LICENSED gun owners now hold record numbers of guns, prompting demands from Holyrood ministers for fresh powers to crack down on firearm ownership.

Latest figures showed that over the past decade the number of firearms held in Scotland rose by one-fifth but the number of licensed owners declined, meaning more weapons are concentrated in fewer hands. Each licensed owner now has an average of three weapons each.

Scottish ministers would like to see a cap placed on the number of weapons held per licence and the cost of a gun licence increased because of concerns that, at £50, it is cheaper than a television licence.

Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill has written to UK Home Secretary Theresa May to ask her to either devolve gun control to the Scottish Parliament or tighten the legislation at Westminster. He said: "It concerns me that gun owners, even those with a legitimate need for such weapons, can accumulate multiple firearms and that there is no apparent limit to what can be held.

"It is one of the areas where the Scottish Government would, if given the proper powers over firearms in Scotland, aim to legislate to ensure that we can better control the number of lethal weapons in society and thereby help to protect and reassure the Scottish public."

There were 71,860 certificated firearms in Scotland last year – the vast majority (83%) of them rifles but they also included handguns and certain repeater shotguns capable of holding a large number of cartridges.

There were also 138,939 standard shotguns, which are categorised separately due to the limit on the amount of ammunition they can hold – a rise of almost 12%.

Last year a record number of firearms dealers traded in Scotland, rising 3% to 347 from 337 at the end of 2010. However, there were just 25,831 firearm certificates on issue at the end of last year, a record low.

The Northern Constabulary police force area contained the most firearms and shotguns per head of population because of its rural nature.

The Justice Secretary said of the overall figures: "With recorded offences involving firearms in Scotland already at a 32-year low, today's figures emphasise the importance of a robust licensing scheme."