Criminals didn’t stop committing violent crimes after the UK cracked down on legal gun ownership earlier this century. They just started using acid and knives. Now, as criminals do, they’ve figured out how to bypass UK law by using stolen, antique, or decommissioned firearms to kill or injure their victims.
The UK has seen rising rates of gun-related crime over the last two years after a decade of decreases, according to a new report from the BBC. While rates of gun crime remain much lower than in the early 2000s, the latest increase has made headlines and is forcing British law enforcement to crack down on more unconventional means of acquiring firearms.
Many criminals simply steal firearms from those who own them legally. Murdered MP Jo Cox, for example, was killed with a firearm that had been stolen from someone who owned it legally with a license. While rates of gun ownership are much lower in the UK than the US, many in more rural areas own shotguns and rifles for hunting and pest control.
Non-firing ceremonial guns or race-starting pistols can also be modified to fire live ammunition and then transferred into the UK. The UK’s National Crime Agency (NCA) told the BBC that organized crime in Europe often purchases these guns legally and reactivates them by removing an obstruction in the barrel.
Other decommissioned firearms formerly used in war can be reactivated easily, depending on which European country dictates the decommissioning. According to the BBC, some European countries allow their firearms to be decommissioned in a way that allows for easy reactivation.
In 2017, Europol – the EU police agency – said, “The reactivation of deactivated weapons and conversion of blank-firing firearms are among the main sources of illegal firearms trafficked in the EU.”
One of the biggest sources of illegal firearms in the UK, however, is the antique firearm market.
“One of the trends which emerged over recent years is offenders increasingly using obsolete calibre or ‘antique’ firearms, which are easier to get hold of,” said the National Ballistics Intelligence Service (NABIS).
Criminal elements purchase these firearms legally, reactivate them, and produce their own ammunition.
A registered firearms dealer named Paul Edmunds, for example, made headlines last year when he was arrested after his ammunition was linked to 50 crime scenes. He had been loading the ammunition to fit antique guns and selling it to criminal gangs.
The rate of gun-related crime in the UK is still lower than in the US, but the ingenuity of Britain’s criminals demonstrates once again that those who are willing to break the law will always find a way to acquire the tools of their trade.