An email from the office of Ukip leader Nigel Farage linking increased gun ownership to a decrease in firearms-related crime has been slammed by MPs and campaigners as "inaccurate, unsubstantiated and upsetting drivel."
The text of the email, which was posted by Conservative MEP Sajjad Karim on Facebook on Monday, makes clear that Ukip is "in favour of licensed gun-ownership" and includes the claim that "the growing incidence of gun-crime is in direct proportion to the restrictions placed on the ownership, by respectable people, of firearms".
The message, sent to a Graham Showell, who heads up the organisation 'Britain Needs Guns,' is based on arguments similar to those used by the controversial National Rifle Association (NRA) in the United States.
Although the email to Mr Showell was sent in 2011 by former Farage aide Andrew Reed, who has since retired, a spokesperson for the party confirmed the email was still very much representative of the Ukip leader's views today.
Ukip press officer Gawain Towler told the Huffington Post UK "That email is certainly in line with Nigel Farage's thinking, which is slightly different from a manifesto. We don't currently have a manifesto, but that email shows Nigel Farage's attitude towards gun control. There is nothing there that is weird or strange."
Gun campaigners have directly criticised the arguments laid out in the email, with a spokesperson for the Gun Control Network telling the Huffington Post UK: "What Farage is spitting out is the sort of thing that the NRA spit out and it is not supported by any academic research whatsoever."
The NRA has been repeatedly condemned for its stance on guns, most especially in the wake of the Sandy Hook shootings, which a lone gunman killed 26 people at a primary school in Connecticut.
The organisation called for armed guards in every school and blamed at rap music, films and video games for firearm violence rather than guns. Their comments were derided by senior US politicians as a "tone deaf response."
The Gun Control Network said one of the reasons gun crime in Britain was going down was because of the tightened restrictions. The network said there were just 42 gun-related deaths in 2012, reflecting a 20-year low.
A spokesperson for the group, which campaigns for tighter controls on guns in Britain and a greater awareness of the dangers associated with gun ownership, continued: "The evidence is clear: relaxing gun restriction leads to more death and crime.
"The major issue is that Farage is spouting inaccuracies. Yes it is upsetting too, but what is more important is that he is issuing statements to his constituents that are inaccurate, unsubstantiated drivel. Where is the data to back up his claim? People can't just go around saying things without backing them up."
The letter reads:
Dear Mr Showell
Thank you for your message, which was forwarded to Nigel Farage.
UKIP is very much in favour of licensed gun-ownership, and deplored the Charity Commission's removal of charitable status from organisations teaching the responsible use of firearms. We note also that the growing incidence of gun-crime is in direct proportion to the restrictions placed on the ownership, by respectable people, of firearms.
Andrew S. Reed
Office of Nigel Farage, Brussels
Professor Peter Squires, who specialises in criminology and public policy, told the Huffington Post UK that Farage was "peddling misinformation" and stressed that licensing firearms did not ensure that communities were protected from gun crime. He added that culture did play a part in incidents of gun crime.
"The bottom line is that Farage's office are peddling ill-informed nonsense. The misuse of firearms (or gun crime) varies largely according to the prevalence of firearms in a community.
"Culture clearly plays a part as the comparison of the USA with Switzerland (the latter high gun ownership, but relatively low gun crime) bears out. Although Switzerland has significantly more gun homicide and suicide than a low-gun ownership society like the UK.
"Gun owners like to argue that legal and illegal gun ownership are two watertight categories, and that all the gun crime problems can be laid at the door of unlicensed firearms.
"This is simply not true, all three shooting rampages in the UK (Hungerford, Dunblane, Cumbria) were carried out with legally-owned firearms and there are numerous instances of misuse of firearms (from family annihilation, murder suicide, murder ... all the way to threats and animal abuse) perpetrated by so-called 'respectable' gun owners."
Conservative MEP Sajjad Karim, who posted the letter, told the Huffington Post UK: "The views of UKIP on gun control prove they live on a different planet. Putting more guns in more hands is dangerous and no way to keep our neighbourhoods and schools safe. Their policy is ludicrous, unnecessary and sadly all too predictable."
Dr Sarah Wollaston, MP for Totnes, echoed Karim, telling the Huffington Post UK:"I think Nigel is out of touch on gun control if he believes that gun ownership somehow helps reduce gun crime. As someone who has worked alongside farmers I have seen how it is possible to safely store weapons and apply appropriate background checks and I don't support further tightening of the rules in the UK.
"We don't need a Wild West approach that views gun ownership as a deterrent to crime. Gun crime in the UK results from illegally held weapons and would not be improved by licensing more legal firearms."
Farage's support for relaxed gun control is particularly controversial given there is a cross-party consensus that restricting firearms helps reduce gun crime and protects communities. A government consultation on the use of firearms, published in October 2012, stated that it was clear there was “strong support for taking a tougher stance on control of prohibited firearms.”
On the basis of the consultation, the government decided to bring in legislation to increase the maximum penalty for the illegal import of firearms to life imprisonment and to create a new offence of 'possession with intent to supply' guns.