Activists baffled as number of licensed guns in Essex rises by 30% in just one decade

The number of licences granted by Essex Police is increasing Picture: ESSEX POLICE

The number of licences granted by Essex Police is increasing Picture: ESSEX POLICE - Credit: Archant

The number of legally held guns in Essex has increased by nearly a third over the last decade – with activists questioning why new licences are on the rise.

Newly released figures from the Home Office show that, as of March this year, there are 20,201 legally owned guns in Essex – up from 15,780 in 2009.

This works out as 1,121 firearms for every 100,000 people in the county, an increase of 20% from 2009. It is the highest rate at any point over the last decade.

The 5,058 valid firearm licences in Essex cover an average of four guns each – indicating that many people own multiple weapons.

The news has prompted some concern from a group of gun law activists, who say the increase is difficult to explain.

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Gill Marshall-Andrews, chairwoman of the Gun Control Network, said: “We campaign strongly for tighter licensing laws and those have been introduced, by and large. It is becoming more difficult to get a gun licence, so I have no idea why it has gone up.

“Unless we are going to say that nobody should have a gun - and we have never said that - you should have a good reason to own a gun, and you should be a proper person. The guidance is stricter and the licencing regulations, if properly applied, should mean that fewer people have a gun.

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“For years and years, the shooting lobby has said that gun crime it is just a matter of illegal weapons, but it is not true to say that gun deaths are related to illegal weapons alone.”

Between April 2017 and March this year, there were 350 new applications for firearm licences in Essex. Of those, 99% were granted, and just four were refused.

A further 1,077 licences were renewed. Just five licences were revoked.

The firearm rate in Essex was higher than that across England and Wales, where 578,000 firearms - 989 for every 100,000 people - were licensed.

In 2016-17, the most recent year for which numbers are available, firearms were reported to have been used in 258 offences in Essex.

Many gun crimes involve the use of illegal firearms either weapons converted to fire live ammunition, or restored antiques.

But some high-profile cases, including the murder of MP Jo Cox in 2016 - which was carried out with a stolen gun - and mass killings in Cumbria, Dunblane and Hungerford, have involved licensed weapons.

A spokesman for the National Police Chiefs’ Council said: “It is the responsibility of individual forces to issue firearms certificates, and there are several reasons why the number of legally-held firearms may have risen in the last decade, such as changes in legislation. Therefore, the increase in the number of legally-held firearms is not necessarily a cause for concern.

“The Home Office are constantly monitoring the types of weapons that are held on and off certificate and consult on changes to legislation when required.

“Only a tiny percentage, something in the region of 0.025%, of legally-held firearms goes missing each year, and that is when they become a significant concern for police.

“The Home Office and local police forces provide guidance on the appropriate storage of firearms and ammunition to certificate holders and are continuing to work to ensure that this already small number of missing weapons is reduced further.”

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