There is no reliable method of estimating of the number of illegal firearms in England and Wales. Any such figures would, by their very nature, be guess estimates, and therefore of little value.
Following the Prime Minister’s summit on 22 February, we announced a three-point plan to tackle gun crime and gangs, focusing on policing, powers and prevention. As part of the plan, the Home Secretary announced a review of the legislation on gangs, guns and knives, focussing in particular on gangs. The review will cover: sentencing policy generally, including in relation to juveniles; gun supply issues; gang membership as an aggravating factor; what new powers might be needed; and other relevant issues.
ACPO are already leading work on issues around the international market in firearms and supply, building up a national intelligence picture of the scale and nature of the problem around guns and gangs and working with individual forces to tackle problems proactively and robustly.
[holding answer 26 February 2007]: The Home Office provided guidance to police forces and authorities on the receipt and disposal of firearms and ammunition handed in during the amnesty in 2003. The guidance advised forces that all firearms and ammunition should be destroyed in accordance with force policy, other than those items considered to be of exceptional historic or forensic significance (as advised by the Forensic Science Service (FSS)), or items believed to have been used in crime and, after examination by the FSS, retained as part of an on-going investigation.
The Gun Crime Investigative Guidance manual of good practice jointly published by the ACPO Criminal Use of Firearms Group and the Home Office also provides detailed guidance around the recovery of firearms. Disposal, however, is dealt with by individual force policy and procedures, dependent on the circumstances of each case and whether or not criminal proceedings are involved.
The Association of Chief Police Officers, in conjunction with the Serious Organised Crime Agency and HM Revenue and Customs, are working together to tackle the illicit supply of firearms, both within England and Wales and internationally. The Government are not seeking to restrict further the legitimate ownership and use of firearms, which is already tightly controlled.
Under section 21 of the Firearms Act 1968, a person sentenced to three or more years’ imprisonment is prohibited from ever possessing a firearm, and a person sentenced to between three months’ and three years’ imprisonment must not possess a firearm for five years following their release. The maximum sentence for these specific offences is five years’ imprisonment. If a person is also convicted of unlawful possession of a prohibited firearm, they may be sentenced to a minimum five years’ (and a maximum of 10 years’) imprisonment.