January 2020 Review
by Gun Control Network on 11-02-2020
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 January 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 January 2020.
Figure 1: January 2020 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 and 2018-19 are available at www.gun-control-network.org
We became aware of at least three reports in January 2020 concerning gun deaths:
§ A man found dead in the garden of his home in Bearsden, East Dunbartonshire is believed to have shot himself. The deceased, a gun expert who ran his own clay pigeon shooting firm, was said to have been suffering “serious health problems”. A police spokesperson said that the death is being treated as non-suspicious.
§ It has emerged that a man was shot dead at a house in Hartlepool, Co. Durham in September last year. Four men have been charged with murder and two others are wanted in connection with the attack. The victim is reported to have served as a sniper in the Kurdish military against the so-called Islamic State.
§ Emergency services responding to a concern for the safety of a male at an address in St. Helens, Merseyside, found a man critically ill with a gunshot wound. Police subsequently confirmed the man’s death, which is not being treated as suspicious. A post-mortem will be carried out to establish the cause of death.
We are aware of at least four inquests in January 2020 relating to gun deaths:
§ The coroner at the inquest into the death of a man near Shap, Cumbria in January last year has recorded a verdict of suicide. On being told by a doctor a few days before his death that his painful shoulder was not bad enough to require immediate surgery, the man asked, “Do you think they would do something if they thought I was suicidal?” Following a visit from a bailiff, who took his car as part settlement of a debt, the man left a note and left the house. The man’s wife alerted police and officers located the man. Despite continued efforts to communicate with him, the man shot himself. N.B. GCN believes the deceased was a licensed gun owner who used his own legally-held gun to take his own life.
§ The jury at the inquest into the death of a man in Falmouth, Cornwall in May 2017 has found that he died from excess use of cocaine resulting in paranoid and erratic behaviour, with the use of a Taser by Devon and Cornwall Police having a more than trivial impact on him going into cardiac arrest. The officer who Tasered the victim admitted that he had given inaccurate initial statements to the Independent Office for Police Conduct investigation after being advised by Police Federation solicitors not to “express uncertainty” and to state that he had discharged the Taser only twice; however, at the inquest, the officer admitted discharging the Taser three consecutive times. The jury did not find that the man had been aggressive or posed a threat at the time he was Tasered. The family of the victim has called for “an urgent review of police use of Taser, considering the lack of robust training in responding to those experiencing mental ill health or intoxication, and the risks associated with repeated and prolonged exposure to Tasering.”
§ The coroner at the inquest into the death of a man in Driffield, East Yorkshire in July last year has recorded a conclusion of suicide. The victim died after shooting himself with a shotgun in the garage of his home. The inquest heard he had been under “immense pressure” in his job in the period before his death. The deceased had a full firearms licence and kept a shotgun and two air rifles in a locked cabinet in the family home. N.B. The deceased was a licensed gun owner who used his own legally-held gun to take his life.
§ The coroner at the inquest into the death of a man in Llandysul, Wales in August last year has recorded a verdict of suicide. The victim was found hanged with a head wound in the garage of his home, with a captive bolt pistol next to him. The coroner said he was satisfied that the evidence showed the victim had hung himself and pulled the trigger of the pistol “almost simultaneously”. In a statement, the man’s wife described how the victim had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease and had suffered depression as his symptoms worsened.
Armed Domestic Violence and/or Victim Known to Perpetrator
We are aware of at least four reports in January 2020 that we believe to be armed domestic violence and/or victim known to perpetrator, including:
§ Two men and a teenage boy have been jailed for life after being convicted of murder. In March 2018, the three offenders approached a van in Walthamstow, East London, mistakenly believing it to be occupied by a rival gang member. One of them shot the man in the vehicle; he died an hour later. Although the victim was known to the gang members, they mistook him for someone else on the night of the murder. The killing is believed to be part of an ongoing feud that saw the defendants involved in other violent offences.
§ Two men, who pointed a pistol at police officers during a siege in Stoke, Staffordshire, have been jailed. A 22-year-old has been sentenced to two-and-a-half years after pleading guilty to harassment with intent to cause fear of violence, possession of an imitation firearm with intent to resist arrest. A 21-year-old received sixteen months for possession of an imitation firearm with intent to resist arrest. A woman called police after the two men turned up at her house late one night and attending officers found one holding a gun. Firearms officers were called and both men were arrested. The gun was found to be an imitation firearm.
§ After admitting cruelty to a child and common assault, a man was handed a four-month jail sentence, suspended for 18 months, while a woman received a twelve-month community order. In October 2018, the couple were visiting a relative’s home in Maidstone, Kent when the man began playing with a BB gun that he had brought along with him. He fired the weapon, purportedly aiming at a toddler’s nappy, but hitting the child’s leg. The toddler cried out but was not injured. The woman also admitted firing the BB gun, claiming she had aimed at a toy car. On sentencing, the judge said: “It may have been a stupid, reckless act but it was also rather nasty and made the child cry… Each of you were stupid and thoughtless and caused pain to a vulnerable victim.”
§ A man living in Margate, Kent has been jailed for eighteen months after admitting possession of an air rifle and being convicted of witness intimidation. In July last year, following a dispute with a male housemate over the presence of bed bugs, the man shot at his housemate’s door. Police subsequently found the perpetrator in possession of ammunition and an air rifle. Later, as the court date for the shooting incident approached, the perpetrator threatened to kill his housemate and engaged in other threatening behaviour.
Licensed Gun Owners/Dealers/Legal Guns and Ammunition
We are aware of at least six reports in January 2020 that we believe relate to licensed gun owners/dealers/legal guns and ammunition, including:
§ See Deaths above − A man from East Dunbartonshire who retained access to his shotgun and used it to take his own life.
§ See Inquests above − A man from Cumbria who retained access to his legally-held gun and used it to take his own life despite having spoken to his GP regarding suicide. A man from Cornwall, who died after being Tasered three times by police. A man from East Yorkshire, who retained access to his legally-held gun and used it to take his own life despite being known to be under “immense pressure”.
§ A licensed firearms owner from Perth, Scotland has been sentenced for possessing more bullets than his firearms certificate allowed. Following a neighbour dispute, police attended and found him in possession of almost 200 more bullets than his certificate allowed. The man claimed to have accumulated these by accident. The excess bullets were forfeited and he was fined £600. The police are said to have no ongoing concerns.
§ After pleading guilty to failing to inform police of a change of address as a holder of a firearms certificate and allowing an unauthorised person access to the keys to the cabinets holding the guns, a man has been handed an absolute discharge. The court heard that the man left the family home in North Berwick, Scotland, where seven shotguns were stored, after separating from his wife in February 2018. His wife brought the cabinet keys to court to prove she had access; however, the man continued to pay the mortgage on the property. The discharge will leave him without a criminal record.
In addition, we note at least nine incidents involving the use of police Tasers.
Stolen Guns and Ammunition
We are aware of at least three reports in January 2020 relating to stolen guns:
§ An air rifle and other items were stolen from a home in Shouldham, Norfolk. Two other burglaries were carried out in the area on the same day and police believe the offences are linked.
§ Police officers responded following a report that two people had stolen an air weapon and knives from a property in Thornaby, North Yorkshire. After a two-hour search, an officer and a police dog found two teenage males hiding in bushes; the dog also tracked down the weapons. The suspects were arrested.
§ An air pistol has been stolen from a property in Feltwell, Norfolk.
Animal Death and Injury
We are aware of at least six reports in January 2020 of animal cruelty and/or death involving a gun, including:
§ Two cats and a kitten have been injured in incidents in Nottinghamshire, Oxfordshire and Shropshire. A dog has been killed during an incident involving armed police in Lanarkshire. A kestrel has been injured in West Yorkshire and a horse has been shot in the face with a nail gun in Somerset.
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.
Sentences and Convictions
We are aware of at least 43 reports in January 2020 of sentences and convictions for gun crime, including:
§ A 45-year-old man has been jailed for twelve years after pleading guilty to robbery and attempted robbery. In July last year, the man threatened a member of staff at a shop in Barnes, South West London with a gun before stealing around £300. Five days later, he entered a sweet shop in Charlton, again armed with a gun, but fled empty-handed after the assistant manager pushed a panic button. The perpetrator was recognised on CCTV footage of the first robbery and this was quickly linked to the second incident. He was arrested at a nearby apartment, where officers found an imitation gas-powered handgun and clothing worn during both offences. The perpetrator told police that the crimes had been carried out to fund his drug addiction.
§ A 32-year-old man has been jailed for eight years and four months after being found guilty of possession of a firearm and ammunition. Police officers raiding an address occupied by the man in Freshwater, Isle of Wight in august 2017, discovered a handgun, live ammunition, cannabis, cocaine and heroin. The court heard that the man was a key part in the supply of drugs between the West Midlands and the island, and that he claimed to have the guns for protection.
§ A 39-year-old man has been sentenced to eleven years and four months in prison after admitting taking part in a violent robbery. The man and two other men armed themselves with hammers, a machete and a firearm before raiding a shop at the Gleneagles Hotel in Auchterarder, Scotland. The trio brandished the weapons at staff and guests before making off with thousands of pounds worth of watches and jewellery. The 39-year-old man fled to Brazil but was extradited to the UK; his fellow perpetrators were jailed last year.
§ Five men have been handed prison sentences of between seven and twelve years after pleading guilty to conspiracy to kidnap and conspiracy to blackmail. In April last year, the men posed as police officers and kidnapped a man in Manchester, Greater Manchester after pretending to arrest him. The gang handcuffed the man to a chair and tortured him with a Taser and a blowtorch. They also frightened him with an imitation firearm to make him co-operate. After the offenders demanded a ransom of cash and drugs from their victim’s family, police were informed and officers tracked and rescued the victim. Two men were arrested at the scene, while three were apprehended the following month.
§ A 22-year-old man has been jailed for twenty-two-and-a-half years, with an extended five years on licence, after pleading guilty to attempted murder, possession of a firearm with intent to endanger life and other charges. In August last year, footage of him running after a car and firing a gun in Luton, Bedfordshire was captured on CCTV. The 22-year-old was also identified on CCTV footage of a second shooting. He was arrested a few days later at a property where a quantity of cannabis, a revolver and ammunition were found, along with clothes that matched those seen on the CCTV footage of the offences. The victim of the second shooting sustained injuries that will affect him for the rest of his life.
§ A woman was handed a prison term of two years and eight months after she pleaded guilty to robbery and possession of an imitation firearm. In May 2018, she approached a woman in Derby, Derbyshire and demanded she hand over her bag. When the victim saw that her attacker was holding what looked like a handgun, she handed over £40. In a victim impact statement, the woman said she now feels scared going out in the city, especially when she has to go close to the scene of the robbery.
§ A 40-year-old man was jailed for 21 months after he admitted possessing a Taser and having an imitation assault rifle with intent to make people fear it was real and would be used. Police officers went to the man’s house in Gloucester, Gloucestershire in February last year after a personal alarm (given to him by police after he was badly injured in a previous incident), went off. The man shot at officers through the letter box and threatened to “blow their brains out”. Specialist firearms officers and negotiators were called in and he was eventually detained. In a subsequent search of his property, officers retrieved air rifles, BB firearms, a pistol, knives and crossbows. A Taser was discovered at his flat on a later occasion.
§ A 23-year-old man was sentenced to twelve months in jail, suspended for eighteen months, fifteen compulsory rehabilitation activity days and 150 hours of unpaid community work after he threatened to shoot at teenagers with an air rifle. In May last year, after hearing his son’s bike had been stolen, he confronted a group of teenagers in Hessle, East Yorkshire and demanded they hand over one of their bikes. He pointed an air rifle at one boy’s head saying, “Go and get that bike, I’ll shoot you in you don’t get that bike.” He then forced the teenager to escort him to a nearby skate park where he pointed the weapon at another boy and demanded to examine his bike. After realising neither of the bikes belonged to his son, he apologised and shot the rifle into some trees. In a statement one of the victims said he didn’t feel safe in his own home and his family had had to move into a caravan for a short period.
§ Two brothers have been jailed for a total of 24 years after pleading guilty to firearms offences. The first received a sentence of thirteen-and-a-half years for two counts of selling or transferring prohibited firearms and selling and transferring a shotgun to another, while the second was handed a ten-and-a-half year sentence for selling or transferring prohibited firearms, possession of a firearm without a certificate, aggravated vehicle taking and possessing a prohibited weapon, namely a can of Pava spray. In December 2018, police officers stopped a car in Walsall, West Midlands and found the driver in possession of a sawn-off shotgun and fourteen cartridges of ammunition. His phone records revealed that the brothers had arranged the sale and delivered the items. Following sentencing, a police spokesperson said: “The brothers worked together to supply dangerous and illegal firearms to other criminals, on one occasion converting a signal pistol into a viable working handgun.
§ A 24-year-old man has been handed a custodial sentence of five years and three months with a three-year extension period after pleading guilty to robbery and possession of an imitation firearm with intent to cause fear of violence. In August last year, the man arranged to meet another man after chatting to him online. The man was asked to come to a property in Nottingham, Nottinghamshire, where the perpetrator told him he had a gun and would shoot him if he didn’t hand over money. The perpetrator then took a quantity of cash from his victim’s wallet. Following sentencing, a police spokesperson said: “This was a calculated robbery which put the victim in fear for his life… This case also highlights general online safety issues and the need for people to keep themselves protected after meeting someone online.”
§ Four men, three of whom were soldiers from the Grenadier Guards, have been convicted for their involvement in armed robberies across London and Surrey. Two of the men were found guilty of seven robberies and attempted robberies in which an imitation firearm was used; one pleaded guilty to twelve robberies and other charges, and another admitted to one count of robbery and one count of possessing a bladed article in a public place. Two of the men were apprehended after robbing a shop in Brixton while armed with a Taser and a knife. Once in custody, one was identified as being wanted for a series of eleven other incidents, seven of which involved the two other men.
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.
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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