Dr Helen Poole is Deputy Dean in the Faculty of Health and Society and Lead for University of Northampton’s Research Centre for the Reduction of Gun Crime, Trafficking and Terrorism
Last week I attended the 4th Interpol Firearms Forensics Symposium in Dubrovnik, Croatia. This was the second I have attended, having presented the interim findings of the EU Project EFFECT in Singapore in 2015. EFFECT, which I co-lead with Professor Erica Bowen, looked at many aspects of gun crime, but the focus on trafficking became the predominant area of interest from our findings and recommendations following the Paris attacks, and was a strong focus of this year’s event. In particular, the links between organised firearms trafficking and terrorism were a key focus.
The UK is landlocked and has some of the most rigorous firearms licensing regulations and criminal legislation in the World which helps to keep us relatively safe from this threat, but still we are seeing rising rates of gun related crime in the UK, and some of the guns in use are moving from post-conflict areas such as the Balkan region. In 2015 The Shilling Gang were intercepted smuggling a large haul of military grade firearms into the UK via boat, a number of which emanated from Eastern Europe, and we know that firearms, their parts and accessories, are being imported from the US and Africa via both the dark web and the open net. The threat from junk, antique, converted and 3D printed weapons also present a threat.
Approximately 200 law enforcement officers, forensics experts and academics were present at the event, which highlighted two issues above all else: the importance of investigating officers to ‘follow the gun’; and the need for international cooperation to reduce the threat posed by small arms and light weapons. All too often officers will seize a firearm and identify the suspect, and close the case as detected. However, such an approach risks losing valuable intelligence in terms of where the gun came from, where else it might have been used, and the identification of trafficking routes. By using ballistics comparison technology, such as the International Ballistics Intelligence Network (IBIN), it is possible to compare ballistics intelligence to match crime scenes and, when combined with other forms of evidence and intelligence, identify the individuals or organised groups behind the supply of weapons. This may also lead to the detection of more crimes. However, this requires cooperation between nations to share information in a timely way, facilitated in many cases by Interpol, as well as a change in the mindset of detectives. Following the gun may be regarded as merely creating more work for the individual officer or department, and the detection of the individual crime may be required as the only positive outcome required. However, in terms of harm reduction, following the gun is more likely to reduce the number of future victims, and the serious harm caused to families and communities as a result of the number of crime guns in circulation.