THE number of legally held guns in Essex has increased by 20 per cent over the last decade.

Latest figures from the Home Office show there were 20,201 licensed firearms in the county, up from 15,780 in 2009.

It means there are 1,121 firearms for every 100,000 people in Essex, the highest rate for the last decade.

There were also a further 50,182 licensed shotguns in Essex, which are licensed separately.

This is also a slight increase on a decade ago.

Gill Marshall-Andrews, chairman of the Gun Control Network, claimed society should be working towards fewer guns, and that the rise in legal firearms was difficult to explain.

She said: “It is becoming more difficult to get a gun licence, so I have no idea why it has gone up.

“Unless we are going to say that nobody should have a gun –and we have never said that – you should have a good reason to own a gun, and you should be a proper person.

“The guidance is stricter and the licensing regulations, if properly applied, should mean that fewer people have a gun.”

Between April 2017 and March this year, there were 350 new applications for firearm licences in Essex. Of those, 99 per cent were granted, and just four were refused.

A further 1,077 licences were renewed.

Just five licences were revoked.

The firearm rate in Essex was higher than that across England and Wales, where 578,000 firearms – 989 for every 100,000 people – were licensed.

A spokesman for the National Police Chiefs’ Council said: “It is the responsibility of individual forces to issue firearms certificates, and there are several reasons why the number of legally-held firearms may have risen in the last decade, such as changes in legislation.

“Therefore, the increase in the number of legally-held firearms is not necessarily a cause for concern.”