More guns in  hands of criminals
Big danger: Weapons seized by WA Police. Picture: Iain Ferguson/The West Australian

WA Police have seen an alarming rise in the number of illegal guns found in the hands of bikies and drug dealers.

Most drug raids now result in at least one gun being recovered.

To help combat the problem, a campaign urging West Australians to dob in an illegal-gun owner will begin on Monday, offering rewards through Crime Stoppers for information that helps take firearms off the streets.

Since January, the State's gang crime squad has seized 38 guns - along with 4467 rounds of ammunition and 52 replica weapons or components - from bikies and their associates.

And a specialist team that targets suburban drug dealers has recovered another 23 guns and 5745 rounds of ammunition.

"Invariably these days when you execute a Misuse of Drugs Act warrant, you will come out with some sort of firearm," State Crime Commander Scott Higgins said.

"The more we are looking, the more we find."

Police claim they have also seen an increase in guns being seized during routine traffic stops, which raises concerns about the safety of police officers and the wider community.

A similar campaign aimed at reducing gun numbers last year led to the recovery of 34 weapons, including a homemade machinegun and laser-sighted Magnum handgun.

The Australian Crime Commission estimates about 260,000 illicit firearms are in the hands of criminals around the country and as many as 10 per cent - or 26,000 guns - could be in WA.

The figures did not include thousands of guns that were "technically" illegal because their owners had failed to renew existing licences.

Police said the theft of licensed guns was a major contributor to the growing black market and next week's campaign would remind gun owners of their moral and legal obligation to ensure their weapons were kept properly secured.

About 82,000 West Australians hold a licence for more than 313,000 guns.

The number stolen in WA last financial year was 370 - most coming from home burglaries.

"Even with the seizures we've been having, that is still not taking off the streets the number of guns that are stolen every year," Cdr Higgins said.

Despite the growing number of illegal guns, he said gun-related crime remained relatively low in Australia.

Nationally, less than 20 per cent of homicides or attempted homicides per year involved guns.

Knives were used in more than 30 per cent of murders.

Police believed most bikies and drug dealers owned guns to intimidate and protect themselves from other criminals.

The West Australian

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