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40,000 guns across the Highlands and Islands

By Donna MacAllister

Gun ownership numbers in the Highlands and Islands
Gun ownership numbers in the Highlands and Islands

ALMOST 40,000 rifles and shotguns are in private hands across the Highlands and Islands, it has been revealed.

As the debate about the routine arming of local police continues, a new report shows that gun ownership per head in the Highlands is one of the highest in Scotland. In total 39,933 guns are in the possession of 10,853 individuals.

Most legally held weapons are owned by farmers and on shooting estates.

The figures are contained in a report prepared by Police Scotland for Highland Council in response to a request by councillors who demanded to know why the public was not consulted over a policy change that allows some officers to wear guns for routine tasks, including patrolling the streets at pub closing times.

Chief superintendent Julian Innes said the figures were intended to give councillors a rounded picture of gun ownership and insisted that arming a small number of highly-trained police officers was "absolutely the right thing to do".

"Thirty officers in the Highlands and Islands are routinely armed and there was never any attempt to hide that fact," he added.

But Independent MSP John Finnie, a former police officer who opposes the new policy, does not believe the high level of gun ownership justifies arming police.

"The two issues are totally and utterly unconnected," he said. "It’s a bit like saying the number of road accidents is dependent on the number of cars.

"Those figures are quite spurious and perhaps the most alarming thing is that after having spent decades reassuring the public about gun ownership, suddenly here the police are taking up the issue. Who gave all those people the authority to hold guns? The very police force that is now having to put into place measures to address any issues that may arise."

Mr Finnie raised the matter in parliament last week and has discussed the implications with assistant chief constable Bernard Higgins.

"The reason behind the success of policing in the Highlands and Islands has been the level of community engagement and, quite simply, people are less likely to engage with an armed officer," he said.

"If the current assessment shows the need for routine arming of a small number of officers, why do they need to be openly armed when arrangements can, and indeed do, exist for firearms to be covertly carried?"

Prior to the new policy, guns were locked in secure cabinets in the boot of patrol cars which could be deployed wherever necessary.

Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey Liberal Democrat MP Danny Alexander also wants Police Scotland to rethink its strategy in the Highlands, claiming the new centralised police force is out of touch with the policing needs of local communities.

"It is hard to understand why the SNP and their new centralised police force are determined to have armed police routinely patrolling our streets," he said. "In recent months we have seen local control room and front desk closures across the region while, at the same time, mounted units and firearm specialists are deployed. It’s not right and I want to see a return to community policing as soon as possible.

"The new central belt tactics simply do not make sense in the Highlands."

Inverness South councillor Jim Crawford has been a licensed gun owner since the age of 18 and goes shooting in Cawdor and Strathnairn.

"I’m not surprised by the figures as we have more people up here taking part in country sports," he said.

"It’s part of the countryside tradition when people used to go out and shoot for the pot," he said. "It’s worth a lot for the local economy."

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