Belfast Telegraph

Nearly 200 legal guns stolen in Northern Ireland in last five years

Shells being loaded into a shotgun.
Shells being loaded into a shotgun.

Nearly 200 legally-held firearms have been stolen in Northern Ireland over the last five years, police have said.

The majority of the 193 (114) were stolen in the PSNI's South area, which includes counties Armagh, Down and Fermanagh- according to the BBC.

Some 72 were stolen in the North and seven in Belfast.

Just 10 have been recovered.  Six were in the South area and four in the North.

The PSNI said the number of stolen weapons should be seen in the context of around 160,000 legally-held firearms in Northern Ireland and that they have no evidence that any of the stolen weapons have been used in a crime.

Assistant Chief Constable Alan Todd said: "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.

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

ACC Todd said the numbers of missing weapons are around 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," he added.

"There's very limited evidence, if any at all, that the guns are then used in crime."

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

The vast majority of weapons legally held in Northern Ireland are shotguns and other low-calibre firearms such as .22 rifles and are the types of weapons which are most often stolen.

ACC Todd said the guns would not be attractive to paramilitaries operating in Northern Ireland.

He added the vast majority of firearms thefts are opportunistic.

"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."

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.

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