THOSE who wave an air gun around could expect a knock at the door from a heavily armed police officer, the man responsible for Wiltshire’s armed police has said.

Speaking ahead of a two-week gun surrender campaign, Insp Paul Saunders said firearms incidents in the county were mercifully rare. But he issued a warning to those tempted to tote replica weapons or air guns in public.

“A plea is for people who might think it’s fine to wave an air gun or fake fun around. It could lead to a firearms response and will be treated as a real incident as we can’t take that chance,” he said.

Last year, armed officers were scrambled to Manchester Road, Broadgreen, after a security guard spotted a man walking back from town carrying what appeared to be a gun but later turned out to be a water pistol. Eyewitnesses described hearing the man shouting at the heavily armed police units: “I’ve got a water pistol in the bedroom.”

The latest Home Office figures revealed Wiltshire Police had proportionally the highest increase in gun-related crime of any police force in the country.

Reports jumped from 10 in the 12 months to March 2017 to 39 the following year - the equivalent of 290 per cent.

Insp Saunders said genuine firearms incidents in Wiltshire were rare, with some of the shouts to which armed officers were despatched turning out to be completely legitimate shoots. His specialist officers were more commonly tasked to incidents involving knives and other weapons.

The firearms surrender was a chance for people in the county to dispose of guns that they no longer wished to maintain or older weapons, like a grandparent’s service revolver, that might still be in the house. Air guns and imitation firearms can also be left at participating police stations over the next two weeks.

"This is a national firearms surrender, not a firearms amnesty, which means that people can hand in guns they should not have without being prosecuted for firearms possession,” Insp Saunders said.

"Firearms should be handed into front counter staff at identified police stations. If you are unable to travel to a police station, then you should contact police via 101 and arrange for the firearm to be collected.

"Lawful gun license-holders can be reassured that these measures merely enhance their rights and privileges to own firearms. I would however encourage them to take this opportunity to consider whether they can surrender firearms they no longer have any use for.”

Police armourers would check whether or not weapons handed in at police station had been linked to crimes across the country: "The surrender does not give amnesty for the life of the firearm and the public should be reassured that the police will continue to vigorously investigate offences linked to any firearm recovered.”

The firearms surrender runs from Saturday, July 20 to Sunday, August 4. Weapons can be left at Gablecross police station, Swindon, as well as police stations in Salisbury, Trowbridge, Chippenham, Melksham and Marlborough.

Insp Saunders asked those carrying weapons to police stations to keep the items secured and hidden from view.

The opening times of the participating police stations are as follows:

Salisbury, Bourne Hill - Monday to Friday 8.30am-5.30pm, Saturday 9am-1pm, and closed Sunday and bank holidays

Swindon Police Station, Gablecross - Monday to Friday 8.30am-5.30pm, Saturday 9am-1pm, and closed Sunday and bank holidays

Trowbridge Police Station - Monday to Friday 8.30am-5.30pm, Saturday 9am-1pm, and closed Sunday and bank holidays

Melksham Police Station - Monday to Friday 8.30am-5.30pm, and closed weekends and bank holidays

Chippenham, Monkton Park - Monday to Friday 8.30am-5.30pm (please note there will be a reduced service between midday and 2pm), and closed weekends and bank holidays

Marlborough Police Station - Tuesday and Thursday 9am-5pm (please note the station is also closed between 12.45pm-1.25pm), Wednesday 9am-12.30pm, closed on Monday, Friday, weekends and bank holidays.