In January the Home Office published the latest Gun Crime figures for England and Wales.  There were two sets, the detailed figures for the year ending March 2009 and the provisional figures for the period ending September 2009 (the latter exclude offences involving air weapons).  As always there were some who cherry-picked numbers which might hint at a rise in gun crime, often by making invalid comparisons.  Data recorded prior to 2002 are not directly comparable with more recent statistics because of changes to the way in which offences were recorded, and there is no doubt that since 2002 the trend in gun crime has been significantly downwards.  The figure below shows the total number of gun offences each year since 2002 recorded in the Home Office report.





The provisional figures for the year ending September 2009 indicated a fall of 5 per cent in the number of offences (excluding air weapons) compared with the year ending September 2008.


Deaths and Injuries – The number of fatalities, 39, resulting from firearms offences in 2008-09 was the lowest for at least 20 years.  Because the numbers of fatalities are small it is important not to place undue significance on year-on-year changes, though it can certainly be said that they provide no support for the contention that gun crime has been escalating.  This is also apparent from the number of offences causing injury which has fallen by over 55 per cent since 2004/05.


Air Weapons – In spite of a significant fall in the number of air weapon offences recorded in 2008/09 they still accounted for 42 per cent of the total, more than any other category of firearm.  These cannot be dismissed as minor offences and they make a significant contribution to gun crime.  Airguns were responsible for nearly a fifth of all serious injuries and nearly three fifths of slight injuries when a gun was fired.


Imitations – The data indicated that offences involving imitation firearms had fallen by 41 per cent since the previous year.  However, this fall has not been reflected in the incidents and court cases which GCN has listed based on media reports.  We suspect that many offences originally recorded under “handguns” (a description which in many instances will be based solely on the appearance of the weapon to a witness) did, in fact, involve imitation weapons.  We have urged the Home Office to ensure that the data are subsequently amended whenever there is confirmation that an imitation gun has been used.  We have noticed, for example, that in the reports of armed robbery cases the majority of the people convicted used an imitation firearm and that this had often been reported as a handgun at the time of the incident.  See Handguns below.


Like Air Weapons, Imitation Guns are not benign and were responsible for a quarter of all injuries sustained when a gun was fired.  Indeed between them Air Weapons and Imitation Firearms caused 56 per cent of all gun injuries.


Handguns – As we have noted above an offence may often be recorded under “handguns” solely on the basis of the appearance of the weapon involved.  A weapon described as a handgun will not always be a live-firing weapon, and in many instances it will have been an imitation.  This cannot be established unless the weapon has been fired or recovered.  The figures in the Home Office report would be consistent with imitations being responsible for many of the handgun offences.  Of the 4275 handgun offences nearly 80 per cent (3350) were committed with a "type unknown", suggesting they were neither fired nor recovered.  Indeed according to the Injury data there were 3851 offences recorded in which a handgun was not fired.  It is important to know to what extent the recorded handgun offences overestimate the number involving live-firing weapons i.e. prohibited handguns and consequently the degree to which imitation gun offences are being underestimated.  This has consequences for assessing the effectiveness of current legislation controlling the ownership and the use of firearms and the need for further measures.


Legally-owned Weapons - The data confirm that a majority of gun offences are being committed with weapons that do not require registration.  Offences with airguns and imitation guns accounted for at least 53 percent of the total, and given the doubts about handguns and imitations the figure is probably much higher.  The contribution of these weapons must not be ignored when further measures to reduce gun crime are being considered by the present and future governments.



FOOTNOTE: Conservative spokesmen who have claimed that violent crime, including gun crime, is rising have recently been taken to task by both the BBC’s Home Affairs Editor Mark Easton and the chairman of the UK Statistics Authority Sir Michael Scholar.  Amongst other things the Tories appear to have ignored the changes to recording procedures introduced in 2002.



> See Crime Figures for England & Wales


> See Home Office Report



Written: 21 February 2010



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