3 June 2010

Twelve people have been killed and 25 injured in Cumbria (northwest England) by a gunman who then committed suicide as police pursued him. The man, a taxi driver who had been a licensed gun owner for 20 years, killed his twin brother, a colleague and the family solicitor before driving through several small towns firing randomly at people. Police later recovered a .22 rifle with a telescopic sight and a shotgun.

 This is the third mass shooting in British history, and in all three cases the weapons involved were legally owned. Most recent mass shootings in other countries have also involved legally owned guns, including the massacres in Finland, Germany, and at Virginia Tech in the US.

The UK gun law permits licences for possession of firearms for use in hunting and recreation. Almost anyone can get a license for shotguns, and there is no limit on the number that can be owned. For rifles the licensing process is stricter. But there are no mandatory checks for mental illness, alcohol or drug dependency. And once a licence is issued, there are no annual checks on the licence holder’s mental or general health.

Gill Marshall-Andrews, from the UK Gun Control Network, said:

‘This tragedy demonstrates once again the terrible danger of guns – both legal and illegal ones.  They are deadly weapons and we should know much more about who is permitted to own them.  Gun owners in the UK have always been protected by a culture of secrecy.  Police will not give out information about gun ownership, saying it’s a private matter.  But when legal gun owners commit such dreadful crimes, it’s clearly not a private matter.  We should know who around us has guns so we can judge whether they are suitable people to hold such deadly weapons.

 ‘The gun licensing system failed yesterday to protect 12 innocent people from being killed. It failed before at Hungerford in 1987  and Dunblane in 1996.  On its own it is clearly insufficient, because it doesn’t foresee that previously law-abiding gun owners can become depressed, isolated, delusional, angry, suffering from relationship difficulties or just unhappy. If more people had known Derrick Bird had guns, someone might have alerted the police and yesterday’s killings might never have happened.

 ‘Two things need to happen now:

 ‘First we need to assert the public’s right to information about gun ownership.  Just as Jennifer’s List enables parents to find out where paedophiles live, so doctors, social workers, care workers, paramedics and others with a legitimate interest should be able to find out who the gun owners are.  Parents also should be able to find out if there are guns in a neighbour’s house before allowing their children to play there. In many cases where children are shot accidentally, their parents had no idea that there was a gun in the playmate’s house.

 ‘Second, if private citizens are going to be allowed to keep firearms at home, annual checks should be conducted with their doctor, their spouse and the police in relation to alcohol or drug abuse, depression, domestic violence and criminal activity.

 ‘We need to join up the dots – odd behaviour, mental health problems, domestic violence, gun ownership – and maybe, just maybe, we could prevent such terrible events’




26 August 2008

The tragic shooting of the toddler Rashid Rullah highlights once again the terrible consequences of the ‘boys’ toys’ culture surrounding airgun ownership. This culture results in easy access, casual regard and non-accountability.

Because airguns are not treated as ‘real’ weapons they are not thought worthy of registration or regulation.  They are not taken seriously.

Yet they are responsible for around half of all firearms offences and over a quarter (1054 in 2006/7) of all serious firearms injuries. 

Children pick up air weapons that are left lying around and use them to kill, blind and injure other children, often siblings or friends.   The adults who own these guns are rarely held to account.  There is no law requiring them to store their weapons safely nor is there any record of ownership.  The terrible tragedies of Rashid, Mitchel, Alex, Danny S, Danny M, David, George, Kazim, Lorna, Matthew, Micah, Nicola, Somma and others are not merely ‘accidents’.  They are preventable and culpable incidents. 

Two years ago twelve-year-old Mitchel Picken was killed by another child while friends played around with a father’s air weapon.  Had this gun been properly secured Mitchel would be alive today.   His parents join the Gun Control Network in calling upon Government to bring in legislation to register airguns and their owners, and make them liable for the misuse of their weapons. 

Andrew Picken, Mitchel’s father,  says ‘The irresponsibility of an air gun owner has once again led to the shooting of a young child.  The Government cannot hide behind recent changes in legislation, which failed to take the airgun problem seriously enough and make owners responsible for storing their weapons safely.  Airguns and their owners could be registered, and they should be.’





4 October 2007


BEFORE AND DURING the Conservative Party conference the two Davids - Cameron and Davis - have repeatedly referred to gun crime as being 'out of control'.


This works as a headline-grabbing statement but it is not true.


These are the facts (figures quoted are for England and Wales):

  • Gun murders remain very low by international standards, with fluctuations between 49 and 97 annually in the last ten years.  The most recent provisional figure (for 2006/07) is 58. This compares with 11,624 gun homicides in the USA (in 2004), a rate which is nearly 40 times higher.  In France the rate is more than twice that in Britain, in Switzerland over three-fold higher, while in Italy it is over 5 times greater (Source: Global Gun Deaths (Toronto Small Arms/Firearms Education and Research Network, 2005)).

  • The rise in recorded levels of gun crime over the last ten years has been largely due to imitation weapons (3300 more offences per year out of an increase of 9100 offences) and airguns (2500 more offences per year).  These figures probably underestimate the number of imitation guns involved.

  • 25% of all serious gun injuries are committed with airguns which are still not registered in any way.

  • According to the latest Home Office statistics in the last year gun crime involving every category of gun has fallen e.g. handgun crime is down by 11%.  Handgun offences peaked in 2001/02 and have fallen by 30% since then.

It is clear that the Conservatives are whipping up public fear about gun crime for their own narrow political interests.  The public interest is not served by these wild and unfounded statements.  They are fuelling the 'fear factor' and making the general public more fearful of gun crime than they should be. 

Gun crime is a problem, particularly in major cities, and it is true that we need to control guns ever more tightly.

But gun crime is NOT out of control and it is irresponsible of David Cameron and David Davis to suggest it is.