Lincolnshire Police are joining forces across England and Wales in calling for firearms owners to make sure that their guns are being kept securely before police commence home visits on Wednesday, October 15.
Chief Inspector Phil Baker said: “Lincolnshire is a rural county with a thriving shooting community. The vast majority of residents who hold firearms licences take the responsibility very seriously, and rightly so. Firearms and shotguns must be kept securely, for example in a purpose built cabinet. Failure to do so could result in the seizure of your weapons, or worse still, in the weapons falling into the wrong hands. In Lincolnshire, in the last financial year, 18 weapons have been lost or stolen. This is a figure we hope to reduce with this weeks activity. Our advice to licence holders is to make sure their weapons are secure. We will follow this up with targeted checks.”
Nationally, over the last five years, a total of 3296 licensed firearms and shotguns have been reported as stolen or lost. However, the annual number lost or stolen has fallen from 553 in 2009 to 415 in 2013.
Whilst this reduction shows the positive work by both the police and gun owners, and represents a tiny fraction of the number of lawfully held guns, one stolen or lost gun is still too many, say police.
This concern has led to an addition to the Home Office guidance that supports the police in making unannounced visits where there are concerns about security and risk.
National Policing Lead for Firearms and Explosives Licensing, Chief Constable Andy Marsh said: “Our aim is not to catch out gun owners, which is why we are giving notice that these visits will be taking place. We want to work with the shooting community to ensure gun owners are aware of how to keep their firearms secure and, where appropriate, give advice to individual owners. I know that the vast majority of gun owners understand their responsibility to secure firearms and in the main take this very seriously, which allows their continued lawful use for work or leisure purposes.”
He added: “A lost or stolen firearm could end up in the hands of criminals who would pose a clear threat to the public. We want to remind gun owners to check their security measures are up scratch so that they are not inadvertently putting people at risk.”
Certificate holders who are clearly not complying with security measures may face having their certificates revoked.
However, this is the last resort and, where appropriate, support and advice will be provided.
Specific security advice can be found on the Home Office website. Local police firearms departments are also available to provide support and guidance to firearms owners.
Richard Ali, the Chief Executive of the British Association for Shooting and Conservation (BASC) said: “BASC supports the police in their efforts to help firearms certificate holders maintain the excellent record of safety and security in England and Wales. Where there is specific intelligence of threat, risk or harm then the police should act. This guidance provides that framework and ensures that the police provide a clear and reasoned explanation to the certificate holder at the time of the visit.”
Crimestoppers have also launched a dedicated phone line to encourage members of the shooting community and the general public to report any concerns about legally held firearms.
Chief Constable Marsh said: “”The public and especially the shooting community can greatly assist the police in gathering intelligence and protecting our communities by being vigilant around firearms licensing. The shooting community is close, and will recognise sudden behavioural changes in fellow shooters that could cause concerns. However, they may not feel like they can act and the Crimestoppers hotline empowers people to voice concerns anonymously.
“If you are concerned that guns are being kept insecurely or notice signs that shooters may be vulnerable to criminal or terrorist groups or have shown sympathy towards extremist acts, please report it.”
Crime Prevention Minister Norman Baker said: “The UK has some of the toughest gun laws in the world and I am determined to keep it that way. This campaign is an important reminder to certificate holders that it is essential that firearms and ammunition are stored securely and safely and kept out of criminal hands.”
“I would also encourage the public to report any concerns they have about firearms licence holders to the new, dedicated Crimestoppers helpline, “ he added.
The Home Office firearms licensing guidance can be found at https://www.gov.uk/firearms-licensing-police-guidance and the Crimestoppers dedicated phone line is 0800 028 4010.