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Thursday, 16 January, 2003, 11:22 GMT
Gun crime: How can it be prevented?
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Gun crime has risen by 35% in a year, Home Office figures show.
There were 9,974 incidents involving firearms in the 12 months to April 2002 - a rise from 7,362 over the previous year.
That represents more than 27 offences on average involving firearms every day in England and Wales, not including incidents involving airguns.
The statistics come after the government this week announced a crackdown on gun crime with a series of plans to tighten firearms law.
The biggest increases are in the large metropolitan areas.
What can be done to curb 'gun culture'? Are guns too accessible?
You put your questions to Labour MP Ross Cranston and community worker Charles Bailey in a LIVE interactive forum.
Crimes involving firearms in England and Wales went up by more than a third in the last year - that's according to new figures from the Home Office. They follow the announcement of a crackdown on gun crime earlier this week in response to the New Year shootings in Birmingham which left two teenage girls dead.
Joining me from our Milbank studio is anti-gun campaigner and record producer, Charles Bailey and the Labour Back Bencher, West Midlands MP, Ross Cranston. They're here to answer to your many questions on gun crime.
Ross, Clive from Redhill e-mails us to say: Do you think the police have a clear picture of criminal activity involving guns in this country and clear enough strategies to remove the offenders from our streets?
Certainly we banned handguns a number of years ago but it's obviously not had the effect we thought. Now there are all sorts of reasons for that and I think in the next 15 minutes, we'll talk about some of the strategies preventing guns getting into the country, dealing with young people, which Charles is going to talk about. But I think we have to be much clearer about the size of the problem which we now know as a result of the figures this morning and we also have to be much more thoughtful about the strategy.
So what you need to look at is the authorities that are in charge. They have to take a responsibility as well for what they're doing. There needs to be a new strategy - they need to talk to the right people, people from the streets - not politicians, people who just want to get career out people's tragedies. So we really need to take this very seriously.
Let me add to that Anthony Rose, Hackney, East London - where there's currently a siege going on at the moment which involves firearms - he asks: As a father, I'm concerned something should be done. What can ordinary people living in affected areas do other than go to the police?
I take the point that often as politicians we react to things but that's because the media moves on from one thing to the other. A week ago it was burglary, this week it's guns. Now in both cases, they are serious problems and we have to address them. But often the focus of attention moves on so quickly that I'm not sure that we as ordinary Back Benchers can give the detailed attention that needs to be given.
Certainly with guns, we've been looking at this for a number of years. I know the Home Affairs Select Committee, for example, has been looking at air guns. But it's obviously not the focus of attention at present which is handguns and illegal handguns getting into the country. It's not just a matter of banning things, it's a matter of dealing with young people, as Charles is doing, and moving on from there.
Ryan e-mails: The media can't believe that rap music is to blame can they? People which buy and use these guns have no need for them, people might say yeah I want a gun to play with. But I say you're not a soldier or a police officer so guns am not your business leave them be.
Jim Sandy, England: It seems to me that once again music is the scapegoat to hide the fact that there are underlying problems in this country. Instead of blaming music, why not look at the reasons why more people are carrying guns?
Now Jeff Duncan, Salisbury offers a slightly different perspective: If you bombard children/young adults with rap music that says it's ok, to shoot people you dislike surely you can't then be surprised when a number of shootings occur.
Charles, to what extent do you think that music culture, violent video games etc. are encouraging people to pick up guns?
But where I'm disappointed is that I'm a record producer, songwriter and I do PR and they are with a major record company and that could have been presented in a much better way in terms of the videos that they made which, I think, were very irresponsible.
Unfortunately we tend to look a lot to America in terms of our black music - the way we market it over here - but we don't have the same problems as America. This is a great country. If you go to America it is like a kind of unofficial apartheid - it's a totally different thing. A lot of people need to realise that - why do you think so many people want to come here? Yes, there are problems here but it's not as bad as places like America. We're looking to America when we should be looking to the UK.
A lot of the radio stations here, they don't promote UK artists, they promote American artists. So again, everybody is getting the wrong messages. I grew up listening to Bob Marley - that sort of music had an influence on people from my generation. Bob Marley's message was that it was embarrassing for a black person to hurt another black person. We're not getting these messages now in the modern music.
Also, I'm working in schools and I've realised that there's no job opportunities. I want to see companies like the BBC, like Telecom - all these people - they should be going into schools and talking to the Year 9, Year 10 and preparing them for jobs. There should be jobs for school-leavers to join great organisations like the BBC. We need to give the kids some hope because at the moment, the best job for a lot of these kids is with the dealers.
David, UK: Is it really a good idea to pose a prison sentence to someone with a gun who's being pursued by police? (One of the solutions suggested this week was a minimum five year jail term for anyone illegally carrying a gun). Doesn't this put the police and public at further risk - more likely that somebody caught might then shoot?
Nigel H, UK: Stiffer jail sentences probably won't be a deterrent to people who almost certainly have a criminal record. Isn't the real point of handing out stiffer sentences to get criminals off the streets for as long as possible?
Ross, what do you make of those as possible solutions to the problem?
But I concede it's only one aspect of the problem. We have to get to people young - which is what Charles is trying to do. But we also have to prevent these guns falling into the hands of people. That involves things like border controls and trying to deal with intelligence - the East European connection where a lot of these things are coming from and also trying to address the problem of drugs which unfortunately does ravage important sections of our society.
They're inextricably linked aren't they?
With the immigration situation, the new visa regulation has come as a relief to a lot of the West Indian community because there are people who are coming here - if they Government don't know you're here, you could commit 10, 20 murders because nobody knows you're here. So we need to look at that and get legitimate people coming here on holidays.
But we also need to look at what are the police doing - the two beautiful girls in Birmingham who've died - I've got a daughter, my father died two years ago and I'm still devastated about that and my father lived a good life, he died at 78 years old. So for anybody who is saying that five years is a bit strong, you've got to really try and close your eyes and imagine that was your sister or your girlfriend or your mother and then maybe you might see our way.
The freedom of movement from places like Jamaica - obviously now we're doing something about that. There's also the disintegration of East European and Central European societies over the last 10 years and that has meant that a lot of guns are available.
I think my approach and especially in terms of what Charles has been saying is there's no easy solution to this. We have to really address this at a number of levels and it starts in the schools with what he's doing and it works through immigration controls, it works through hefty sentences for those who have guns illegally.
It's not a majority view - it's a minority view but what do you both make of people who say that?
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