Levels of firearms crime in the UK remain amongst the lowest in the world; however, criminals continue to engage in firearms enabled crime.
Firearms crime is currently lower than the long term trend. There were 5,750 firearms offences recorded in England and Wales in the year ending March 2022. This was 35 more (0.6% increase) than the year ending March 2021, which was at the lowest level since the year ending March 2016, according to the Office for National Statistics.
Firearm discharges from lethal-barrelled weapons account for about 9% of firearm offences. About 40% of all reported discharges are against the person, with most of these resulting in an injury. Serious injury from firearms is low, and fatalities rare, with 26 deaths in 2022 - close to an all time low. Most firearms enabled serious violence continues to occur in London, West Midlands and the North West.
Urban street gang activity accounts for most firearm discharges, including those that result in injury. The key drivers for firearms enabled serious violence is the drugs trade, ‘turf wars’, criminal debt and feuds. Some of these criminal feuds are long-standing and result in periodic escalations of violence. Violence can be directed by criminals elsewhere, for example, abroad or in prison. Most victims are other criminals although sometimes innocent people are shot in cross-fire or in cases of mistaken identity.
There is diversification of firearms availability in the UK, where criminals are likely to use what they can acquire rather than what they want. Original lethal purpose firearms (mainly handguns) are preferred and are sourced abroad, often online, and smuggled into the UK. Shotguns are typically stolen in residential burglaries in the UK, some of which were not held on licence. Criminals convert some types of blank-firing weapons to fire live or modified ammunition and also resort to improvised/home-made weapons (including with 3D-printed components) and previously obsolete-calibre firearms. The number of recovered homemade firearms with 3D-printed components (such as hybrid firearms) has increased this year and the reliability, functionality and quality is improving. It is highly likely that criminals have a growing interest in hybrid 3D-printed firearms. The criminal use of fully automatic weapons, such as submachine guns and automatic rifles, remains very rare in the UK.
Most firearms recovered by law enforcement have not been previously fired in crime and when they have been, most have been used only once, before being disposed of or never used again. The few firearms that are used in more than one incident are, however, responsible for a disproportionate level of serious violence.
It remains highly unlikely that the war in Ukraine is impacting on the UK serious and organised crime firearms threat. After the war, it is a realistic possibility that some firearms will be traded on the European criminal marketplace. This threat of firearms diversion is likely mid to long term, where countries neighbouring Ukraine are likely to become transit hubs for firearms trafficked to mainland Europe. Despite the number of firearms available in conflict zones, very few types available pre-conflict or donated by Western governments are used by criminals in the UK.
The NCA has launched a firearms safety campaign urging the public to ‘know the gun, know the law and know the consequences’ of the illegal possession of firearms in the UK.
Anyone who has information about illegally held firearms or ammunition should report to local police by calling 101 or 999 if there is an immediate risk of harm or danger. Alternatively, if you wish to remain anonymous, please contact Crimestoppers.
Against the backdrop of surging gun crime in the West Midlands over the last decade, a man was arrested in Birmingham having ordered various firearms parts online from the US.
The man gave the US seller detailed instructions on how to hide the parts in packages to avoid detection. Following an investigation by US Homeland Security, the NCA identified the man and arrested him.
Firearm parts (as shown in image) and an ammunition press were seized, along with a 3D-printer that was believed to have been used to make some component parts. After pleading guilty to attempting to possess a firearm, he was jailed for three years and nine months.
The firearm parts, although not illegal on their own, and 3D-printer which could have been used to create deadly weapons for use by organised crime groups, were taken out of circulation.