TREND IS DOWNWARDS
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.
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
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.
– 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.
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.
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
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.
- 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.
Crime Figures for England
Home Office Report
Written: 21 February 2010