Nearly 200 legally held guns stolen in Northern Ireland in five years

Shotgun Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Police say the majority of the stolen weapons were shotguns or other low-calibre firearms

More than 190 legally-held firearms have been stolen in Northern Ireland over the last five years, police have confirmed.

Just 10 have been recovered by police.

The majority of the 193 guns – 114 – were stolen in the PSNI’s South area, which includes counties Armagh, Down and Fermanagh; 72 were stolen in the North and seven in Belfast.

Police said the number should be seen in the context of the approximately 160,000 legally-held firearms in NI.

They also said they have no evidence that any of the guns have been used in a crime.

“Any firearm that’s in the hands of somebody who shouldn’t have it, is a concern for any police service, we would be no different in that,” Assistant Chief Constable Alan Todd said.

“One is one too many, but, in context, we have 60,000 firearms certificate holders and that’s 160,000 firearms legally held in Northern Ireland.”

He said the numbers that have gone missing are about 0.1% of that total.

“That doesn’t make us complacent around it. We’d rather we didn’t have any, but it needs to be kept in context as well.

“There’s very limited evidence, if any at all, that the guns are then used in crime.”

Of the 10 guns recovered, six were in the South area and four in the North.

Gun owners in Northern Ireland include current and former members of the security forces who have personal protection weapons, people in rural professions such as farmers and gamekeepers and gun club members.

ACC Todd said the vast majority of weapons legally held in Northern Ireland are shotguns and other “relatively low-calibre” firearms such as .22 rifles and they were the types of weapons which are most often stolen.

He said these guns would not be attractive to paramilitaries and “there’s no linkage across whatsoever, from the weapons we are recovering from those [paramilitary] groupings and what we’re seeing stolen here”.

Opportunistic thefts

Police believe the vast majority of firearms thefts are opportunistic, ACC Todd said.

“Where you get criminals who want to break into a property, they may not be there to steal firearms in particular, but if they find them, they’ll take them,” he added.

“We didn’t see any criminal gangs that exist to conduct an illegal firearms trade, but criminals are opportunists by nature, and I’m sure they’ll exploit it as they find it.”

He said some guns unofficially disposed of, or lost, could also show up in the statistics.

The most recently reported theft of legally-held guns was in Newtownards in August.

A man was approached by two men on the Killynether Road and told to lie on the ground.

The attackers then stole two legally-held firearms from a car parked in the area.

Police said the victim was also punched in the face by one of the men during the robbery.

Image caption ACC Alan Todd said the majority of gun thefts were opportunistic

ACC Todd said there had been “isolated incidents” of personal protection weapons being stolen over the last five years.

“I’m talking ones or twos and again that tends to be opportunistic rather than targeted, but there’s no evidence whatsoever that they’ve been used in follow-up crime” he said.

He added that all such guns have been tested “so we would know immediately if any of those weapons were turning up in crime or in terrorist activity”.

“We constantly give advice to gun owners across Northern Ireland about how to make secure provision, and we’re very robust around people who don’t make the provisions they’re supposed to,” he said.

“Our firearms licensing system is designed to identify where there are particular risks and where we identify higher risks, we require higher security standards.”



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