Police confirmed over the weekend that Plymouth gunman Jake Davison was a licensed firearms holder.
Nevertheless, gun laws in the UK are often described as some of the strictest in the world, with licences needed to carry approved firearms.
The level of gun crime in the UK is one of the lowest in the world, according to the National Crime Agency (NCA).
It said that pistols, revolvers and shotguns are the firearms most frequently used illegally in the UK and while fully-automatic weapon seizures are “very rare”, a “gradual increase” has been seen.
A total of 30 homicide victims in England and Wales in the year to March 2020 were killed by shooting, according to the latest figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS).
This represents 4 per cent of homicides in the 12-month period.
Law change from next month
There have recently been changes to the laws on owning antique firearms, meaning some which could be previously possessed without a firearm will need one from 22 September.
According to the Home Office, as of March 31 in England and Wales 565,929 people held a firearm and/or a shotgun certificate, a 3 per cent decrease of 20,422 since last year.
Regulated mainly by the Firearms Act 1968, a certificate issued by the police is needed to possess, buy or acquire a firearm or shotgun, and also ammunition.
Rules surrounding obtaining a firearm or a shotgun vary slightly in law.
Both licences can be obtained from a local police force and require an application form, passport photo and a fee.
People applying for a firearm certificate need to give two references while a shotgun certificate requires one.
The referees must have known the applicant for two years and must be residing in the UK. They cannot be a family member, a firearms dealer or work for a force in any way.
Applicants must also prove to the chief officer of police that they are allowed to have a firearms certificate and pose no danger to public safety.
Police forces will often conduct a home interview with an applicant as part of the assessment. Physical or mental health conditions and previous convictions must be disclosed in an application.
Applicants must also give details of the guns and ammunition they intend to acquire. A licence can be held for five years and then it must be renewed.
Shooting remains popular
Bill Harriman, director of firearms at the British Association for Shooting and Conservation, said while Britain has some of the strictest firearm legislation in the world, shooting remains popular.
Describing the vetting process, he said that “granting a licence is a balance between the reasonable expectation of somebody who will do a bit of sport shooting and public safety.
The shooting community does not want people who are not suitable to have guns to have them, any more than the police do.”
Outlining why Britons get gun licences, he added: “People use shotguns for pest control on agricultural land, there are people who shoot clay pigeons for sport shooting – and that’s an Olympic discipline.
“There are people who are target rifle shooters, both in short indoor ranges and long-range shooting. You also have people who own historical antique and vintage firearms for collecting purposes and also for preserving heritage.
“There really is a great deal of reasons why people have firearms legitimately.”