Number of legal guns in Cleveland Police force area reaches record levels
The number of legally-held guns in Cleveland has reached a record high, figures reveal.
New Home Office statistics show that in March this year there were only a couple of licenced firearms in the area – 45% more than 10 years ago.
This means there are 713 legal firearms for every 100,000 people, up 42% from when comparable records began in 2009. That's higher than any point over the last decade.
The figures do not include shotguns, which are licenced separately.
Under current legislation, one licence can apply to multiple weapons and must be renewed every five years.
According to the data, 1,175 firearms licences were on issue from Cleveland Police as of 31 March, each covering 3.4 guns on average.
In the financial year 2018-19, officers logged 78 applications for new licences. Nearly all (97%) of these were granted and only two refused.
A further 145 licences were renewed and eight revoked.
The non-profit Gun Control Network called the steady increase in legal firearms "a problem for us all".
The organisation's chairwoman, Gill Marshall-Andrews, said: "We know there is a strong correlation between the number of guns in circulation and the number of deaths and injuries caused by guns.
"For too long the myth has persisted that gun crime in the UK is committed with illegal guns.
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"Shooters have successfully persuaded the general public that urban gangs with illegal guns are responsible for most of our gun homicides.
"But this is not true, especially for women."
The GCN said four-fifths of female gun deaths occur in domestic incidents, most of which involve licensed weapons.
But the British Association for Shooting and Conservation said the number of legal guns used in crime is "miniscule and statistically insignificant".
Firearms director Bill Harriman added: "The UK rightly has some of the strictest firearms laws in the world.
"We are proud of our legislation and work well with the Home Office to ensure public safety is of the highest priority."
In March 2019, there were nearly 160,000 licences across England and Wales, covering some 597,000 guns.
Police force areas in rural regions had a consistently higher number of firearms per 100,000 people than in cities.
The Home Office attributes this to their lower populations, and said weapons owned in the countryside are likely to be used for game keeping and farming, as well as leisure activities such as target shooting.
A police spokesperson said: “Cleveland has some of the lowest levels of firearms and shotgun ownership anywhere in England and Wales; at around half the national average. As a police force we have a responsibility to support the legal, safe and secure possession of firearms within our area.”