Additional written evidence submitted
by Colin Greenwood|
SHOTGUN THEFT AS A SOURCE OF CRIME WEAPONS
PART II OF A RESEARCH PAPER BY COLIN GREENWOOD
This paper examines the frequently made assertion
that misappropriation from licensed users of shotguns is a significant
source of the shotguns used in serious crime.
ENGLAND AND WALES
1989 TO 2008-09
|Year||Number of Shotguns
Figures are collected by the police, submitted to the Home Office
as a single entity and presented in a supplementary volume to
the annual criminal statistics which appears in January of the
following year. The 2009-10 statistics are therefore scheduled
to appear in January 2011. The figures are for offences reported
to the police and must therefore relate almost exclusively to
shotguns legally held and, from 1989, registered with the police.
It is highly unlikely that a person who was illegally in possession
of a shotgun would report a theft to the police whether or not
he was otherwise involved in crime.
The figures to 1994 are for "the number of cases of theft
or burglary in which firearms were reported to have been stolen
by type of principal weapon". The principal weapon was that
which caused most injury or damage, or if there was no injury
or damage, that which the police thought the most serious weapon.
Thus, if an air weapon and a shotgun were stolen from house, the
offence would be recorded under "shotgun", but if a
pistol was also stolen, it would probably be recorded as "handgun."
If ten guns were stolen in a single theft, the case would be shown
as a single crime.
The resulting statistics are not reliable year by year and can
not be directly compared with later figures. The figures actually
understate the number of shotguns stolen and do not provide a
reliable measure of the extent to which thefts of legally held
shotguns might contribute to the criminal market in firearms.
The Firearms (Amendment) Act 1988, which came into effect in 1989,
involved the registration of all legally held shotguns and imposed
substantial security requirements on holders of shotgun certificates.
There is nothing in the figures to suggest that the then new security
requirements had any effect on the number of shotguns misappropriated.
From 1995 the statistics relate to the numbers of each type of
firearm "misappropriated". The word misappropriated
is now defined as stolen, obtained by fraud or forgery etc, or
handled dishonestly. The 1995 Statistics note at Page 225 that
the new practice resulted in "an exaggerated recorded rate
of increase in thefts and burglaries of firearms between 1994
The new recording practice did more than exaggerate the number
of offences by recording each firearm, it produced the potential
for multiple recording of each gun stolen. An offence will be
recorded when any shotgun is reported to have been stolen. A further
offence will be recorded if the same shotgun is 'handled' by another
person. Handling occurs when a persons who knows or believes shotgun
to be stolen goods dishonestly receives it or assists in its retention,
removal, disposal or realization. An offence will be recorded
in respect of each case where handling is established or there
is prima facie evidence that it has occurred. The gun may
pass through several hands in various police areas and an offence
will be recorded for each "handling". The theft of a
single shotgun could result in several offences being recorded.
This capacity for double counting has been acknowledged by the
Home Office, but the statistics are submitted to them as a bulk
figure for the year and cannot be broken down centrally. There
is no information in the published statistics that allow even
an estimate of the number of cases which involve actual theft
and the number relating to subsequent handling. Direct enquiries
from three police forces suggest that the number of cases that
can be attributed to double counting is not large.
Attention is drawn in the 2008-09 Criminal Statistics (Page 47)
to the apparent large increase in "thefts" of shotguns
in that one year and it is reported that "around a third
of the 2008/09 'thefts' of shotguns are related to one incident
within the Gwent police area". The total number of offences
recorded in respect of that one case runs into hundreds but the
Chief Constable of Gwent Police declined to provide details on
the grounds of legal privilege. It is understood, however, that
it accounts for the greater part of the supposed 2008-09 increase.
Under the pre-1995 counting rules that case would be counted as
one theft or might not have been counted at all if the shotguns
were acquired by fraud. If that one case was excluded the 2008/09
figures might well be consistent with those for previous years.
The figures from 2009-10 will indicate how far the 2008-09 figures
were influenced by this case but they will not be available until
CONCLUSION - THEFTS
Statistics from 1995 to 2007-08 show a downward trend in thefts
of shotguns with a consistency that supports the validity of the
figures. There is a small over-statement of the number of shotguns
involved because of double counting. The sudden and enormous increase
from 289 to 682 cases large caused by a single incident that does
not affect the validity of the conclusion.
A number of attempts have been made to quantify the extent to
which legally held firearms might be moved into the grey or black
markets. Whilst various terms have been used, it seems to be common
ground that there is a pool of illegally held shotguns owned by
those who are not involved in crime (the grey market). The black
market is a separate pool from which crime guns are sourced.
Greenwood1 reports on thefts of seventy seven shoguns
which were followed through. Only one was subsequently used in
crime, 27 (35%) were recovered, some very close to the scene of
the crime. The greatest number of shotguns were stolen in the
course of burglaries in which other property of considerable value
was taken. The value of shotgun can be very high indeed and it
is not surprising, that a thief would be attracted to them.
Maybanks2 reports on his examination of files relating
to 657 firearms examined at the Metropolitan Police Forensic Science
Laboratory between 1 January 1988 and 30 June 1991. 157 of them
were shotguns and 383 were pistols. 545 firearms were recovered
at the scene or nearby either when the offender was arrested or
having been discarded. The nature of the examination of the lack
of expertise in this speciality meant that the provenance of 533
of the firearms was not established. 22% of the firearms, the
majority of them shotguns, had shortened barrels. Only two of
the firearms had previously been licensed.
Corkery3 generally deals with all classes of firearms,
but isolates shotguns for some consideration. He concludes that
firearms owners were not specifically targeted by offenders and
that other valuable and easily disposable items were usually taken
as well as firearms (Page III). In 1992, 446 cases occurred in
which a shotgun was regarded as the principal firearm. Corkery
found that 17% of stolen fireable shotguns were recovered. Of
the 69 firearms (all types) that were recovered, "at least
12 had been used in crime after being stolen, the majority were
used within a month of being stolen." Corkery also notes
that the figures are too small for any reliable inferences to
Morrison and O'Donnell4 found that the majority of
robbers who used a real firearm said that they had bought the
weapon from a friend. Few used a criminal armourer. Very few knew
anything about the origins of their weapon, apart from its immediate
source and indicated that such questions were never asked. Only
five of one hundred robbers interviewed said that they thought
or knew that the gun was the product of a burglary.
Hales, et al4 refer several times to the problem
of shotguns obtained during burglaries, but fail to cite a single
example. Their interviews with prisoners generates the same conclusion
as that more effectively adduced by Morrison and O'Donnell, that
most criminals obtained their firearm in a closed market from
known acquaintance and most did not attempt to find out where
the gun came from. They also noted that criminals often acquired
precisely the type of firearm they wanted for their immediate
purpose and 'better class' criminals could obtain any type of
firearm without difficulty.
Existing research does not allow of the "cataloguing"
of sources of shotguns used in crime. Criminals generally acquire
their firearm in a closed market from friends or by using a referencing
system by way of introduction. There are a small number of criminal
armourers who, again, only deal with known 'customers'. An indeterminate
but small proportion of the shotguns used in crime may be stolen
for the purpose but most of the shotguns taken from residential
burglaries are taken as items of value. A significant number are
abandoned at or close to the scene of a burglary. Whilst illegal
importation has become a major feature in the case of pistols
(eg the Baikal 9mm pistols) it does not appear to be significant
source of shotguns.
Since 1995 some 6,500 shotguns have been "misappropriated"
but a proportion of these were double counting by means of handling,
a not insignificant number of guns were abandoned at the scene
and could never have reach the grey or black markets, additional
cases were of fraud the circumstances of which preclude leakage.
Perhaps a third or more of the recorded offences do not create
a situation in which a gun could have leaked to the criminal market,
leaving some 4,300 guns that have gone astray. Guns last a long
time and shotguns made in the second half of the 19th Century
are still very much in use.
1 Greenwood, Colin. Firearms Control (Routledge
& Kegan Paul, London, 1972.
2 Maybanks, A S H, Firearms Controls and the Provenance
of Firearms Used in Armed Robberies in the Metropolitan Police
District. Dissertation towards MA Degree at University of
3 Corkery, J M. The Theft of Firearms. Home
Office Research and Planning Unit, London, 1994.
4 Morrison, Shona and O'Donnell, Ian. Armed Robbery,
A Study in London University of Oxford, Centre for Criminological
5 Hales, Gavin, et al Gun Crime: the market
in and use of illegal firearms. 2006. Home Office Research,
Development and Statistics Directorate, London.
23 November 2010