BASC says the firearms that have ?disappeared? are a ?tiny percentage? of the overall number licensed in the UK.

Campaigners from the Gun Control Network, whose Freedom of Information request prompted the disclosure, said the statistics were ?frightening? and that public safety was being compromised by ?unbelievably irresponsible? individuals.

But BASC director of firearms Bill Harriman said the figures should be put into perspective, because the number of firearms lost or stolen represented a ?tiny percentage? of the overall number of licensed firearms.

He said: ?Where negligence is shown, revocation should happen. When there is some other mitigating factor, then the police need to look at all the facts in the case, and judge each on its merits.?

?BASC does not carry a brief for people who are slack about firearm security, and generally people who shoot in the UK are very responsible people.?

The Home Office figures show that 2,883 firearms were lost or stolen since 2007. Three-quarters were shotguns.

Rifles and sound moderators were also common targets for thieves. The publication of the statistics coincided with the release of new rural crime figures (see right), which show how theft in the countryside is continuing to rise.

Deputy chief constable Andy Marsh, the Association of Chief Police Officers? lead on firearms licensing, said ?public safety? was always put first in the licensing process and that there was little evidence that lawfully held weapons were used in crime.

He said: ?If someone has been negligent in the security of their weapon, whether it has been stolen or lost, or if we turn up and find it hasn?t been secured properly, then my predisposition would be to revoke [the licence].?

?I recall a recent case when a farmer said he?d lost his shotgun. The best he could come up with was that it got lost when he was moving a pile of manure and probably went underneath it? I revoked his licence, as that?s just not good enough.?

EASY TO MISLAY?

Among the more unusual firearms lost by registered

owners over the past five years are a cannon, two muskets, and a rocket launcher.

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