April 2020 Review
by Gun Control Network on 13-05-2020
GCN is committed to preventing gun violence and we work to pursue that objective through changes to the legal system, public services and attitudes to guns. We collect and analyse data to provide all stakeholders with the evidence needed to initiate change.
GCN collects data on gun incidents and related sentences, inquests and investigations in England, Scotland, and Wales as reported in the British media. We know our information is incomplete, though we believe nearly all the most serious crimes are included.
This Review refers to incidents that occurred during April 2020 and to earlier incidents for which further information has now been reported, often as a result of a court case or inquest. Please note that the data used for the Figures is derived solely from incidents that occurred, or first came to our attention, in April 2020.
Figure 1: April incident reports by type
We monitor FATAL GUN INCIDENTS in Great Britain and compile a list that summarises the available information. Our summaries for 2017-18, 2018-19 and 2019-20 are available at www.gun-control-network.org
We are aware of at least two reports in April concerning five gun deaths:
- Police are investigating a possible murder-suicide after the bodies of four people were found inside a house in Woodmancote, West Sussex. It is believed that a man shot dead his wife, two daughters and the family dog before turning the gun on himself. N.B. Sussex Police have failed to respond to questions regarding whether or not the perpetrator was a licensed gun owner.
- A man has died after being shot through a window of his home in Litherland, Merseyside. The victim was taken to hospital where he was pronounced dead a short time later. A man and two male teenagers have since been arrested on suspicion of murder.
We are not aware of any reports of inquests in April 2020 relating to gun deaths.
Armed Domestic Violence and/or Victim Known to Perpetrator
We are aware of at least three reports in April 2020 that we believe to be armed domestic violence and/or victim known to perpetrator, including:
- See Gun Deaths above — A man is believed to have shot dead three members of his family at their home in West Sussex, before turning the gun on himself.
- A man has been sentenced to five years and two months in prison after admitting possession of a firearm and two counts of possessing ammunition. In September last year, the perpetrator, who had been drinking, visited his ex-partner’s home in Prescot, Merseyside to talk about their son. After he left, his victim called the police and told them he had pointed a gun at her. Armed police stopped his taxi and found him to be carrying a pistol loaded with seven bullets. The court heard that the perpetrator, a convicted robber on a life licence, had been due to stand trial last month charged with possessing a firearm with intent to cause fear of violence. However, on the opening day, his victim admitted not seeing the gun in his hand but said she had had felt it in his jacket pocket. The weapon was found to be a converted blank-firing gun with a rifled barrel; its identification markings had been erased. On sentencing, the judge remarked that there was a “high level of culpability” because the gun was “capable of killing people in rapid succession”.
- A 51-year-old man has been handed a prison term of two years after pleading guilty to possessing a firearm with intent to cause fear of violence. Following a drinking session in February this year, the perpetrator discharged a double-barrelled shotgun at his farmhouse in Grindale, East Yorkshire. His wife, on the phone to her daughter when she heard the gunshot, was concerned as her husband had previously threatened to take his own life. The daughter alerted police while her husband called the perpetrator on his mobile phone to distract his attention and offer to come to the farm, to which the perpetrator replied that if he did, he would be the one to get shot. The perpetrator confronted his wife and son with the shotgun. When police officers arrived, they found the perpetrator asleep in his bed with the shotgun nearby. The shotgun was seized, together with a large quantity of ammunition and other legally-owned firearms, including three shotguns and two air-rifles. The judge handed the perpetrator an indefinite restraining order, banning him from directly contacting his wife, and ordered the destruction of the firearms.
Licensed Gun Owners/Dealers/Legal Guns and Ammunition
We are aware of at least six reports in April 2020 that we believe relate to licensed gun owners/dealers/legal guns and ammunition:
- See Armed Domestic Violence and/or Victim Known to Perpetrator above — A man from East Yorkshire, who had previously threatened to take his own life, confronted his wife and son with a shotgun after a drinking session.
- Two men have had their shotgun licences revoked after they were found shooting without permission on land near Ripon, North Yorkshire. They were also found to be in breach of current coronavirus guidance, as they were not shooting as part of their employment or at the request of the landowner. A police spokesperson later said: “I would like to reiterate the advice I have given certificate holders, which is if shooting is part of your work or employment, or it has been specifically requested by a landowner to protect their crops or livestock, then it is permitted. However, any other shooting that is not part of a business is not essential and should not be carried out at this time.”
- Army personnel from a bomb disposal unit were deployed to deal with quantity of suspected military ammunition found at a house in Swindon, Wiltshire.
- See Gun Theft below — An undisclosed number of firearms have reportedly been stolen from a gun shop in Sheffield, South Yorkshire; a handgun-type weapon has been taken in a burglary at a residential address in Lincoln, Lincolnshire; and a weapon dumped by a man from Greater Manchester during a police chase, was recovered and found to have been stolen during a burglary last year.
We note at least seven incidents involving the use of police Tasers.
Stolen Guns and Ammunition
We are aware of at least five reports in April 2020 relating to stolen guns and ammunition:
- See Licensed Gun Owners/Legal Guns and Ammunition above — An undisclosed number of guns are reported to have been stolen from a gun shop in South Yorkshire.
- A handgun-type weapon has been taken in a burglary at a residential address in Lincoln, Lincolnshire.
- A weapon dumped by a man from Greater Manchester during a police chase, was recovered and found to have been one stolen during a burglary last year.
- An air rifle has been stolen during a spate of burglaries at allotments in Workington, Cumbria.
- A quantity of military ammunition has been found at a house in Swindon, Wiltshire.
Animal Death and Injury
We are aware of at least eleven reports in April 2020 of animal cruelty and/or death involving a gun, including:
- Two cats have been killed in airgun attacks in Berkshire and South Yorkshire, and a further four cats have been injured in Essex, Gloucestershire, Leicestershire and North Yorkshire; a red kite has been found shot dead in West Yorkshire; two swans have been injured in separate shootings in Berkshire, a third swan has been injured in Cheshire, and a fourth, found in Merseyside with severe injuries, had to be euthanised.
Imitation, Airsoft, airguns and BB guns do not currently require a licence in England or Wales. These guns are responsible for many gun injuries to both humans and animals.
N.B. Since January 2017, airgun owners in Scotland have been required to have a licence, and airgun crime in Scotland has since decreased by one third.
Gun Control Network, The RSPCA, The Cats Protection League, other organisations and individuals are calling for similar legislation in England and Wales. MPs and families bereaved as a result of ‘child on child’ airgun fatalities are concerned about the unacceptable delay in announcing the outcome of the Home Office review of air weapon regulation, which was announced in October 2017.
Border Force and National Crime Agency
We are aware of one report in April 2020 relating to illegal firearms:
- Following an investigation by Police Scotland’s Organised Crime Partnership and the National Crime Agency, police officers retrieved two stun guns and three other weapons from a house in Glasgow, Scotland. A man, detained at the address, was later charged with importing firearms. The investigation began after Border Force officers discovered a disguised stun gun during checks on incoming mail.
Sentences and Convictions
We are aware of at least 31 reports in April 2020 of sentences and convictions for gun crime, including:
- A 50-year-old man has been jailed for five years, eight months, with an extended licence of a further two-and-a half years, after pleading guilty to making use of a firearm with intent, possessing a shotgun without a certificate, arson intending to damage property, assault occasioning ABH and criminal damage. In September last year, he assaulted his partner at their home in Great Cornard, Suffolk. The victim escaped to a neighbour’s house and police were called. As officers arrived, the man came out of his garden shed and pointed a loaded shotgun at them, causing them to retreat into the house and lock the doors. He then banged on the French doors with the butt of the gun and doused the shed with petrol. Firearms officers and the fire service were called in and he was arrested after he put his weapon down. The court heard that the man had experienced mental health difficulties since he suffered a serious head injury in 1996.
- A 26-year-old man and a 30-year-old man have been jailed for eight years and six years respectively after being found guilty of kidnapping and assault. In September last year, the pair kidnapped a vulnerable teenager, forcing him into a car in Liverpool, Merseyside. The victim was threatened with a Samurai sword and attacked with a stun gun before he managed to escape and report his ordeal. The court heard that the two men tried to burgle a school wear shop while holding their victim, who, it is believed, was being criminally exploited at the time of the attack.
- After receiving a tip-off that a weapon had been fired from the window of a car in Axford, Wiltshire, police stopped the suspects’ vehicle and found an air rifle in the boot. The four men were arrested on suspicion of having an air weapon in a public place and possession of a Class B drug. They were subsequently issued with fixed penalty notices for failing to comply with the new Coronavirus Act, which states people must only leave their house for essential travel.
- A man has been handed a five-year prison term after pleading guilty to possessing a prohibited weapon and possession of ammunition. After being called to a report of domestic violence at a house in Leeds, West Yorkshire last month, police officers discovered an automatic machine pistol with a magazine of 20 bullets, inside a pillowcase in a bedroom. The court heard that the gun’s barrel had been replaced, converting the weapon from a blank-firing pistol to one that could discharge ammunition. The firearm was in working order, though its serial number had been “obliterated”. The man claimed to have procured the gun after receiving threats, but he said he had never used it. The judge, however, said: “Your intention was to use it, if necessary, in a gun battle with a gang of other men who had been threatening you with knives and guns. You are well capable of forming an intention to harm really seriously. That is the intention, I am satisfied, with which you possessed this machine pistol.”
- A 34-year-old man has been jailed for two years and eight months after admitting possession of an imitation firearm with intent to cause fear of violence. In November last year, after he and a friend had been asked to leave a bar in Radcliffe, Greater Manchester he put on a balaclava and returned to the venue with an imitation gun. On being threatened by the man, the landlord “slapped” the firearm from his grasp and told him “not to be stupid”. Customers at the bar then threw the assailant out and police were called. The court heard that the man, who has recently been diagnosed with PTSD and a personality disorder, had felt “belittled” by the landlord.
- Police negotiators, armed response officers and a dog unit responded to a report of a man threatening to harm himself at an address in Lowestoft, Suffolk. Following a 31-hour stand-off, during which he allegedly pointed a firearm at a police officer, the man was arrested on suspicion of possession of a firearm with intent to cause fear of violence; he was subsequently detained under the Mental Health Act. A number of weapons were recovered from the property.
- Four members of a gang have been jailed for their involvement in an armed robbery at Eaglescliffe, Co. Durham. In September, one gang member terrified two women who worked at a shop, threatened one of them with an imitation gun and stole £170 in cash and some cigarettes. Another gang member acted as lookout, another aided their escape and a fourth was the get-away driver. When three members of the gang were arrested shortly afterwards by armed officers, one was found to be carrying a replica handgun loaded with blanks. All four gang members pleaded guilty to robbery, one also admitted possession of an imitation firearm and another also admitted possession of a bladed article.
- Two men have been jailed for five years, seven months, and one year, four months respectively after attacking a man at his home in Buxton, Derbyshire. In October last year, the pair entered the victim’s house and threatened him with an imitation gun. They also punched him, hit him with a piece of wood, slashed him across his back and poured boiling water over his legs. One of the men pleaded guilty to causing grievous bodily harm with intent and possessing an imitation firearm with intent to cause fear of violence, the other admitted inflicting grievous bodily harm.
- A 60-year-old man has been jailed for five years after admitting possession of a prohibited firearm. When police searched his home in Lowestoft, Suffolk in July last year, they found two inert grenades, ball bearings, chemicals and a revolver that had been imported from a Spanish firm dealing in airguns and replicas and since modified to discharge lethal projectiles. The judge heard that the defendant claimed to have suffered PTSD after he served in a volunteer force in Croatia in the 90s; however, there was no proof of this account. His Defence argued that the invention of the story indicated deep-rooted psychological issues requiring therapeutic intervention; the judge, however, found no reason not to impose the minimum mandatory five-year sentence.
- A 35-year-old man has been sentenced to thirteen years in prison after pleading guilty to a number of drugs and firearms related offences. After his van was involved in a crash in Oldham, Lancashire, police officers searched his vehicle and found Class A and Class B drugs, around £30,000 in cash, four mobile phones and a revolver hidden in a secret compartment. A subsequent search of a nearby address resulted in the seizure of ammunition and items that could be used in the production of drugs. The value of the drugs recovered was estimated to be up to £643,000 if sold at the highest price at street level.
- A 35-year-old man has been handed an eight-year prison sentence for possession of a firearm and possession with intent to supply Class A drugs. In October last year, police officers raided the man’s flat in Sheffield, South Yorkshire and discovered a loaded semi-automatic pistol sewn into the lining of a settee and a “significant amount” of Class A drugs. A second man at the property was jailed for 58 weeks after admitting possession with intent to supply cannabis.
Incidents by Weapon Type
Many incidents involve the use of airguns*, Airsoft, imitation and BB guns, which do not require a licence and may not contain ammunition but are used by perpetrators to capitalise on the fear of victims who believe they are about to be shot. Traumatised victims are often unable to identify the weapons used. It is extremely difficult to distinguish between imitation and live-firing guns unless the weapons are fired and/or recovered, and, for this reason, guns involved in incidents frequently remain unidentified.
Shotguns and rifles can be legally held by those granted a licence. Ultimately, legally-obtained guns in every country tend to find their way into the wrong hands, whether through theft, corrupt gun dealers, and/or the failure of the licensing procedure to identify legal gun owners who pose a risk to themselves and/or others.
Please see the endnote for further explanation of gun types and current legal status.
Figure 2: April 2020 reports by weapon type
See Gun incidents in the UK page for details of incidents involving these gun types.
Guns that do not require a licence: Airguns* (so-called ‘low-powered’); Airsoft; ball-bearing; imitation; paintball; antique; deactivated; bolt guns** and starting pistols/blank firers. These guns are cheap, accessible and available to buy on impulse. Moreover, lack of secure storage requirements enables theft. Many are capable of being converted into more powerful weapons. Guns deactivated to early specifications are capable of reactivation and recent, more rigorous specifications are not retrospective.
There is no legal definition of ‘antique’ and, although possession of antique guns is prohibited to those having served or received a criminal sentence, it is unclear how this is administered during sales and transfers.
Airsoft guns are exempt from the terms of the Violent Crime Reduction Act 2006 and are ‘self-regulated’ by the Airsoft industry. The Home Office fails to collect data on the proliferation of Airsoft skirmishing sites.
- *From January 2017 airgun owners in Scotland have required a licence.
- ** A ‘slaughter licence’ is required for a bolt gun.
Guns that require a licence: Airguns in Scotland; shotguns; rifles; police firearms/ Tasers.
The inadequate licensing procedure is subsidised by taxpayers to the tune of £20 million a year. Any number of shotguns can be held on one certificate, which lasts for five years. The licensing procedure consistently fails to protect the public from licensed gun-owning perpetrators and women are particularly at risk of domestic violence involving licensed gun owners. However, the Home Office fails to publish data regarding the number of Licensed Gun Owners/Dealers/Legal Guns and Ammunition involved in crime, and the status of guns used in suicides is not recorded at inquests.
Guns that are prohibited: Handguns (revolvers, pistols etc.); Olympic starting pistols; Tasers; submachine guns; and ‘other’ weapons (pepper spray/CS Gas; home-made guns and explosive devices). Certain handguns are exempt from prohibition. Handgun, Taser and pepper spray use is authorised for police, but there are concerns regarding fatalities and Taser training.
Imitation/Airsoft guns are available without background checks. Crimes reported in the media as involving handguns are likely to involve imitations, airsoft, air pistols or other guns that look like handguns, resulting in misleadingly-inflated reports of handgun crime.
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