GUN CRIME AND GUN COMMENT

The tragic death of 14-year-old Danielle Beccan, shot dead whilst walking home from Nottingham’s Goose Fair in early October, propelled gun crime back into the national news. Her murder, coupled with the publication of gun crime figures by the Home Office, resulted in headlines about gun crime "spiralling out of control". Many of the reactions fitted into a familiar pattern of comment about gun crime in this country, one that focuses on certain aspects of the problem, but fails to consider the overall situation. It would be good to have a more balanced reaction.

For some politicians, gun lobby spokesmen and media commentators a rise in gun crime means that measures taken by the government, and in particular the ban on handguns, is not working. Rather than suggest additional measures that might help, they undertake a selective reading of the statistics to further an agenda which condemns some (black inner city youths, in particular) for being attracted to guns whilst maintaining that other sections of society (always referred to in terms such as "criminalised legal owners") should be allowed wider gun ownership. Crimes committed with legally obtained guns tend to be dismissed as aberrations, yet a significant proportion of gun crime does involve guns such as imitations, some converted to fire live ammunition, and airguns that have been obtained legally.

Gun Control Network has always believed it is not possible to pigeonhole the issues in this simplistic way. Guns are potentially dangerous in any hands, and easy access to whatever group always makes it possible for gun crime to be committed. That is why we campaign for tight controls over access to all guns.

When the gun crime figures are examined carefully they reveal a mixed picture. In Britain gun crime remains low, but as Paul Evans, who heads the Home Office's police standards unit, told the Commons home affairs committee it needs to be "nipped in the bud before it snowballs out of control".  So it is important to focus in particular on those areas of gun crime that are increasing.

The latest figures for England and Wales were provisional statistics for recorded crimes (excluding any with airguns) for the year to June 2004. These showed an increase of 310 offences (3%) compared to the year ending June 2003. There was a 15% drop in gun deaths, and offences with handguns fell by 10%. There were big increases in two categories, the use of Replica/imitation guns (660 more offences) and the use of a category named Other firearms, which the Home Office indicates are mainly paintball guns (280 more offences). If the contribution made by Replica/imitation guns is deducted, the level of gun crime fell by over 4%. Offences committed with imitation handguns that have been converted to fire live ammunition are currently included as handguns: so the handgun figure would be even lower were converted weapons to be included elsewhere. Imitation guns are still legally available and not all convertible guns have been banned (some were prohibited earlier this year).

GCN’s conclusion is that the continuing availability of imitation guns makes a significant contribution to the increase in gun crime. The ease with which these guns can be obtained and the lack of willingness on the part of Government to deal with this undermines the progress made on handgun crime since the latter were banned. We would like to see the critics put their weight behind GCN’s campaign to have the sale of all imitation guns banned.

Gun crime figures for Scotland receive little attention in the UK national press. These have shown a steady drop over the years since the handgun ban was introduced, a trend continued with the latest set for 2003. If the effects of changes in gun legislation on gun crime are to be viewed in their totality, then the more optimistic picture from north of the border cannot be excluded from discussions.

Danielle Beccan’s death prompted a number of articles which looked at inner city gun crime, particularly in black communities like St Ann’s in Nottingham. There is no denying that a major problem exists in such areas, but the impression left by some of the articles is that gun crime rarely extends beyond them, and if so is an export from the inner cities. Even the quickest of scans through our monthly incidents lists (click here) shows that this is misleading, the result of underreporting the level of crime committed with imitation guns, BB guns and other air weapons. Gun crime has to be tackled wherever it occurs. Its roots are often the same, a belief that a gun provides its owner with respect and power, which can then be used to threaten, injure or kill, something that has no geographical boundaries. We are all horrified by what happened in Nottingham, but it should not stop us from looking at what happens everywhere else.

Gun lobby spokesmen like to make comparisons between the rights of gun owners on either side of the Atlantic but rarely dare to make comparisons between the gun crime figures. One comparison worth noting is that the total number of firearms offences in England and Wales (10,590 in 2003/4), a figure which includes fatal injuries, serious injuries, slight injuries, threats and no injury, is of the same order as the level of just one category of gun crime in the USA, homicides. More than anything else we believe that British gun crime has been kept in check by our tough gun control laws. But more can be done.

Every gun death is a tragedy, there were 70 in 2003-4, and the shooting of Danielle Beccan has reminded us all of the horror of violent death. Whilst some continue to promote shooting, GCN is working hard to ensure that public safety is put first, that gun crime is prevented by limiting access to guns. Tough sentencing and good policing will always play a part, but too often at a stage when it is too late for the victim. If we can reduce the ease with which guns are obtained we can reduce the number of victims too.

 

> See also GCN's Press Release (3 February 2005)

 

Written: 12 November 2004

 

GCN COMMENT

Cats and Airguns

 

Liberal Gun Laws

 

Gun Crime Figures

January 2010

January 2009

 

Definitions

 

Airgun Crime

 

Airgun Ownership and Children

 

VCR Act

Implementation

Airsoft

Gun Lobby Abuse

Guns & Advertising

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Lethal Airguns (Mar 05)

Stolen Guns (Nov 04)

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