Recorded Crimes and Offences Involving Firearms, Scotland, 2018-19 and 2019-20

Statistics on crimes and offences recorded by the police in Scotland in which a firearm was alleged to have been involved or where a firearm was stolen.

3. Further information on statistics used in this bulletin

3.1 Statement on Data Quality

1. The statistics presented in this bulletin are derived from data returns submitted by each police division to Police Scotland. Unlike other Justice Analytical Services (JAS) bulletins which have seen changes to the way data is collected arising from the merger of Scotland’s police forces, this publication retains a familiar data process. The main difference is that Police Scotland, and not JAS, collect data returns from the divisions in respect of offences involving a firearm. A reporting officer based within each division of Police Scotland runs a series of queries on their individual Crime Management System to identify crime reports which include firearms. These records are then manually inputted into the data return.

2. Not all such crimes and offences are reported to the police. The extent of under-reporting is likely to vary considerably according to the seriousness of the crime or offence. For example, armed robberies are much more likely to be reported to the police than malicious damage caused by the firing of an air weapon. Moreover, the propensity of the public to report crimes and offences to the police is influenced by a number of factors and may therefore change over time; thus trends in the number of crimes and offences recorded may differ from trends in the number of crimes and offences actually committed. For further information, the Scottish Crime and Justice Survey for 2019-20 includes analysis on why some crimes are not reported to the police.

3. This bulletin reports on offences involving firearms that are both reported to the police and subsequently recorded as a crime.

4. One area that could affect the accuracy of the statistics reported in this bulletin is the potential for mistakes in the recording of crime at an operational-level, which could create errors in the Crime Management System (CMS). The CMS should contain a record of all crime reports in Scotland and is audited by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary in Scotland (HMICS). On 10 March 2021, HMICS published their Crime Audit 2020. The Audit found no systemic data quality issues around the recording of crimes and offences. The report found that “Police Scotland’s compliance with the Scottish Crime Recording Standard and Counting Rules is generally good at over 90%,” with 91.4% of incidents closed correctly and 90.8% of crime counted and classified correctly.

5. Another area that could affect accuracy of the statistics is the risk that an offence involving a firearm is recorded by the police, but is not identified through the data collection process undertaken for this bulletin. Further information on the data collection process and our review of its effectiveness is provided below.

3.2 Data collection process

1. Some statistical publications draw their information from databases that relate to the specific topic (for example the National Statistics on Recorded Crime, or Homicide). In the case of firearms offences, a topic-specific database is not available, and as such the data collection process has always relied on a mixture of automated and manual checks. The most effective data collection process is one that maximises the chance an offence which involves the use of a firearm is identified, and minimises the risk that one is accidentally missed out.

2. As outlined previously, each Police Scotland division provides an individual data return based on queries run on their individual Crime Management System (CMS) to identify crime records which included the use, or alleged use, of a firearm. These are reviewed and collated by Police Scotland’s Analysis & Performance Unit before being submitted to the Scottish Government. The methods available to analysts vary depending on their particular CMS and as such a combination of the following steps are typically used to identify any relevant crime records:

  • a search for all crimes where their description implies the use of a firearm (for example Reckless conduct with firearms)
  • a search for all crimes that include either a specific weapons-marker or a modifier that describes the weapon used - for example Air gun, Hand gun or Rifle; and
  • a key word search of all crimes to identify any potentially relevant cases that were not identified during the two steps above

3. Once these preliminary searches are complete, a manual interrogation of each crime record is conducted to confirm whether the record should be included and if so to complete the data return with the required information (i.e. offences committed with weapon, type of weapon, characteristics of those involved etc.).

3.3 Review of data process for these Official Statistics

1. During quality assurance of the information collected for the 2016-17 official statistics, Scottish Government statisticians and analysts from Police Scotland noted there was a higher risk in some divisions that the data collection process being used may not have identified all relevant offences involving a firearm. Following discussion a decision was taken to postpone the release of the 2016-17 figures until further checks could be carried out. Users were informed of this through the SCOTSTAT network in January 2018.

2. Scottish Government statisticians then worked with Police Scotland to review the approaches being taken across their 13 divisions, to identify any additional offences that needed to be included in the data. This review suggested that (i) some divisions undertook very thorough checks, which ensured they were well equipped at identifying offences that involved a firearm and (ii) the consistent application of a check based on a key-word search (outlined above as step three) would help ensure all divisions were in this position. Based on these findings, refreshed guidance on how to collate this data was issued to divisions, who were asked to resubmit their returns for 2015-16 and 2016-17, along with new data for 2017-18.

3. The resulting statistics were then published in April 2019. This bulletin provides new information for the reporting years of 2018-19 and 2019-20, on the same improved methodology as 2015-16 to 2017-18.

4. Given the improvement to the data collection process, users are advised to be cautious when making comparisons between data published up to 2014-15 and the data published in this bulletin for 2015-16 onwards. As the earlier data has not been revisited, a direct comparison of this nature is unlikely to be on a like-for-like basis.

3.4 Data Returns

1. Miscellaneous firearm offences relating mainly to the possession, handling and distribution of firearms and ammunition are excluded from the main tables. Prior to 2005-06, data returns for this bulletin did include miscellaneous firearm offences, but in discussion with police forces it became apparent that not all such incidents were being included. It was therefore decided to remove such incidents from the main tables and to provide a separate table (Table 17) which presents the totals for these offences based on Recorded Crime data returns.

3.5 Legislation

1. Contraventions of Scottish criminal law are divided for statistical purposes into crimes and offences. “Crime" is generally used for the more serious criminal acts; the less serious termed "offences", although the term "offence" may also be used in relation to serious breaches of criminal law. The distinction is made only for working purposes and the "seriousness" of the offence is generally related to the maximum sentence that can be imposed.

2. Following the Dunblane incident in 1996, changes to the existing firearms legislation were introduced to enhance public safety. As a result, the Firearms (Amendment) Act 1997 (the ‘1997 Act’) was implemented and thereafter the Firearms (Amendment) (No. 2) Act 1997 (the ‘1997 (No. 2) Act’). Under the 1997 Act, all pistols (otherwise referred to as “handguns”) over .22 calibre were banned with effect from 1 October 1997. The 1997 (No. 2) Act came into effect from 1 March 1998. A number of types of handgun were exempted from the 1997 (No. 2) Act, including muzzle-loading guns, shot pistols, slaughtering instruments, firearms used for the humane killing of animals, trophies of war, etc.

3. The Anti-Social Behaviour Act 2003 raised the age for owning an air weapon from 14 years to 17 years; created a new offence of possessing an air weapon or imitation weapon in a public place without reasonable excuse; banned future import and sale of air weapons using self-contained air cartridge systems and licensed those already held. The Criminal Justice Act 2003 also imposed minimum sentences for the illegal possession of a prohibited firearm.

4. In relation to individuals aged under 18 years, the following legislation has been introduced:

  • The Violent Crime Reduction Act 2006 raised the minimum age at which a person may purchase or hire either an air weapon or ammunition for an air weapon to 18 years.
  • The EU Weapons Directive 91/477/EEC made it an offence to sell or let on hire a firearm or ammunition to a person under the age of 18 years.
  • The Air Weapons and Licensing (Scotland) Act 2015 came into force on 1 January 2017 which makes provision for the licensing and regulation of air weapons. Statistics are presented here for both the years 2017-18, the first full year for which statistics are available, to 2020-21, the most recent year for which data are available, as well as for January to March 2017 (Table 17a).

3.6 Crimes and offences cleared up

1. The definition of ‘cleared up’ was revised with effect from 1 April 1996. Previously, a crime or offence was regarded as being cleared up if one or more offenders was apprehended, cited, warned or traced for it. This was revised as follows:

A crime or offence is regarded as cleared up where there exists a sufficiency of evidence under Scots law, to justify consideration of criminal proceedings notwithstanding that a report is not submitted to the procurator fiscal because either:

  • by standing agreement with the procurator fiscal, the police warn the accused due to the minor nature of the offence, or
  • reporting is inappropriate due to the non-age of the accused, death of the accused or other similar circumstances.

2. For some types of crimes and offences the case may be cleared up immediately, e.g. where the offender is caught in the act. In Scots law, the confession of an accused person to a crime would not in general be sufficient to allow a prosecution to be taken, as corroborative evidence is required. Thus, a case cannot be regarded as ‘cleared up’ on the basis of a confession alone.

3. Clear up rates are calculated as follows:

4. Further details on clear up rates are available in the Recorded Crime Statistics in Scotland: user guide.

3.7 Statistical issues

1. Data presented in this bulletin relates to the most recent five years. There are a small number of additional caveats to note when considering data from earlier years. These are outlined in earlier versions of this bulletin.

2. To calculate the figures shown in Table 3, the total number of offences involving a firearm are calculated as a percentage of all crimes and offences recorded by the police. These figures are derived from the Scottish Government’s Recorded Crime in Scotland statistical bulletin series. The figures are provided in Table A in the accompanying excel tables.

3. The main firearm is that which inflicts the most serious injury or damage. In cases where no injury or damage is caused, the firearm that is considered to potentially be the most dangerous is treated as the main weapon. The ‘other’ firearms category includes weapons such as starting guns and ball bearing guns. From 1988, crossbows were included in the ‘other’ category. The ‘imitation’ firearms category includes replica and imitation weapons.

4. Details of the age and sex of the main victim (Tables 11 and 11a) are collected only for offences in which fatal or non-fatal injury is caused. The main victim is the person most seriously injured. Cases involving injury to animals are recorded under the category ‘damage to property’ rather than ‘injury’ – which is reserved solely for the purpose of recording injuries to persons.

5. This bulletin presents information on all individual crimes and offences recorded by the police that involved the use of a firearm. As such, under circumstances where an individual was a victim of multiple offences involving a firearm at the same time (for example Threatening and abusive behaviour and Possessing a firearm with intent to endanger life), that individual will appear against all offences committed i.e. once each for the Threatening and abusive behaviour and Possession of a firearm with intent to endanger life. Therefore, care should be taken when comparing statistics on victims between multiple years as this data represents the number of offences involving a firearm that had a victim rather than all unique victims of firearms related incidents.

6. Details of the age and sex of the main accused (Tables 13 and 14) are collected for offences that are cleared up. In offences involving injury or damage, the main accused is the person who inflicts the most serious injury or damage. In other instances, it is taken to be the oldest person.

7. The figures provided in Table 16 for stolen firearms are not included elsewhere in this bulletin. The information reflects solely those incidents where firearms were stolen and not whether they were used to perpetrate a crime or offence.

8. Section 3.2 mentions changes made to the data collection procedures made in the previous bulletin. Some areas only applied those changes to the 2017-18 recording year. The affected areas were the Highlands, Orkney Islands, Shetland Islands and Na h-Eileanan Siar. Given this, further caution should be exercised when making comparisons between 2017-18 onwards and previous years for these local authorities.

3.8 Classification

1. For the purposes of statistical reporting, the Scottish Government has a classification list containing around 600 crime and offence codes. These are grouped in this bulletin in the following table:



  • Murder
  • Culpable homicide (common law)

Attempted murder

  • Attempted murder

Serious assault

  • Serious assault


  • Robbery and assault with intent to rob



  • Vandalism
  • Reckless Damage
  • Malicious mischief

Reckless conduct with firearms

  • Reckless conduct with firearms

Firearms Act 1968 offences

  • Possess firearm with intent to endanger life, commit crime or resist arrest

Common assault


  • Common assault
  • Common assault of an emergency worker

Breach of the peace etc.


  • Breach of the peace
  • Threatening or abusive behaviour

Other crimes and offences


  • Possession of an offensive weapon
  • Poaching and game laws
  • Deer offences
  • Cruelty to animals
  • Offences involving animals
  • Offences involving birds

2. In Scotland, assault is a common law offence. In order to distinguish between serious and common assaults, police forces use a common definition of what a serious assault is, namely:

“An assault or attack in which the victim sustains injury resulting in detention in hospital as an inpatient, for the treatment of that injury, or any of the following injuries whether or not detained in hospital:

  • Fractures (the breaking or cracking of a bone. Note – nose is cartilage not bone, so a ‘broken nose’ should not be classified unless it meets one of the other criteria)
  • Internal injuries
  • Severe concussion
  • Lacerations requiring sutures which may lead to impairment or disfigurement
  • Any other injury which may lead to impairment or disfigurement.”

3.9 Comparator data

1. Country comparisons should be made with some caution as each country's statistics are based on separate collection systems with their own definitions for what constitutes an offence involving a firearm. The Office for National Statistics publishes information on offences involving firearms in England and Wales. Chapter 4 on Trends for different types of violent crime in England and Wales: year ending March 2020, released in February 2021, includes information on offences involving firearms.

2. The Scottish Crime and Justice Survey (SCJS) is a survey of public experiences and perceptions of crime and the justice system in Scotland. The 2019-20 survey is the latest sweep of the current guise of the SCJS, with the first being conducted in 2008-09. The survey involves interviews with adults (aged 16 or over) who live in private residential addresses in Scotland.

3. Only certain categories of crime covered by the SCJS are directly comparable with police recorded crime statistics. These categories are collectively referred to as comparable crime. Comparable crime can be broken down into the following three crime groups.

4. acquisitive crime: comprising housebreaking, theft of a motor vehicle and bicycle theft;

5. vandalism: including both vehicle and property vandalism; and

6. violent crime: comprising assault and robbery.

3.10 Other

1. Only a limited selection of tables are included in this bulletin. However, further analysis of recorded crimes and offences involving firearms statistics can be supplied upon request. This includes available information relating to a different time period than that covered in this bulletin. In certain cases, a fee may be charged for additional information. For details of what can be provided, please telephone Justice Analytical Services on 0300 244 4000 or e-mail

2. The percentage figures given in tables and charts have been independently rounded, so they may not always sum to the relevant sub-totals or totals.

3. The following symbols are used throughout the tables in this bulletin:

- = nil.

~ = percentage less than 0.05%.

* = percentage less than 0.5%.

n/r = not reported (a percentage change figure is not reported if the denominator is less than ten as any resulting figure may be misleading).



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