Factors Influencing the Reduction of Gun Crime in the UK
The NABIS Intelligence Cell has compiled a comprehensive problem profile regarding the decrease of firearms offences being recorded in England and Wales since their peak in 2005/6, with the Home Office reporting the lowest number of firearms offences recorded in 2012/3.
Four of the key gun crime forces (Greater Manchester Police (GMP), West Midlands Police (WMP), the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) and West Yorkshire Police (WYP)) have shown year on year reductions in relation to firearms discharges, however in three of the major gun crime forces, (MPS, Merseyside and GMP) between April 2012 and March 2013 new weapons have still been available to source and use in crime in later months.
Almost half a million firearms that are registered as lost or stolen in the European Union (EU) remain unaccounted for although the Violent Crime Reduction Act (VCRA) has introduced a number of changes in relation to firearms criminality and sentencing.
Evaluations have shown that these changes may have effectively helped reduce levels of gun crime within the UK. There has been some concern that people may be able to circumvent aspects of the VCRA legislation however there is a continual focus on identifying loop holes within the act to ensure that there is a law enforcement response. Tough sentencing alone will not deter all offenders from being involved with firearms, and these groups or individuals may seek new ways to import or distribute weapons in order to evade capture, and may try and hire younger members to carry out the street level activity. The closure of key supply routes within the UK has limited the number of firearms that enter circulation however there are still a number of surplus weapons from some of these supply chains that remain outstanding.
The report indicates that the decrease in firearms offences is not likely to be linked to a single factor or event but instead to a number of interdependent factors which have occurred over time. For example, there is now a greater focus to provide support to vulnerable young people to discourage them from being involved in gangs and youth violence. There have also been forensic and ballistic advancements within the UK over the last ten years which have enabled police and other outside agencies to gain a greater understanding of the nature and extent of gun crime.
Antique weapons - change in legislation
NABIS has been working with the Home Office to change legislation, introduce tighter controls and close the loopholes which once allowed antique weapons to potentially be used for criminal purposes.
New legislation introduced in July 2014 means someone who has served or received a criminal sentence can no longer possess an antique firearm.
The prohibition applies to anyone who has served a custodial sentence of more than three years or has served a custodial sentence or received a suspended sentence, of between three months and three years.
NPCC lead for Criminal Use of Firearms ACC Helen McMillan said: "The problem of antique weapons being used in crime is an emerging threat we needed to address. The law has been changed to make communities safer and we welcome the tighter controls. The change in legislation closes any loopholes which may be exploited by criminals.
"We are not looking to target genuine antiques collectors who may have an item as a curio or ornament. However sometimes antique weapons end up in the wrong hands and offenders buy these types of weapons and obtain ammunition by criminal means”.
Antique weapons can legally be held as curios or ornaments due to their age and the fact that the appropriate ammunition is obsolete.
However they can become viable firearms if a criminal with the right know-how manufactures their own ammunition.
Head of NABIS Det Ch Supt Jo Clews added: "We know that there are many antiques collectors in the UK and for most this is a legitimate and peaceful hobby. However there are criminals who seek to acquire weapons via this route.”
NABIS recognises that nationally the risk level is currently low, however the problem of antique weapons being used in crime, is an emerging threat we needed to address.
Martin Parker, Chief Scientist at NABIS, said: "The technology in these weapons has not changed for a century or more. An antique weapon can still be lethal but it is classified as a collector's piece with no formal requirement for it to be registered.
"The problem occurs when criminals find they cannot get new weapons from outside of this country. It would be fair to say we have seen an emerging increase in the use of these antique guns.”
Derek Stimpson, Chairman of the Historical Breechloading Smallarms Association (HBSA) added: "We know that antique firearms are part of our heritage and are of historical, technical or aesthetic interest or have specific provenance and many have high values. We fully support those legitimate collectors who have them. It is the criminals who may seek to take the route to procuring an antique firearm that we are out to stop".