Developing an understanding of illegal firearm supply in England and Wales

Helen Williamson*, School of Applied Social Science, University of Brighton

*corresponding author:


The decade between 2004 and 2014 witnessed the number of recorded firearm offences in England and Wales fall significantly from 24,094 offences in the year ending March 2004 to 7,709 offences in the year ending March 2014 (including air-weapons). However, recent official statistics indicate that in the year ending March 2015 there has been a 2% rise, with 7,866 recorded offences, the first increase in 10 years (ONS, 2016). A closer look at these offences show that over 50% were committed with firearms that are unknown, unidentified, reactivated, imitation or ‘other’ (stun gun, pepper spray etc.). This indicates the presence of a number of criminal entrepreneurs who are converting, modifying or manufacturing weapons from scratch. Currently there is relatively little known about these individuals, including where they are positioned within the overall gun supply process (Hales et al, 2006), this is the gap in knowledge my research aims to fill.

An initial typology of criminal armourers, suggested by Williamson (2015), identified seven potential categories of individuals who have previously been responsible for supplying these types of weapons to meet demand. This presentation will provide an overview of the development of this initial typology and introduce network structures identified in regard to the onward distribution of illegal firearms in England and Wales (thus far identified from open-source data).  Furthermore, it will introduce the methodological approaches envisaged to undertake this research with the aim to develop and explain the activities, motivations and modus operandi of criminal armourers while outlining the emerging method of crime script analysis, including its potential to identify a fuller range of intervention points at which illegal firearm supply may be disrupted in the future.


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