OWNERS of a gun license in West Yorkshire now total 12,439 - an increase of nearly four thousand since 2009.

Figures from the Home Office show that in March this year, there were 12,439 licensed firearms in the area - excluding shotguns - up from 8,721 in 2009.

It means there are 541 firearms for every 100,000 people in West Yorkshire, an increase of 36 per cent from March 2009, when local records were first collated. and is the highest rate at any point over the last decade.

In total, 3,176 valid firearm licences in West Yorkshire covered an average of 3.9 guns each.

There were a further 24,400 licensed shotguns in the area - also a slight increase on a decade ago.

Gill Marshall-Andrews, chairwoman of the Gun Control Network, 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.

"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 278 new applications for firearm licences in West Yorkshire and only eight were declined.

A further 540 licences were renewed and nine were revoked.

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

Many gun crimes involve the use of illegal firearms; either weapons converted to fire live ammunition, or restored antiques.

But some high-profile cases, including the murder of MP Jo Cox in 2016 - which was carried out with a stolen gun have involved licensed weapons.

A spokesman for the National Police Chiefs' Council said: "The Home Office are constantly monitoring the types of weapons that are held on and off certificate and consult on changes to legislation when required.

"Only a tiny percentage, something in the region of 0.025%, of legally-held firearms goes missing each year, and that is when they become a significant concern for police."