Gun owners must take better care of firearms to stop jihadist attacks
Want the best of The Telegraph direct to your email and WhatsApp? Sign up to our free twice-daily Front Page newsletter and new audio briefings. “One gun in the wrong hands in a public space is all it takes to cause devastation.”The UK has around 750 gangs involved with firearms, most of them linked to the drugs trade.Assistant Commissioner Mark Rowley, the head of national counter terrorism policing, said he was also concerned about the number of weapons going missing from legal owners that could end up in criminal hands. Twenty two assault rifles were also included in the Kent haul in 2015.Credit:NCA Gun owners must take better care of their firearms to stop them falling into the hands of jihadists plotting a massacre, police have said, as they disclosed 800 lawfully-held weapons go missing each year.The threat of terrorists getting guns for a marauding Paris-style assault has meant the need to rid the streets of weapons has “never been a more significant priority”, senior officers said.The difficulty of finding guns in the UK has given police a “massive advantage” in stopping atrocities such as those seen in France, but there are concerns firearms are still available to potential terrorists, some of Britain’s most senior police chiefs have said. He said: “I am entirely relaxed about licensed ownership. The issue I an anxious about is everyone in that privileged position looks after their weapons with the rigor and security that the licence conditions expect of them. The fact that 800 go missing shows that in some cases that’s not the case.”Mr Rowley called on the public to tell the police if they knew of a gun owner who “treats the security of that weapon in a cavalier way”.Last month, Britain’s most senior police officer Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe warned more weapons were ending up on the streets of major UK cities, with a record 714 seized in London in 2015 and similar spikes seen in Manchester, Birmingham, Leeds and Liverpool.Police are worried organised criminals are smuggling weapons including deadly automatic into the UK from Eastern Europe and the Balkans.Earlier this year a gang was convicted for smuggling the UK’s largest stash of automatic weapons by boat to Kent from the Continent. The arsenal of 22 assault rifles and nine sub-machine guns was to be buried for future use, but police said once sold on, it could have ended up in terrorist hands.Ms Owens called on the public to keep watch over small ports and air fields and inform police if they saw anything suspicious.Mr Rowley said the biggest risk of jihadists getting weapons was from street gangs.He said: “A major organised criminal who is looking to make as much money as possible has no reason to take the risk of getting involved with terrorists.”He went on: “With terrorism you’ve got some vulnerable, lost people who just get hooked by an ideology.”You’ve got some very bright, determined, clear-thinking people who buy into and fully commit and are drivers of Daesh [Islamic State] propaganda and terrorism, and then you do get gang members, criminals, people who are already angry, difficult people causing problems in communities who perhaps get given a more clear purpose for their violence by a terrorist ideology, whether they pick that up on the streets or in prison.”Those gang criminality links are an issue that concerns us and we have seen evidence of it potentially linking firearms into terrorism.” The National Crime Agency (NCA) and country’s counter terrorism police chief said they were concerned about terrorists getting weapons from organised crime gangs and street criminals.Half of all terrorist plots thwarted in recent years have involved the culprits trying to get their hands on firearms.Lynne Owens, director general of the NCA, said: “These criminal networks think nothing of who they supply their weapons to and they present a significant risk for a route by which an extremist or an extremist group will try to access the sort weapons of the sort we did see used in attack in Europe.