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Gun licences in Avon and Somerset Police area exceed 20,000 as number rises


More than 20,000 people in the police force area that covers Bristol hold a licence for a shotgun or other firearm.

Government figures show 21,876 people in the boundary covered by Avon and Somerset Police held a firearm or shotgun certificate — or both — at the end of March. Some of those owned more than one gun.

The Home Office has asked all police forces across England and Wales to urgently review their practices around granting firearm certificates in the wake of the Plymouth tragedy.

READ MORE: The Bristol gun offenders jailed so far in 2021

Jake Davison, 22, shot and killed five people including his own mother and a three-year-old girl on August 12, before taking his own life.

Davison was a licensed gun holder. Police had returned his firearm to him weeks before the shooting spree, after it was taken away last December following an assault allegation.

Following the Plymouth attack, a Home Office source said the department will publish new guidance to improve how people applying for a firearms licence are assessed in future, including social media checks.

The source added: “As a matter of urgency, we are asking the police to review their practices and whether any existing licences need to be looked at again. This will help reassure people that all necessary checks have been made to keep them safe.”

Number on the rise

The number of licence holders in Avon and Somerset has risen slightly from the previous year, when 21,803 were recorded. This bucks the trend of a national drop, which the Home Office believes to be connected to the coronavirus pandemic.

Here are some of they other key statistics for Avon and Somerset:

  • Some 20,529 (94 per cent) of the people with a licence for a firearm or shotgun were men.
  • Some 1,058 new firearm or shotgun certificate applications were granted, and only five refused.
  • There were 4,639 renewal applications granted and three refused, while 63 certificates were revoked.
  • Certificates covered 342 muzzle-loading handguns — which are loaded from the open end of the gun’s barrel — 13,269 rifles and 585 handguns.
  • They also included 536 ‘Section 1’ shotguns — which have magazines holding more than two rounds — and 48,268 ‘Section 2’ shotguns, restricted to two rounds.
  • In total, licences covered 71,484 shotguns and other firearms in Avon and Somerset — 42 for every 1,000 people, compared to the national average of 34.

People acquiring or owning a firearm or shotgun must hold a certificate issued by the chief officer of the police force area where they live.

To issue a certificate, the chief officer must be satisfied that the applicant has a good reason for having the firearm, they are fit to be entrusted with one, and that public safety or peace will not be endangered. Firearm and shotgun certificates are valid for five years from the date they are issued.

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The Independent Office for Police Conduct’s (IOPC) has announced that it will investigate Devon and Cornwall Police’s decision-making in relation to Davison’s possession of a shotgun and shotgun certificate.

The IOPC said it had not yet been established whether the shotgun returned to Davison in July was used in the shooting.

It has also emerged that Davison made online references to ‘incels’ — short for ‘involuntary celibate’, and often used to describe men who blame women for their perceived sexual failings, and promote misogynistic views and violence towards women.

The National Police Chiefs’ Council says forces will only issue certificates after assessment from “a dedicated team of experts” and “robust” checks to ensure an applicant meets Home Office criteria.

Its firearms licensing lead DCC Dave Orford said: “If a certificate holder has a change of circumstances that mean they no longer have good reason to own a firearm or a change in suitability, for example if they become involved in criminality or there is a health-related issue, then their certificate can be revoked.

“Since 2016, forces have been following a Home Office scheme where medical information is requested from doctors when the applicant applies for, or renews, their certificate.

“The Home Office has been consulting on changes to the current statutory guidance, including processes for sharing medical information and guidance on social media checks. All forces will be reviewing their current firearm licence application processes ahead of the new statutory guidance being published by the Home Office.”

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