Gun ownership totals add up to a great deal of worry

Not for the first time and certainly not for the last, someone's gone berserk with a shotgun but it's hardly surprising. There are getting on for 1.4 million of them out there – and that's just the legally-held ones. Add another 450,000 guns of other kinds – also legally held – and you get to a figure of 1.8 million legitimately-held firearms of one sort or another.

It won't take you long to guess which county has the biggest share. Norfolk Constabulary tells me that the licensing figures for Norfolk and Suffolk are now combined and can't be broken down by single county, but in 2010, when they were, it can hardly have been Norfolk's proudest boast that it headed the Home Office league table with almost 69,000. To be more precise, that's 8,114 guns per 100,000 of the county's population. The national average was 3,323 guns per 100,000.

Putting things in even greater numerical perspective might lead you to conclude that among the Carrow Road crowd at the next home match there will be some 2,000 gun owners.

In fact, there will be a good many less than that number because, not content with owning just one gun, people around here own two or three. That'll mean 800 gunmen (yup, nearly all men) holed up between the Barclay and the River End, each with two or three guns. Makes you think, doesn't it?

Across Norfolk, our 25,000 licensed gun owners may come in the guise of farmers, hunters, sportsmen and, if Britain's last two shotgun massacres are any guide, taxi drivers.


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For the sake of good order, by the way, the latest licensing figures (for October 2011) for the two now joined-in-licensing-harmony counties of Norfolk and Suffolk show there to be 47,123 shotgun and firearms certificates in place.

None of the licence holders will have 'nutter' tattooed on his forehead. None has recently flipped his lid after being confronted with a fleeing burglar, cuckolded by an unfaithful wife or shopped to the tax authorities by his brother.

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Among all the statistics, there are only a couple that really count. Last year, 12 people were murdered and 11 wounded when the crazed gunman Derrick Bird went on the rampage in Cumbria. Last week, another four people died when Michael Atherton, who had threatened to shoot himself three years ago, finally got around to it and took his partner and two of her family members into oblivion with him.

His six weapons had temporarily been confiscated by Durham police in 2008 after the family in the old mining community of Horden expressed concerns over his mental state. They were returned to him after he successfully appealed the decision.

The certainty is that somewhere around here the self same thing or something very similar will happen sometime.

The gun lobby will again stick its hand up the Countryside Alliance glove puppet, offering the same old disingenuous platitudes and brushing the corpses under the carpet.

If they didn't have guns to hand, the unhinged murderers would use knives, spouted the Alliance's 'shooting campaign manager' David Taylor in response to the Atherton killings. Really?

How likely do you think it is, Mr Taylor, that Bird's death fest or Anders Breivik's killing rampage across the Norwegian island of Utoya with a rifle would have cost 70 young lives had they been armed with knives?

There should be no 'knee-jerk reaction' to the Atherton shootings, he said, in an exact echo of prime minister Cameron's pitiful response to the Bird killings in July 2010 and a word-for-word repeat of what we hear from the pro-gun lobby every time one of their number goes bonkers and turns murderer.

A knee-jerk reaction is exactly what is needed before any more preventable deaths by bullet or cartridge are perpetrated by men who own licensed guns.

It's time to expose the elephant gun in the room, so to speak.

Time to admit that there's an unhealthy Rambo macho-man aspect to gun ownership. Why else is it that so few women own them?

Time to give up the argument that breeding brightly-coloured slow-flying birds (another Norfolk claim to fame thanks to local Quaker and banker JH Gurney, who first bred them in his woods at Easton), beating them into the air and shooting them down en masse is sporting. Or a time-honoured tradition. The so-called driven-pheasant battue was established less than 150 years ago.

Time to stop fretting about Britain's championship target shooting prowess. In terms of much-vaunted hand-eye co-ordination, I can't see that it's any more skilful or worthy of Olympic inclusion than darts.

Time to take a good look at Norfolk's rural-ness as a justification for being gung-ho about guns. Would farms really become over-run with vermin, foxes, rabbits and hares if Farmer Giles didn't spend all his time tramping the fields and stockyards with barrels broken but hammers ready to cock at the sound of a scurrying rat, the smell of Reynard or the sight of a pair of pricked up velveteen ears among the veg?

Time for those obsessed with collecting firearms to hang on the wall to hang up the habit and stick to postage stamps.

In 2009/10 – the latest year for which I could find figures – Norfolk police granted 1,552 applications for new shotgun and other firearm licenses. One was refused.

The number of licence renewals granted was 2,349. None was refused.

I can see no justification for the private ownership of lethal weapons and can't help feeling that we would all sleep safer were those numbers to be the other way round.

•This article was first published on January 12, 2012.

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