Nearly 3,000 guns were lost by or stolen from people registered to hold them in the past five years, according to figures obtained by the BBC.
More than half of these weapons were shotguns.
The data was released following a Freedom of Information request to the Home Office.
The Gun Control Network, a group which raises awareness of the dangers of guns, called the figures "horrendous and frightening".
A Home Office spokesman said firearms legislation protects public safety while ensuring controls are practical and proportionate.
The data, which was published for the first time on Wednesday, revealed that 1,448 shotguns and 294 rifles have been stolen since 2007.
The guns lost during the period included 730 shotguns, 86 rifles and 14 revolvers.
Two muskets and a cannon had also been mislaid by their owners.
Chrissie Hall, spokesperson for the Gun Control Network, said public safety was being compromised "by individuals who have shown themselves to be irresponsible".
"These figures are probably the tip of the iceberg. If gun owners lose their weapons and are in breach of their registration and conditions, their licence should be revoked," she told BBC News.
"But whether this happens is at the discretion of the chief constable and the firearms department. It's not always rigorously applied."
She added: "People lose their glasses and they lose their umbrella but to lose their gun is unbelievably irresponsible.
"It's part of their conditions that the shotgun is safely stored at all times... obviously if it's lost it isn't safely stored, they're in breach of their licence, they're putting members of the public at risk."
Overall, gun crime in England and Wales is falling. There was a 19% drop in annual firearm offences according to the latest figures.
Bill Harriman, director of firearms for the British Association for Shooting and Conservation - Britain's largest shooting organisation - said that while there should never be complacency about firearms, the figures needed to be put into perspective.
"There are nearly two million licensed firearms in the UK and 3,000 represents a tiny 0.15% of that figure," said Mr Harriman, who is also a forensic firearms examiner.
"People don't tend to lose their firearms and they are required by law to store them in a police-approved steel cabinet when they are not in use.
"Generally my experience of people who shoot in the UK is that they are very careful and very responsible people.
"We shouldn't lose sight of the fact that rural crime is rising and that is doubtless going to have an effect as opportunist criminals target lonely houses, farmhouses where they suspect there may well be firearms and look for them there."
Firearms holders are required to keep their weapons in a secure box bolted to a wall in a place which is not easy to find.
The Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo) says lost or stolen weapons should be reported to the police, who would automatically launch a licence review.
Deputy Chief Constable Andy Marsh, Acpo's lead officer on firearms licensing, said he wanted to reassure the public that the police are "extremely tough around making sure that people do make their weapons secure".
"If someone has been negligent in the security of their weapon, whether it's stolen or lost, or whether we turn up for a visit to check the security and they haven't secured it properly, then my predisposition would be to revoke it.
"The problem with shotguns is they don't leave unique rounds like firearms do. But each quarter, we probably recover about 150 shotguns notwithstanding the other firearms material."
"We make the UK an extremely tough environment to operate with unlawfully held firearms - and actually there is very little evidence that lawfully held weapons are used in crime."
A Home Office spokesperson said: "The UK has some of the toughest firearms controls in the world and comparatively low levels of gun crime.
"Our laws and the mandatory minimum sentences for many firearms offences makes clear that our society will not tolerate this type of crime.
"Our firearms legislation protects public safety while ensuring controls are practical and proportionate."