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Monday, 13 January, 2003, 09:44 GMT
Is 'gangsta' culture to blame for gun crime?
David Blunkett, the Home Secretary, has said that UK gun laws are to be tightened as a result of an unacceptable increase in "flagrant gun use".
The changes - which come just days after two teenage girls were killed at a Birmingham New Year party - will see a mandatory jail sentence of five years for gun possession.
Mr Blunkett also confirmed that he will host a summit on Friday on tackling gun crime, the day after new figures are expected to show the number of offences has risen sharply.
Earlier, the culture minister Kim Howells criticised the kind of rap music associated with gang culture which glamorises guns. He described it as "hateful lyrics that... macho idiot rappers come out with".
West Midlands Police have said they are confident the murderers of the teenagers killed in Birmingham will be caught with the public's help.
Is the rap music and glamorising of guns "gangsta" culture to blame for gun crime? Or are tougher gun control laws the answer? Have you been affected personally by the growth in gun culture?
This Talking Point has now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.
Paul Metcalfe, England
Wake up, black British youth! You want to copy the depraved values of your US cousins and live peaceful, productive lives too? No chance. If you make gangsta culture (hateful music, and all) your lifestyle option, then you have made your own hell.
To reduce gun use and burglaries and other drug related crimes the police must return to targeting crime. Targeting the motorist will not reduce these crimes at all! Chief Constable should have Ofsted type tests to monitor the results they are achieving addressing major crime. Those allowing armchair policing must be removed from office.
Presumably all the people in this discussion who've been banging on about their rights to own and play with guns will be campaigning for the rights of the people who've just been arrested in possession of ricin. After all, if you should be allowed to own one item whose sole purpose is to kill, what's wrong with the possession of another?
Having lived in London for two years, I firmly believe that the lack of tolerance of guns in the UK is a good thing. In Australia, like America, our society has a certain love affair with guns to the point where the police carry them. I even have a gun license and I am a web designer. I believe the media is largely responsible for creating a fearful society. A society that feels it needs to arm itself to protect itself. Everyone should go and see Bowling for Columbine by the insightful Michael Moore. It is all about the gun culture in America, humorous and scary!
It is fundamentally racist to blame rap music for gun culture. No-one cites aggressive lyrics from white musicians music, such as: 'I shot a man in Reno just to watch him die' (Johnny Cash). People need to recognise that poor circumstances is much more a cause of crime than rap music.
To Catherine: Pointing a finger at rap for being a violent music has nothing to do with race. Eminem has some of the most violent lyrics and he is white. Music cannot be blamed for a rise in any type of crime. A person that is open to suggestion from lyrics in a song is obviously in need of help. Making him listen to Cliff Richard will not soothe his psyche. This is the same type of stereotyped rubbish that causes the finger to be pointed at Metal bands and hard rock music when a kid with a Metallica t-shirt goes berserk with a gun.
"Happiness is a warm gun".... sung by John Lennon. Maybe we should censor his music too?
Gangsta music may be partly to blame for the mindset of the people who committed this crime, but it goes much deeper. While some gangsta rap lyrics are truly horrifying, listening to music or playing violent computer games doesn't make anyone a killer. The glorification of the gangsta image in the media goes unfettered due to it making lots of money for everybody involved. This provides fertile ground for a mindset that views crime as cool. Combine this with poverty, indifferent parents and an ineffective police and justice system which leads criminals to think that they can get away with anything, and you have a recipe for disaster.
Guns owned by American citizens kill more American citizens each year than terrorism. Weapons of mass destruction are one thing, old fashioned hand guns are another. And there are still morons out there in this country who believe owning a gun is a deterrent to crime. So when did murder cease to be a crime? Idiots.
Guns are sexy, guns are cool. That's what Hollywood and countless TV programmes will have us believe. The problem is, with Guns being banned, anyone wanting access to a gun can't do so legally. If they were available legally, even just the use of one at a licensed shooting club, people who harbour a desire for one would have the necessary exposure to a gun without having to break the law. It might help to shatter some myths as well, and in turn, the fad may diminish.
First of all, a comment to Ian Young (BBC online Entertainment writer) - the First Lady of Rap was Queen Latifah! Not Missy Elliot - if you are going to do research, do it properly.
Mr Blunkett has no idea what his talking about; instead of pointing the finger he should be doing something about this problem. To say Gangster rap and the garage scene are the reason for these problems is pathetic excuse!!!! What about films - for example Carlito's Way, Scarface, The Fugitive, Godfather I,II,III? These films all promote gun use. If Mr Blunkett wants to start pointing the finger he should stop being so ignorant and stereotypical and be a little more open-minded.
So we have moved away from blaming video games and films to blaming music. What are we going to blame next the humble Banana?
Tony's talking about violence with David Trimble and others on Northern Ireland, but not with the African British community who's screaming for his help. I guess we have to wait till the next victims are young, female and NOT black. Serious commitment to educational reforms, social exclusion policies and a watershed on violent "thug life" promoting media will reduce gun crime.
An interesting example being set by the government at the moment. On one hand they are trying to deal with the ills of our rising gun culture. While on the other hand, they're posturing, threatening, and pointing their guns at Iraq over weapons they haven't been proven to possess. It's getting harder to discern who are the 'gangstas' and who are the moral guardians...
Eamonn, N. Ireland
Another convenient leap of imagination by the government gives us a link to music and guns. A less imaginative leap may have been the rising drugs problem caused by underfunding of customs and a chronic lack of original thought when it comes to addressing the drugs problem. However that would mean the government holding their hands up...
Can we stop blaming anything and everything and start blaming the people committing these crimes, please..?
It's obvious that music has a huge influence on gun crime. Everyone who can remember the crimewave of the 1970s can trace it to those lyrics "Mama, I just killed a man, put a gun against his head, pulled the trigger, now he's dead." Queen have as much to answer for as Tupac and Snoop.
The "gangsta"' culture imported from the US is significant here. Young kids, especially, but not exclusively, those from the black community have unrealistic, almost comic-book aspirations in life - they want to be DJs or any number of other unrealistic things that only a small fraction will achieve.
It's laughable that we have so many right wing politicians wringing their hands over the loss of our sovereignty to Europe whilst we allow this culturally-undermining influence provided by America to continue unabated.
What a stupid thing to say: All young black people want to be is DJs and have comic-book views on life. Comments like this make kids think the world is against them and that they have to make their own world with their own rules. This gun problem is not only a black problem, rather a human problem. Black people do not manufacture guns so how do these kids purchase them? Deal with the source.
My view similar to that of many Americans is that a controlled licensed and armed population can lead to a lower crime rate as criminals realise that their potential victims are likely to be carrying a weapon and have been fully trained to use it. Maybe Britain needs to take Switzerland┐s lead towards a well-educated population, aware of their responsibilities towards their countrymen, militarily trained and armed.
Carrying a firearm during violent offences such as robbery, I believe, increases the likelihood of those offences remaining undetected. As soon as the use of firearms - imitation or genuine - is mentioned to the police, they are unable to send their regular unarmed officers. It takes sometimes up to an hour to deploy trained, armed officers from centralised units, by which time the offenders are long gone.
I do not think the British public or police want to see the general arming of the police in this country - however, there is a need for more trained officers to be readily and locally deployable.
After all, long minimum sentences are one thing, but we need to catch the criminals first.
Gangs justify the use of guns to defend themselves against other gangs because they have no other system to protect them. Dealing in high value, high demand, illegal substances with a life of luxury to protect for little invested effort means a highly competitive and violent market. Crack this, no pun intended, and you'll make progress.
To say that guns cause crime is like saying flies cause trash. The UK has very stringent gun laws yet gun crime has been increasing. It doesn't appear that banning all handguns has done any good. I don't know what the answer is, but it is not adding another law to the books. That is just so the politicians can say they are doing something.
It is utter nonsense to suggest that rap music is to blame for gun-related murders. The Japanese are probably the world leaders in violent video games and they have the lowest murder rate! Getting guns off the streets and out of people's hands is the only sensible way forward.
Mavis Agyapong, UK
My heart goes out to all the families that have lost souls because of this senseless killing. My question is, how are these weapons of mass destruction arriving on these shores? Who is importing these handguns? We need to pinpoint that and not blame music.
Rap music per se is not to blame. Swaggering, dealing drugs, robbing as a way of life and generally having a chip on the shoulder are to blame.
Popular black and white American culture portrays guns in different ways. Like so many other things, good and bad, it has spread over here. We will now go way over the top and produce laws that sound good but do nothing. Remember Dunblane? Has anyone ever worked out if those crazy laws ever made any difference? Until people are educated and take pride in themselves, others and their country then this will continue.
First hip-hop and now garage is to blame. Maybe politicians should stop looking for excuses and start doing their job. Gun crime has been rising for the last five years and since Labour have been in power - longer than garage has been popular - maybe they should look closer to home and think what more they can do to decrease it. Or are they too busy looking for reasons to bomb another country rather than dealing with problems at home?
To all the Americans who think that arming the general public reduces the level of violent crime, and is therefore good - would you like to comment on the high numbers of American schoolchildren who have been killed by classmates? Compared to the number of British schoolchildren killed in this way?
Jonathan Kerr, UK
My heart goes out to the parents and family of the two girls murdered in Birmingham. I know exactly how they must feel. My son and his half-brother were murdered last year by a petty criminal using an Uzi sub machine pistol. This was not an inner city crime; it happened in a rural market town, so those who try to claim this is purely an inner city problem need to be made aware this affects the whole country.
I've just seen Michael Moore's excellent award-winning documentary called "Bowling for Columbine" which examines how America's culture of illogical fear together with its widespread gun ownership has led to around 11,000 gun-related deaths a year in the US.
Mick, Devon, UK
Guns don't kill people, it's a particular mindset due to the lifestyle of that person which causes them to take that action.
Sometimes we fail to listen or help a person before they commit a crime. We can create all the legal issues, laws and strict gun control we want. But if someone wants to kill, they could kill someone with a pen, pencil, knife, baseball bat or even a sling shot. So are we going to make it illegal for everything we can think of that might kill?
Gangs and hardened criminals who carry and use guns will continue despite any new laws based on a knee jerk. Judges are being advised not to send burglars to prison for a first offence because of overcrowding and now we are talking about overcrowding again because of a law that will do nothing to stop the real problem: a lack of police on the streets.
If we invested a fraction of the amount this new law will cost the taxpayer on the police force it would affect crime in general for the better.
Criminals love unarmed victims!! Why not let people protect themselves? Carrying concealed weapons should be encouraged as they have been proved to reduce crime.
These deaths were apparently caused by rival gangs who thought they had to be armed for their own defence. This illustrates perfectly why ordinary citizens should NOT be armed.
Some people on this board advocate allowing law-abiding members of the public to carry guns. They argue that this has reduced gun crime in some areas of the US. However, this reduction was from levels much higher than those presently seen in the UK. Yes, if we expect to run into a criminal with a gun we may want one ourselves, but the low levels of gun crime in this country mean we still have the chance to capture the best possible scenario: where no-one has a gun.
As a teacher I have seen the increase in violence and aggression amongst youngsters. It has now been accepted as normal and even virtuous. We see it in the media and in the way that we all behave. Kindness and respect have all but disappeared in our society. Might has long been regarded as right! The issue here is not the implements of violence but our own attitudes towards one another.
Criminals, by definition, don't abide by the law. Tougher laws will not work. The only thing that will stop gangs using guns is the community helping the police make arrests, by tipping them off.
The problem has been caused by the government itself. When had guns were legal the police knew where most of them were but when handguns were made illegal to own, it made them more desirable and therefore gun crime has risen. The government's knee-jerk reaction is behind the current problems. It's about time they used some simple common sense when it came to guns!
People only think twice when they see a uniformed police officer. The only sure way is to put the good old beat bobby back on the streets, but this time fully equip him with the tools for the job with total back up and not the underpaid overstretched police forces which we have in this country.
It should be a basic right in this country for everyone to own a firearm (except for machine guns or silenced weapons) for their own and their family's protection.
Research in the US has shown that more guns decrease the level of gun crime - simply because armed criminals think twice about attacking people they suspect to be armed.
Lew, California, USA
Perhaps the solution is to repeal the post-Dunblane legislation (which only had an effect on those with nothing to hide) and allow all law-abiding citizens to carry handguns. Perhaps those who are willing to use their illegal weapons will be a bit more reluctant if they think that any number of passers-by might return fire!
I agree 100% on tougher gun laws. The thing that bothers me is that people are trying to ban replicas. Apart from a menacing look, these things are harmless! All that talk about being able to turn a blank firer into a real gun is complete nonsense and lies. I have a collection of these guns for legitimate reasons (short films). The manufacturer of the guns clearly makes sure that it cannot be converted into the real thing. Replicas are made from alloys and not steel, i.e. if a live bullet was fired in one, it would be blown apart! The media blows it all out of proportion!
I can't believe the sheer ignorance of pro-firearms lobbyists posting in this discussion. The ironic words of the late Bill Hicks spring to mind:
"There's no connection between owning a gun and killing somebody with it, and not owning a gun and not shooting anybody. And you would be a fool and a Communist to believe otherwise!"
Owning a gun implies an intent to commit murder. Make the penalty for ownership fifteen years, and introduce an aggressive stop-and-search campaign in affected areas. I suspect living the "gangsta" lifestyle will become suddenly unfashionable...
I am from Birmingham but now live in Canada and have been an active member of the shooting community in each country. I bought my first handguns in Birmingham and exported them to Canada, quite effortlessly under the legislation before Dunblane.
As for any commodity, if there is a demand, so there will be a supply. The obvious answer is understand the demand and eliminate it. This is not a firearms problem; it is a social attitude problem.
This killing happened just around the corner from where I work. I'm sure extra penalties will not make any difference. The young men who shot these girls consider themselves outside the law. They carry guns as male jewellery - to be "gangstas" and eventually they will use them. Birmingham is becoming the "Gunchester" of the Midlands. Unless we find a way to make these youths feel included, they will continue to kill and maim. Crack cocaine has not been mentioned here. People taking it have heightened aggression and often have no idea what they are doing. This is as big a problem, if not bigger than the guns.
The people who shot the girls in Birmingham are facing life imprisonment for murder. So how would a minimum sentence for carrying a gun have deterred them? And I pity the poor policeman who stumbles on someone with a handgun who knows he faces "30 years with hard labour". People carrying guns are prepared to kill people and are not deterred by sentence lengths. They are deterred by a high chance of being caught.
Matthew Swan, England
Disenfranchisement of society is the root cause of all these problems. Not TV, films, computer games, those are just excuses to what is the main problem. Poverty.
Gangs develop as a way for people to "belong" to something. Guns are a way of defending your turf form outsiders and as a sign of belonging.
We need to tackle the root causes of these crimes, poverty and disenchantment.
In the late 1940s, in the East End of London, it was the custom for gang leaders to frisk the rest of the gang before robbery to ensure that no one had a gun. The reason, because murder carried a death penalty. Nowadays murder carries a maximum of five years in holiday camp. Until we get rid of the lack of real penalties in the law we will continue to have a continued rise in death and crime. I know it is hard on the individual, but remember that dead criminals don't boast how hard they are!
There can be no excuse for carrying an unlicensed gun in public. The police should be given as wide powers as possible to search individuals (suspicious or not), and those found in possession of guns (or even bullets on their own) should be punished harshly.
The target here is to stop illegal guns being used. The problem with the government is that they take the easy option of targeting legal gun owners as that is the most simple way of saying "Look what we've done to curb crime". This does not stop a criminal but encumbers many law abiding citizens with more rules to follow. If you want to stop guns being used in crime it needs tough penalties -- not placing further legislation on somebody who goes clay pigeon shooting.
Banning the legal ownership of handguns was a knee-jerk reaction to the Dunblane massacre, and a very good example of ill-thought out legislation. What happened to the importers of handguns? Or the distributors of handguns? The entire supply chain didn't disappear overnight because of the ban on handguns. Since 1997 (when New Labour introduced the ban) the illegal ownership of handguns has increased exponentially. Obviously the supply chain found a new customer.
Only last night, the BBC news reporter observed that "Gun crime outside of inner-city areas is still extremely rare". Am I the only person to notice the that inner-city areas have been the subject of an influx of drug-running gangs from certain, very specific, countries? Until we can face realities without fear of being branded racists, anti-immigrationists, or any other label, we have no chance of facing the threat square-on and dealing with it. We are too afraid of the politically correct lobby to speak the truth about what we all, deep-down, know is going on, and until that changes, the gun criminals will run free.
This is not about guns, it is about PEOPLE. Anyone evil enough to open fire on unarmed girls will not be transformed into a mild-mannered pillar of society just because we make guns harder to get hold of. He'll just drive a car at them next time. It's time we looked at how modern consumer-driven society is producing such people, and what we can do about it.
Banning legal hand gun ownership has done nothing to curb gun crime. Only when the culture of criminal gangs recently arrived in the UK, with their low value for life and non-UK background, is cracked will gun crime decrease five years for illegal possession will not deter them.
When the "public" were banned from holding (hand)guns it was supposed to have some effect on the number of crimes. As was explained at the time - the criminals don't give a toss about the gun laws, so all that was predicted has indeed come true: the law-abiding public who wanted to fire guns for sport are disenfranchised, whereas the criminals just carry on business as usual. Additional penalties for those in possession will make no difference - the government don't get it: the criminals don't care about the laws/penalties.
Anyone caught carrying a gun, be it fake, real etc should face a minimum of 15 years hard labour without parole. Anyone actually using (i.e. discharging a bullet) a gun whether or not they kill or injure should have this *minimum* sentence increased to 35 years, again hard labour no parole. Enough of this goody-good nanny society who let thugs off the hook. Send them down and get them off the streets.
The ban on legitimate handguns didn't make any difference after Dunblane, and "tougher" laws won't make any difference now. If criminals want to obtain and use firearms, they'll get them and use them.
If someone is not afraid to use a handgun to injure or kill, then strict penalties for mere possession will have little or no effect. Britain already has some of the tightest handgun laws in the world so unfortunately, it seems that further penalties would be of little use in preventing further gun crime.
Handguns are banned so why does being caught with one only now need the law changing? Why not have a minimum penalty of 20 years for having one and life if you use it.
Brian Fargher, England
The only way that such offences will be reduced is to remove the guns themselves from the hands of criminals. The 'token' gesture of removing private handgun licences and having a firearms amnesty was totally pointless in attacking gun crime statistics in this country. The firearms being used in 99 per cent of crimes always have been and always will be illegally imported handguns.
I am a retired police officer. Sadly, it has not worked here, and probably won't in England either. Criminals will always find a way to get arms if they wish. Just look at the IRA and the Unionists.
Crimes involving the use of guns or replicas should have sentences available of 10-15 years minimum for a first offence. The government also needs to investigate how guns are being imported. Arming more policemen is not a solution as there are already to few policemen on the streets.
Certainly if the government don't act urgently this will be a major issue at election time.
I think the British Government wants to tackle the wrong crime. Having a gun should not be illegal. Committing crime should be illegal. A criminal, by definition, breaks the law. A ban on guns is merely one more law to break. If someone really wants to kill someone else with a gun, they will go about getting a gun even if it is illegal. Banning handguns only keeps them out of the hands of law abiding citizens, not criminals. It also takes up time and bother for the police - trying to track people with legal guns instead of dealing with people who break laws, with or without a gun.
I thought the post-Dunblane handgun ban was going to stop this sort of thing happening? If not, what WAS its purpose? Just a cynical bit of PR? Surely not!
Lots of legislations already exist to control guns. As with many other areas the enforcement of existing laws is required.
Attempts to stop this kind of cold blooded murder has been tried before. There was an amnesty for people with unlicensed guns to hand them over etc, but clearly this has not worked. There is only one way to prevent guns being used. That is to ban them outright, ban all sales across the board, close down manufacturers of guns in this country and to make it an imprisonable offence to import guns from another country.
More legislation won't make the slightest difference. Those of us who legally possess firearms and shotguns find that the rules we abide to are becoming stricter but from the Home Office figures gun crime is still increasing (and virtually 100% of gun crime is from illegally held weapons). Speaking to police representatives at various shooting events over the past few years I've heard that the number of illegally held weapons is increasing dramatically. Unfortunately it doesn't matter how tough the laws are - those that want an illegal weapon will find a way of getting one.
New York has had some measure of success in reducing gun crime, why not apply the same measures here?
A slight improvement on the original laws, however it is more reason to arm our own police officers, with guns getting cheaper and more available
Andrew Watson, Netherlands
I can't imagine increasing sentences for gun crimes is going to make much difference to the people perpetrating the crime. Any sane person knows emptying your gun on a car full of teenagers will result in serious injury if not death, I hardly think these people thought of the consequences, they always assume they will get away with it.
In much the same way as targeting the supply of drugs is more effective than targeting the users of drugs, surely more emphasis should be placed on targeting the suppliers of guns with minimum sentences of 20 years or more.
Yna M, UK
When are people in power going to accept that the main problem here is not legal guns, but guns that have been brought in illegally. Take the Balkans war, and the fact there are no border controls in Europe, and all the refugees coming into this country - and you get what we have now; an influx of cheap eastern European guns on the market.
That is the fact of the matter.
06 Jan 03 | Music
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