THE NUMBER of legally held guns in Hampshire has increased over the last decade.

Newly released figures from the Home Office show that in March this year, there were 19,365 licensed firearms in the area, up from 16,797 in 2009.

The number excludes shotguns, which are licensed separately.

It means there are 983 firearms for every 100,000 people in Hampshire, an increase of 9% from March 2009, when local records were first collated.

In total, 5,461 valid firearm licences in Hampshire covered an average of 3.5 guns each.

There were a further 51,129 licensed shotguns in the area - also a slight increase on a decade ago.

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

She said: "We campaign strongly for tighter licensing laws and those have been introduced, by and large. 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 licencing regulations, if properly applied, should mean that fewer people have a gun.

"For years and years, the shooting lobby has said that gun crime it is just a matter of illegal weapons, but it is not true to say that gun deaths are related to illegal weapons alone."

Between April 2017 and March this year, there were 358 new applications for firearm licences in Hampshire. Of those, 96% were granted, and just 13 were refused.

A further 1,035 licences were renewed. Just 12 licences were revoked.

The firearm rate in Hampshire was slightly lower than across England and Wales, where 578,000 firearms - 989 for every 100,000 people - were licensed.

In 2016-17, the most recent year for which numbers are available, there were 31 fatal shootings in England and Wales. Altogether, there were nearly 10,000 offences in which firearms were reported to have been used.

Of those, 119 took place in Hampshire.