Concern as gun numbers soar in Suffolk
ANTI-GUN campaigners voiced their concern last night after figures showed the number of legally owned guns in Suffolk had soared by 40% in five years.Since December 2001, 2,530 additional firearms have been licensed in the county - making a total of 9,003 at the end of March.
By Danielle Nuttall
ANTI-GUN campaigners voiced their concern last night after figures showed the number of legally owned guns in Suffolk had soared by 40% in five years.
Since December 2001, 2,530 additional firearms have been licensed in the county - making a total of 9,003 at the end of March.
But the figure is expected to be even greater next year as officers have already authorised a further 1,671 firearms, which are yet to be acquired.
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The large increase has alarmed anti-gun charity International Action Network on Small Arms (IANSA), which called for tighter checks on those seeking permission to possess large numbers of guns.
Firearms are defined as lethal barrelled weapons of any description from which shots, bullets or other missiles can be discharged. Most approved rifles are designed for target shooting, hunting or vermin control.
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Shotguns are covered by separate certificates but figures released by Suffolk Constabulary show there are now 41,848 legally owned in the county - an increase of 2% since 2001.
A spokesman for IANSA said: “It's totally possible every single rifle has been carefully justified. But guns can end up being used illegally. Our concern is not that they are going to be used in gun grime in the sense of muggings in the street, but rather more likely seeing an increase in fatalities in domestic violence as mostly men obtain guns.
“Guns are meant to be locked in a cabinet but there are plenty of stories of police going to a home and finding the gun unlocked and out. Simply because you have a safe doesn't mean you're actually storing it and they can potentially be stolen and find their way on the illegal market.”
Richard Kennett, Suffolk Constabulary's firearm services manager, said the force carried out stringent checks on anyone wishing to legally own a gun.
He said: “Suffolk is a very rural county with large numbers of farming communities. Firearms and shotguns are not only used in agriculture but also in pursuit of country sports and by members of target shooting clubs. These sports appear to be becoming increasingly popular.
“Anyone who has a firearm or shotgun is carefully vetted by the police and has to give good reason to possess each and every firearm and satisfy stringent safe keeping requirements before a licence is issued.”
While the number of actual firearms licensed has risen sharply in the last five years, other figures suggest the cause of this is mainly due to people owning more than one gun - rather than vast numbers of new people owning a weapon.
A single firearms certificate can relate to more than one firearm, and the number of such certificates on issue by police in Suffolk has increased by just 5% since December 2001 - from 3,393 to 3,572 at the end of March this year.
The number of shotgun certificates granted has fallen from 17,048 at the end of 2001 to 16,648.
Last night Liz Mort, eastern region spokeswoman for the Countryside Alliance, said shooting sports had become increasing popular, as had game consumption, which probably explained the increase in gun ownership.
“Shooting sports are very popular. There are a lot of very well-run shooting clubs and shooting schools in Suffolk and all over East Anglia,” she said.
“Shotguns particularly are used by farmers in keeping down populations of pests. Obviously, game keepers and farmers use them for foxes, especially now there is a ban on hunting.
“A gun is a very important part of a farmer's equipment. There are more illegal guns held within the M25 than the whole of the British Armed Forces.
“Getting a gun illegally has never been easier. People who want to use them illegally do not get them registered. I think the police enforce the rules absolutely correctly.”
The spokesman for IANSA has called on the Government to bring forward the creation of a national register listing the details of all those who own a gun.
“If you report a stolen car immediately, and it runs through a red light, they have the licence plate immediately and can trace it back within 10 seconds. It's a bit crazy we have much better registration for cars than guns,” he said.
He also said lessons could be learnt from the Canadian government which had made it a requirement for police to contact the partners or former partners of gun owners to provide a reference.
“It does flag up the possibility the person is not suitable to own a gun,” he said.
“People feel rifles are not quite so dangerous in terms of crime but in fact it's not a reason for not applying the strongest measures possible for the benefit of public safety.”