Record amount of legal firearms in England and Wales

Gustav Hoejmark-Jensen

Record amount of legal firearms in England and Wales

Photo: Rifleman Firearms.

According to statistical data from the Home Office, the number of legal firearms in England and Wales has increased by 95,6% since 1997. A record in the UK. Never before have there been more legally owned firearms been in England and Wales.

By Gustav Hoejmark-Jensen

The number of firearms covered by section 1 certificates in the UK has almost doubled since 1997, when amendments were made to the 1968 Firearms Act to restrict and prohibit certain types of weapons such as handguns and high calibre ammunition.

In 1997 there were 305.000 firearms covered by section 1 certificates in England and Wales. In 2019, this number had increased to 596.661 firearms.

When the Government amended the Firearms Act in 1997, they estimated that at least 160,000 or around 80% of the firearms legally held in the UK at that time would be affected by the new prohibition and more stringent rules.

Although the data shows a significant decrease in firearms from 1996 to 1998, the reduction was short-lived. The current number of 596.661 firearms covered by section 1 certificates is in stark contrast to the Government's initial intentions 22 years ago following the tragic Dunblane school shooting.

In its response to the tragedy, the Government vowed to ensure the British public that access to firearms would be subject to more stringent laws and background checks.

But since the promises and legislative amendments in 1997, over 26.000 new firearms certificates have been issued by police forces in England and Wales, according to the latest data.

In total, 159.745 members of the British public now hold a firearms certificate in 2019. That is the highest number in 32 years and a 19,5% increase since 1997.

Not only has the number of firearms certificates increased, but the data also indicates that those members of the public that hold a section 1 firearms certificate now own more firearms than ever before per certificate.

In 1997, there were approximately 2,3 firearms registered on each certificate on average. In 2019, there were 3,7 firearms registered on each certificate on average.

This is a 60,8% increase in the amount of firearms held per certificate, on average, in England and Wales.

Legal firearms pose a risk

The Gun Control Network, a Scottish NGO created after the Dunblane tragedy that is promoting stricter firearm legislation, is worried about the increases.

“The GCN is extremely concerned about the increased numbers of licensed firearms in the UK. International research demonstrates a clear correlation between the number of firearms in a society and the number of gun suicides, gun homicides, armed domestic violence, gun accidents and gun related crime in that society" said a GCN spokesperson.

The GCN also criticizes the UK Government for not collecting data on the number of certified firearms involved in criminal offences and suicides.

"We are appalled that there is no data being collected by the Home Office regarding the legal status and provenance of guns involved in crime. This failure enables gun lobbies to promote the myth that licensed gun owners are law abiding, responsible individuals and their guns are in 'safe hands'. This is clearly not the case."

However, the most recent crime and offences data from the Home Office suggest that both past and present firearm legislation has had an effect on violent crime.

Offences involving firearms have decreased by 36,3% from 2002 to 2018.

According to Simon West, Director of the Gun Trade Association (GTA), a branch organisation representing firearms dealers in the UK, the increased sale of firearms and rising number of firearms certificates is nothing but a natural development seen in other leisurely sports.

"The GTA support the safe, legal and responsible ownership of firearms in UK for sporting, recreational and professional use. I think any increase over the years is probably very modest if the data is taken with a few precautions. I think the development is rather a broadening of the different shooting sports disciplines, similar to what you see in so many other sports. What remains important is improving the overall licensing systems."

However, the number of legal firearms in private homes remain a risk according to the National Crime Agency (NCA), the UK's main authority against weapons trafficking.

“A sizeable proportion of shootings are from converted, modified and reactivated firearms. Also stolen, lawfully-held firearms presents another source of diversion to the criminal market."

And despite sporting disciplines and a decrease in firearms offences, the British public remains surrounded by more certified firearms than ever before.

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