Essex Police is urging people who have unwanted or unlicensed firearm to hand them in.

The force says the two week firearms surrender will keep Essex safe and prevent the weapons from falling into the hands of criminals.

The surrender starts today, Saturday July 20, and runs until Sunday August 4.

During that time you can hand a firearm into the police and won’t face prosecution for possessing it illegally.

Detective Chief Inspector Rob Kirby, from the Kent and Essex Serious Crime Directorate, said: “Gun crime is, fortunately, low in Essex but we do still see offences where firearms are used.

“We have many responsible, law abiding firearms licence holders in Essex but there are members of the criminal fraternity who want to get hold of guns to threaten, frighten and injure others and it’s really important we do everything we can to reduce the chance of them getting their hands on one.

“There are a number of reasons why you may possess a firearm illegally, whether it be because you’ve inherited a trophy of war weapon from a family member, your own licence has expired or, may be unaware that changes in the law mean you’re no longer eligible to have a licence.

“It may just be that you possess a firearm legally but you just don’t want or need it anymore and want to dispose of it safely and that’s exactly what you can do during our surrender.”

There were 569 offences involving a real firearm in Essex last year which works out as less than one for every 3,000 people in the county.

The force also seized, or had handed into it, 2,224 real firearms and 520 air weapons or imitation firearms.

Many people who people who possess a firearms licence live in the rural community.

Nick Charrington, the Chairman of the Rural Community Council of Essex, said: “The Rural Community Council of Essex really approves of this scheme as it is a chance to dispose of firearms that are no longer needed or are unlicensed.

“We know that people legitimately possess firearms - both shotguns and rifles - for both work and recreation.

“However, over time the rules relating to firearms have changed and people may be in possession of a firearm that is no longer licensed.

“Additionally, the need to possess a firearm changes - and there are occasions when people own a firearm which they no longer use.

“You may own a pistol brought back from the war by a family member or friend, and be afraid of handing it in to the police for fear of prosecution.

“Between Saturday July 20 and Sunday August 4 any firearms may be surrendered to the police under the terms of this campaign”.

How the law has changed

In recent years the law has changed which means you may no longer be eligible to hold a firearm licence.

In 2014, laws affecting gun ownership and licencing changed meaning anyone who’s previously served a custodial or suspended sentence of between three months and three years won’t be able to possess a firearm or ammunition for five years.

Anyone who’s served a custodial sentence of more than three years will be permanently banned.

In addition, anyone who’s served a custodial or suspended sentence won’t be allowed to possess an antique firearm.

What to do if you want to hand over a firearm

To hand in a firearm you can call 101 and ask to be put through to your nearest participating police station.

You will then be able to arrange a time to surrender the firearm and take them to the police station.

In exceptional circumstances, they can be collected by pre-arranged appointment from members of the public.

The police stations involved are Basildon, Braintree, Chelmsford, Clacton, Colchester, Grays, Harlow, and Southend.

Once they’ve been handed in they will be checked to see if they’ve been used in any criminal activity.

If you have any information about someone who has a gun illegally you can call 101 or Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.