An investigation by the Press Association has revealed that Bedfordshire holds a high number of a certain type of high-powered firearm, compared to other parts of the UK.
Covered by firearm certificates, section 1 shotguns are multi-shot weapons that contain a magazine holding more than two rounds.
Figures from the Home Office show there were 371 of these guns in Bedfordshire in 2019-20 – a 5 per cent rise on the year before.
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This was also the highest number of section 1 shotguns since comparable records began in 2015-16.
The figures also show there were a total of 6,529 firearms licensed by Bedfordshire Police last year – 2 per cent more than the year before and a new record-high.
The majority of these (55 per cent) were rifles and a further 307 (5 per cent) were handguns.
The statistics do not include the more common section 2 shotguns, which are licenced separately under shotgun certificates.
In 2019-20, there were 567,358 of these licences across England and Wales – a decrease of 1 per cent.
When contacted by Bedford Today, a spokesman for Beds Police said: “Bedfordshire, despite its growth in housing development and population in recent years, remains a largely rural county, with licensed firearms ownership required to manage farmland, and other rural occupations.
“However, the increase we have seen is predominantly for sporting guns, such as would be used for target and club shooting, and the figures are in line with the national growth trend in gun ownership.”
However, some groups continue to express concerns about the prevalence of some types of firearms held in the UK. The Gun Control Network said it is specifically concerned by the legal status of multi-shot shotguns and semi-automatic .22 Calibre rimfire rifles.
Peter Squires, professor emeritus of criminology and public policy at the University of Brighton and member of the GNC organisation, said: "By virtue of their magazine capacities and rapid-fire potential they [multi-shot shotguns and semi-automatic .22 Calibre rimfire rifles] represent the most dangerous civilian-owned guns.
"The fact that that they are few in number and little-used makes the case that they are manifestly not part of mainstream UK shooting traditions."
The British Association for Shooting and Conservation said certificates are only granted following a rigorous licensing procedure.
Firearms director Bill Harriman said: "The number of section one shotguns held on certificates has not increased significantly and only relates to a small proportion of the total number of legally-held shotguns in England and Wales.
“Our licensing system is among the strictest in the world but is still open to all. BASC works continuously to see the right tone struck so that participants are not disadvantaged but public safety remains acceptable.”
A Home Office spokesman said: "The UK has some of the toughest gun laws in the world.
“Before anyone receives a firearms certificate, the police must be satisfied that the person is fit to possess one and they have powers to revoke certificates if there is a risk to public safety.”