Illegal holiday souvenir stun guns and pepper sprays bought on the internet are among items being targeted by a new national firearms surrender.
Police forces across England and Wales are giving people the chance to hand over unwanted guns, ammunition and other weaponry in the first such campaign in more than 18 months.
For two weeks from Saturday, people will be able to surrender items at police stations, including gun and ammunition parts bought online and illegal personal defence weapons “inadvertently” purchased abroad or online.
The campaign, co-ordinated by the National Ballistics Intelligence Service (Nabis), is being backed by the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) and other Government agencies.
The new drive comes amid continuing concern about a rise in gun crime and violence, with two men shot dead in separate incidents in a three-day period in London earlier this month.
In April the Government launched its Serious Violence Strategy in response to increasing gun and knife crime and homicides.
The campaign will also have a new focus on other illegal weaponry not necessarily considered by the public to be classed as firearms.
These will include stun guns disguised as everyday items like torches and mobile phones.
Assistant Chief Constable Helen McMillan, NPCC lead for criminal use of firearms, said people may have been wrongly assuming it was “fine” to have items like pepper sprays, as they are available abroad and online.
But under UK law, such items are considered to be firearms and being caught in possession of a disguised stun gun can lead to a mandatory five-year jail term.
She said: “This surrender is slightly different because we’re not just asking members of the public to look at firearms that they might have had in their family that are unwanted and they’ve been there for a while.
“We’re asking them to consider stun guns, pepper spray, those types of items which they might not consider to be firearms but legally are considered as firearms and should be handed in to us.”
Ms McMillan said holidaymakers may have assumed it was legal to bring back certain items, and that those disguised as other items may have “inadvertently” made it through customs undetected.
She added: “Because people think it’s freely available when they’re on holiday abroad they make the mistake of assuming that actually it is fine to possess these items in this country, and clearly it isn’t.
“So we would say to people, if you have any items of this nature then you really need to take the opportunity to surrender them during this period.
“Yes you are (committing an offence).
“Some people will do that inadvertently and some of the items you can see are disguised to look like something else, so it is possible that they may well bring them through customs undetected, but they are illegal to possess in this country.
“People do leave themselves liable to arrest and prosecution for possession of this type of weapon.”
Ms McMillan also said the internet might have lulled people into purchasing illegal components to manufacture guns and ammunition.
She said: “Some people take the opportunity to use the internet to buy weapons and ammunition from manufacturers abroad, again under the misapprehension that it is is legal to possess them in this country, when it isn’t.
“Anyone who has purchased a weapon from a supplier abroad that isn’t a certificate-holder and doesn’t have the relevant permissions to own that weapon needs to contact us and take the opportunity to surrender it.”
The launch took place at West Midlands Police headquarters in Birmingham. The city is home to Nabis’s ballistics experts.
The force’s police and crime commissioner David Jamieson was shown some of the firearms recovered from the streets in recent years, along with those handed in from previous surrenders.
He said: “Any firearm in the wrong hands can have a devastating impact and it is no exaggeration to say that each gun we retrieve has the potential to save a life.”
The surrender runs from Saturday until August 4.
Guns and ammunition can be surrendered at designated police stations across the UK, with people advised to check open times of their local front counters, and some forces arranging home collections.
Office for National Statistics figures showed firearms-related incidents decreased slightly to 6,525 in the year ending December 2018, following a sustained period of increases.
There were 6,641 incidents the previous year.
During the last surrender in November 2017, 9,500 items were handed in to police.