Gun enthusiasts often claim that there is no link between legal ownership of guns and gun crime - legal guns are legal, illegal guns are illegal and, according to them, never the twain shall meet.

Obviously this is not the case.  Apart from the fact that some gun crimes, including some of the worst such as those at Hungerford and Dunblane, have been committed by men with their own legally-held guns, legal gun ownership creates a pool of weapons from which crime weapons can be obtained through theft and other means.  Recently published figures from the Home Office reveal the extent of a problem which sees hundreds of guns stolen each year.

The latest firearms crime statistics (Crime in England and Wales 2003/2004: Supplementary Volume 1) include a section on Misappropriated Firearms.  Although defined as those stolen, obtained by fraud or forgery etc., or handled dishonestly, it is interesting to note that the authors of the report consider it appropriate to refer to them collectively as stolen.

For each year given in the report (from 1992) over 2500 guns have been stolen and in four of those years the number rose to over 3000.  In the worst year, 1995, 3915 guns were misappropriated.

Airguns make up a large proportion of the stolen guns, but well over a thousand guns of other types are stolen each year.  Nevertheless, however powerful the weapon, its misappropriation suggests that, more likely than not, it is intended for use in criminal activity.

The bulk of the guns are taken from residential properties (in 2003/2004, nearly 62% of the total).  We assume that since the figures are for reported misappropriations, the weapons concerned must have been legally-held at the time of the crime.

The figures raise a number of concerns. 

  • Appropriate storage: How stringent are the storage facilities deployed by gun owners in their own home?  Gun owners have a duty to the wider community to do everything possible to stop their weapons falling into the wrong hands.  The numbers of guns stolen from residential properties and cars suggests that some are failing in this duty.

  • Handguns: Although comparatively few of the guns stolen were handguns, and the number has fallen dramatically since they became prohibited weapons (305 stolen in 1997, 96 in 2003/2004) GCN is surprised that any handguns are still available to be stolen.  Seventy four were stolen from residential properties.  Handguns are prohibited weapons, and if those that were stolen were exempt because of their age, this highlights a loophole which still allows handguns to fall into criminal hands.

  • Gun Database: The figures highlight the urgency with which the National Firearms Licensing Management System (NFLMS) is required.  Gun crime can never be tackled adequately until the provenance of the weapons used is better understood.  The NFLMS would help to establish the exact contribution made by guns stolen from British gun owners.

How do criminals get guns?

Since 1992 nearly 40,000 guns have been misappropriated in England and Wales.  It is about time that those who promote gun ownership recognise that this is a significant problem to which they make an indirect contribution.  They cannot always shift the blame for the availability of guns used in crime onto other sources such as the illegal importation of foreign guns.  There is a home-grown problem too.


Firearms misappropriated in England and Wales (2003/2004)

Air weapon








Starting gun


Imitation firearm




Written 3 February 2005



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Liberal Gun Laws


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January 2009




Airgun Crime


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Gun Lobby Abuse

Guns & Advertising


Kate Hoey on Gun Crime (May 07)

Ball-bearing & Non-Powder Guns (June 05)

Lethal Airguns (Mar 05)

Stolen Guns (Nov 04)

Gun Crime & Gun Comment (Nov 04)