Careless gun owners go unpunished

by Gun Control Network on 03-04-2018

The gun controls we have in the UK are robust — some of the strictest in the world.  Here, gun ownership is a privilege, not a right, and the licensing of weapons, clubs and gun owners is, for the most part, conducted with care.  But, not always.

In some areas, there is a cosy culture of licensing officers and prosecuting authorities ‘turning a blind eye’ to the carelessness of gun owners and gun clubs.  There is a reluctance to recognise that gun owners and gun clubs are responsible for the use and misuse of guns in their possession and on their premises, and that they should be prosecuted if their carelessness allows the guns to be misappropriated.  There is also a routine reluctance by police to provide information about what action has been taken — if any.

On 16 March this year, Heather Whitbread and her daughter Michelle were fatally shot in St. Leonards, East Sussex by a man known to them using a rifle and ammunition he allegedly stole from a local shooting club.  (It is not known if the club’s security arrangements should have prevented the theft nor whether the gun club owner might be prosecuted or have his licence revoked.)

In June 2017, a 14-year-old boy from Nuneaton, Warwickshire accessed a shotgun and cartridges at home and took them to school.  He intended to massacre fellow pupils but changed his mind.  (There is no information about whether the gun’s owner, his father, will be prosecuted for not keeping the weapon and ammunition safely stored.)

Jo Cox MP was fatally shot in Birstall, Leeds in June 2016 by a man using a rifle stolen from a licensed owner who had left the gun in the back of his car.  (Reports say he lost his gun licence but there is no record of him being prosecuted.)

Traute Maxfield was killed in 2008 by her son-in-law who went on to take his own life.  He used a shotgun stolen from a local gun club in Hertfordshire whilst he was on bail for the murder of his wife.  (It is not known if the gun club owner was prosecuted or had his licence revoked.)

Julia Pemberton and her son William were fatally shot by Julia’s ex-husband (William’s father) in 2003 in Newbury, Berkshire.  He had stolen the shotgun from the home of his new girlfriend where it had been abandoned by her ex-husband.  (There is no record of the girlfriend or her ex-husband being prosecuted.)

Caroline Evans, a pregnant 27-year-old pub landlady, was killed in Llangadog, Carmarthenshire in 2003 by a man said to be ‘obsessed’ with her.  The weapon was a shotgun stolen from a farmer friend who had left the gun propped up in a bedroom in an unlocked house.  (Gun owner was fined £500 and gun was confiscated but there is no record of prosecution.)

Ken Mackintosh died, and fourteen others were injured, when a man who stole his father’s shotgun rampaged through Monkeseaton, Tyneside in 1989.  (It is not known if the gun owner was prosecuted.)

Over the years, many children have died at the hands of other children due to the carelessness of gun owners.  Ben Wragge, Rhys Johnson, Jonathan Cook, Sam Shaw, Rashid Ullah, Danny Marsh, Mitchel Picken, Alex Cole, Scott Heap, Matthew Sheffield and George Atkinson were all killed while ‘playing around’ with lethal guns.  (None of the gun owners whose weapons were used in ‘child on child’ airgun deaths have been prosecuted.)

Gun thefts are continually being reported.  During the last four months, a haul of twenty airsoft guns, including assault rifles and sub-machine guns, a deactivated rocket launcher, smoke grenades and plastic ammunition has been stolen from a storage unit in Matchams, Dorset, and eighteen guns are reported to have been stolen from Brandesburton Gun Club in East Yorkshire.  (There is no information about intended prosecutions in these cases.)

Gill Marshall-Andrews, Chair of the Gun Control Network, says:

‘’The law is quite clear.  Gun owners (and gun clubs) are responsible for the use and misuse of their weapons.  But time and again their carelessness results in horrific events.

If police were more robust about prosecuting careless gun owners and closing down gun clubs where lax controls are in place, we would all be safer.  There would be fewer thefts of weapons and less misuse of guns by children.”