VIOLENT CRIME REDUCTION ACT -
ON 1 OCTOBER key measures in the Violent
Crime Reduction Act that restrict the availability of airguns and
imitation guns were finally implemented.
Airguns and imitation guns are involved in at least two thirds
of recorded gun offences in
England and Wales and
Scotland, yet neither category of weapon had to be registered
and they have been too easy to obtain, especially by youngsters.
Realistic-looking imitation firearms have been increasingly used in
criminal activity to intimidate innocent members of the public (a 6-fold
rise in offences between 1999 and 2006 in England and Wales).
Airguns are potentially lethal weapons which continue to injure, maim
and even kill victims and are
responsible for nearly a quarter of all
serious gun injuries. Easy access to unnecessary weaponry
fuelled an escalating problem which has affected every type of community
throughout the country. The measures were long overdue.
Without additional measures, however, it is
unlikely that there will be an immediate reduction in the number of
Government was slow to respond as offences involving airguns and
imitation guns increased in number and seriousness, and their continued
availability during the past few years has generated a large pool of guns
which will remain in the hands of those who might misuse them.
Ownership itself is not illegal and a nationwide Amnesty is a necessary
follow-up. The hand-in of as many guns as possible should be
encouraged. The Amnesty must be accompanied by a high-profile
publicity campaign highlighting the legal restrictions on the use of these
weapons and the dangers they pose. The campaign must continue to
emphasise that these guns can never again be regarded as toys, something
which the new measures, including raised age limits, will reinforce.
Although GCN applauds the measures that have
been taken we have some serious reservations. In particular we are
To be effective the ban on the sale of
realistic imitation firearms should have been made as watertight as possible.
However, the Home Office has been persuaded by the Airsoft Skirmishers, a
group whose hobby has only been in existence for about 10 years, that it should still be permissible
to buy extremely realistic
versions of the most threatening guns in the world, including assault rifles
such as the Kalashnikov AK-47. They argue that airsoft weapons are not
dangerous because they are low power and are only ever used for
skirmishing, an activity which takes place on private property. The
Home Office seems to have accepted this as a defence, and a scheme has been devised which would
allow airsoft guns to be sold to bona fide skirmishers. GCN is not
convinced that this self-administered scheme will work effectively enough to
prevent some of the guns falling into the wrong hands. It is not
enough to say that the guns are low power and would not cause injury.
Anything that looks like a real firearm, and airsoft enthusiasts insist that
their guns must do so, will be as threatening as a genuine gun. A
dangerous and unnecessary loophole has been created and GCN will be
monitoring the situation carefully.
The contents of various internet sites suggest
that some gun dealers and gun
enthusiasts are contriving other ways to get around the legislation,
exploiting further defences such as those relating to the sale of imitation
firearms for historical re-enactments or of guns manufactured in
particular colours or from transparent material. These too must be
Air weapons can be lethal but unlike
other lethal guns are still not subject to a registration process. The restriction
to Registered Firearms Dealers should have provided the ideal opportunity to
phase in a registration system which required all airgun owners to give
an appropriate reason for possessing their weapons. In Scotland this
was proposed in a recent petition and is being pursued by the Executive.
The measure would restrict possession of air weapons to target shooters at
gun clubs and those who use them for pest and vermin control and so would not affect those with a genuine need. The UK Government appears
unwilling to introduce a licensing system. Having continually campaigned
for airgun registration throughout the UK, GCN will be supporting the
moves to introduce licensing in Scotland.
IN AUGUST the tragic murder of 11-year-old
Rhys Jones in Croxteth prompted more discussion about guns in Britain.
High profile shootings, of which there were a number in August, induce an increased
fear of gun crime in many of the public and, despite official figures to the
contrary, contribute to a perception that overall gun crime is rising.
This is not helped by some politicians and commentators who through
ignorance, laziness or self-interest exaggerate the level of gun crime often concluding that
can't be working.
The shooting of an 11-year-old boy will always
headline news in this country, not just because it is such an awful crime
but also because it is so rare. As Errol Louis, a New York Daily
News columnist, noted in an article for the Daily Mirror (27
August), in the USA a story like the Rhys Jones murder would perhaps
make the front pages for a day or two but there would not be the full
measure of horror, resolve and action it deserved. In a country where
gun laws are so lax and worship of weapons so prevalent such events occur
all too frequently. In 2004, 1804 children under 19 were murdered with
guns in the USA. Rhys Jones's death was not a reflection of gun laws not working in Britain, it was an indication that more should be
done and that vigilance is essential to keep gun culture at bay.
The Government is right to do everything
possible to target gun crime in those areas where it is most prevalent and
there is no doubt that the most serious gun crime occurs in Liverpool,
Manchester, Birmingham and London. Measures such as tackling gang
culture and encouraging witnesses to come forward coupled with more
effective screening to prevent the illegal importation of guns are all
essential to reinforce the tough legislation which ensures that Britain's
gun crime rate remains low by international standards.
The increased involvement of young people in
gun crime has been a particularly disturbing recent trend. The apparent age
of Rhys Jones's killer, allegedly in his mid teens, caused particular shock.
Everything possible must be done to keep young people away from guns,
whether imitation or real. The clampdown on imitation guns and airguns
will reduce the number of guns falling into young hands. GCN hopes
that it will mark the beginning of an era when guns
will no longer be viewed as glamorous accessories for impressionable youngsters.
Written 1 October 2007