages and we retain an open mind as we gather evidence.”
We are aware of at least three inquests in March 2020 relating to gun deaths:
- The coroner at the inquest into the death of a man in Hutton Cranswick, East Yorkshire in August last year has recorded a verdict of suicide. The man, who held a gun licence for 70 years, had become depressed in the months before his death and had been taking strong painkillers that caused him to hallucinate. The victim’s wife told the inquest that, on the night he died, her husband had become angry and lashed out at her, throwing her to the floor and slapping her face. He then got his firearm from the bedroom and shot at the living room ceiling before shooting himself in the bathroom. N.B. GCN notes the gun was reported to have been legally held by the deceased.
- A coroner at the inquest into the death of a man in Folkestone, Kent in November 2017 gave a narrative conclusion in the absence of evidence after ruling out unlawful killing, suicide and misadventure. The man was found dead with a gunshot wound to the chest at the pub he ran; a pistol, owned by him, lay close to his head.
- An inquest into the death of a man, fatally shot by police officers in Portbury Hundred, Somerset in September 2017 has found that he was lawfully killed, cause of death being gunshot wounds to the head and chest. After receiving reports of a man firing what appeared to be a gun out of his car window, firearms officers stopped and surrounded the suspect’s car. When the man then fired an air pistol at one of them, four of the five armed officers opened fire, discharging fifteen rounds. The man was declared dead at the scene. The inquest heard that the deceased had warning markers for violence, mental health and suicide on his police record.
Armed Domestic Violence and/or Victim Known to Perpetrator
We are aware of at least two reports in March 2020 that we believe to be armed domestic violence and/or victim known to perpetrator, including:
- A 29-year-old man has been handed an eight-year prison sentence. The man, a heroin addict, threatened a staff member with a handgun as she was cashing up for the night at a snooker hall in Bargoed, Caerphilly. After the woman recognised him as a regular, he pulled off his balaclava and put down his weapon to hug and console her, even taking the firearm apart to prove it was a BB gun. Police officers found the perpetrator hiding in the attic at his father’s home the following day.
- A man from Newton Aycliffe, Co. Durham, has been jailed for 43 months after pleading guilty to possession of an imitation firearm with intent to cause fear of violence. While on holiday with a woman he had met online, the perpetrator physically and verbally abused her. When the woman told him she was ending their relationship, he threatened to hurt her children and placed what looked like a handgun on her leg. He subsequently contacted the victim’s children, ex-husband and friends through social media and subjected her to months of “torment”. The judge described the man as a “nasty vicious, controlling bully”.
Licensed Gun Owners/Dealers/Legal Guns and Ammunition
We are aware of at least four reports in March 2020 that we believe relate to licensed gun owners/dealers/legal guns and ammunition:
- See Gun Deaths above — A man has been fatally shot by armed police officers in London.
- See Inquests above — An inquest into the death of a man, fatally shot by police officers in Portbury Hundred, Somerset in September 2017. An inquest into the death of a licensed gun owner from East Yorkshire who took his own life in August last year.
- A Lance Corporal with 1st The Queen’s Dragoon Guards has been found guilty of possession of prohibited ammunition. In November 2016, police officers recovered a loaded handgun and 97 rounds of 9mm ammunition from a vehicle stopped in Luton, Bedfordshire. The ammunition, manufactured for the British military, was linked to the Lance Corporal and is believed to have been obtained by him when he took part in firing range exercises in Germany.
We note at least seven incidents involving the use of police Tasers including:
- Police officers Tasered a man in Haringey, North London after he attacked them, coughing, and saying he had coronavirus. The suspect, later found not to have any symptoms of the infection, was arrested on suspicion of public order offences and assault on an emergency worker.
Stolen Guns and Ammunition
We are aware of at least four reports in March 2020 relating to eight stolen guns and 847 rounds of ammunition:
- See Licensed Gun Owners/Legal Guns and Ammunition above — A Lance Corporal with 1st Queens Dragoon Guards found guilty of possession of a handgun and 97 rounds of ammunition manufactured for the British military.
- Burglars have reportedly stolen five deactivated handguns from a house in Enfield, North London. The firearms were said to be rare weapons used in 007 Bond films, forming part of a large collection.
- A 35-year-old man has been jailed for eighteen months after pleading guilty to two counts of theft of a firearm, possession of a firearm without a certificate, possession of ammunition without a certificate and possession of a firearm when prohibited. In November last year, he smashed the window of a parked car in Portsmouth, Hampshire and stole two legally-owned rifles, 750 rounds of ammunition and other items from the vehicle. CCTV captured him carrying the stolen property, which detectives discovered he sold on to associates within 24 hours.
- A bolt action rifle and a chainsaw have been stolen from a vehicle at a business park in Carlisle, Cumbria. The firearm belonged to a licensed firearms holder.
Animal Death and Injury
We are aware of at least seven reports in March 2020 of animal cruelty and/or death involving a gun, including:
- A 54-year-old man has been jailed for two months after pleading guilty to two counts of killing and trapping a protected species. The man set otter traps at his campsite and fishery in Dorchester, Dorset because the animals had been “emptying” his four fishing lakes of valuable carp. In July last year, after a fisherman at the site caught a protected Eurasian otter in his net, the man shot the animal in the back of the head. Witnesses, who had assumed he would remove the otter and release it elsewhere, reported the killing to the authorities. The man was prosecuted for killing a wild protected animal under the Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulation Act 2017 and for setting a trap for a protected animal under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.
- Five cats have been injured in airgun attacks in Carmarthenshire, Scotland and Suffolk and a kitten has died following an airgun injury in Bedfordsire. A Peregrine Falcon died from shotgun injuries in Derbyshire and another has been injured in Shropshire.
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 March 2020 relating to illegal firearms:
- After Border Force officers seized a Kalashnikov rifle, a 9mm handgun, over 200 rounds of ammunition and a quantity of cannabis in a UK-bound vehicle in Coquelles, France, National Crime Agency officers arrested a man from Blackpool, Lancashire. He was subsequently charged with importation of firearms, two counts of possession of a firearm, importation and possession of ammunition, and drugs offences.
- Two men have been jailed for a total of 45 years, two months for conspiracy to import firearms. A third man has been convicted and will be sentenced at a later date. The court heard the trio had carried out seven gun importations between January and July 2017. One man bought the revolvers legally in his native Czech Republic and transported them using an unsuspecting courier to an industrial estate in Slough, Berkshire, where another man organised their sale. Border Force officers brought an end to the operation when they stopped a van in France just before it entered the Channel Tunnel and retrieved 79 handguns and more than 4,000 rounds of ammunition hidden in engine blocks in the attached trailer. These weapons alone were worth £100,000 to £150,000; however, it is thought that a total of up to 700 guns had been imported with a profit of up to £1.2million. 95 firearms in total were seized as part of the investigation, nine of which were retrieved when the two sentenced men were arrested in a pub car park.
Sentences and Convictions
We are aware of at least 50 reports in March 2020 of sentences and convictions for gun crime, including:
- A 24-year-old man has been jailed for three months after pleading guilty to possessing an imitation firearm with intent to threaten and to possessing a bladed article. In February last year, the man threatened an enforcement officer with an airsoft gun after he was given a ticket for throwing a cigarette butt out of his car window. He repeatedly told the officer to move away from his car before producing what looked like a handgun in a holster. He put his hand on the gun, again warning the officer to retreat. Police later tracked the man’s car in Birkenhead, Merseyside and arrested him. The dismantled gun, an airsoft weapon, and a hunting knife with a four-inch blade were found in the vehicle. The court heard that the man, who suffers from personality disorders that affect his behaviour, had been living in his car at the time of the offence.
- A 20-year-old man and a l9-year-old man have been sentenced to life in prison, with a minimum of 32 years, after being convicted of murder. In August last year, the l9-year-old shot a man in the face at point-blank range with a shotgun just yards from his home in Birmingham, West Midlands. The victim died at the scene. The court heard that, following a dispute at a nightclub involving someone known to the victim, the older man paid the younger man £550 to carry out a revenge attack. The pair were travelling in a stolen car when they saw their victim walking home after playing football with friends. He was called over to the vehicle and shot in what the judge described as a “cold blooded killing carried out mercilessly”.
- A 22-year-old man has been sentenced to 22 months in prison after admitting owning a stun gun and acquiring an explosive without a certificate; he was released following sentencing having already spent the time on remand. He was taken into custody after he performed experimental explosions in the garden of his home in Coventry, West Midlands in April 2018. Nearby homes were evacuated after unstable explosives were found at the property; the substances were disposed of in a controlled operation. The court heard that the man had an “obsessive interest” in the military but was unable to join the armed forces because of his autism.
- Two men have each been sentenced to five years in prison after they were found guilty of possession of a prohibited firearm; one was also found guilty of the transfer of a prohibited firearm. In November 2018, after surveillance police witnessed the men meeting in a car park in Erith, South East London, officers found one of them in possession of amphetamine and the other in possession of a gun. During interview, the man found carrying the gun said he believed the firearm was an antique, incapable of firing bullets; however, phone analysis revealed that he had Googled “loophole that allows criminals to own working antique guns” and “does ammunition expire”.
- A 27-year-old man was handed a two-year community order with a rehabilitation activity and 120 hours of unpaid work after he pleaded guilty to possessing an imitation firearm in a public place. In November last year, police were alerted after staff saw the man acting suspiciously at the railway station in Coventry, West Midlands. Officers found him in possession of a hammer with a detachable folding knife and a toy gun. The court heard that the man has mental health problems and was under the influence of cocaine when stopped by the officers.
- A 21-year-old woman has been jailed for two years after pleading guilty to possession of a prohibited weapon and ammunition. In March last year, police officers found a loaded sawn-off shotgun behind the headboard of her bed during a search at her home in Luton, Bedfordshire. A further cartridge and a live 9mm bullet were found in a chest of drawers. The court heard that she had been hiding the gun for her partner; he was jailed last year for possession of a prohibited weapon, ammunition and a bladed article.
- A 41-year-old man has been handed a 24-year prison sentence after being found guilty of robbery, kidnapping, possession of an imitation firearm intending to cause fear of violence and conspiracy to possess an imitation firearm intending to rob. The man influenced two impressionable men to join with him in carrying out violent carjackings in Birmingham, West Midlands while armed with imitation firearms and knives. They typically targeted vulnerable women in high-end cars, stealing £750,000 worth of vehicles. The man’s co-conspirators were jailed for a total of 34-and-a-half years for charges including robbery and possession of an imitation firearm intending to cause fear of violence. Another man was involved to a lesser extent and received three years for burglary as well as drugs and other offences.
- A 33-year-old man has been jailed for twelve years after pleading guilty to two counts of possessing a firearm with intent to endanger life and one count of possessing ammunition with intent to endanger life. In October last year, police were alerted after a member of the public found a rucksack in Salford, Greater Manchester that contained a pistol, silencer, seven live bullets and clothes including a balaclava. The firearm was found to be a pistol, designed to fire blanks but converted to fire live 9mm ammunition; the weapon had been painted to resemble a Glock firearm. The man’s fingerprint was found on the gun and his DNA on the balaclava; however, there was no evidence that the man had fired the weapon or that it had been used in crime.
- A gang of eight men involved in the supply of cocaine across North West Leicestershire and South Derbyshire have been jailed for a total of nearly fifty years. The men sold the Class A drug by the kilo, making a profit of £960,000 over six months. Seven of the men admitted drugs and other offences while one of them, from Ravenstone, Leicestershire, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to supply Class A drugs, possession of a stun gun and two counts of possession of a disguised firearm; he was jailed for seven years for the conspiracy and five years for the firearms offences.
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.
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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