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EDITIONS
 Thursday, 16 January, 2003, 11:22 GMT
Gun crime: How can it be prevented?
Gun haul
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  • Click here to read the transcript


    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.



    Transcript


    Susanna Reid:

    Hello and welcome to this BBC News Interactive forum on gun crime with me, Susanna Reid.

    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?


    Ross Cranston:

    I think that the figures which you quite rightly said showed an increase are a bit of a surprise to me. I don't know whether they're a surprise to the police.

    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.


    Susanna Reid:

    Let me ask Charles, the figures that we received from the Home Office - an increase in firearms used in criminal activity by more than a third - did that come as a surprise to you?


    Charles Bailey:

    Well, not to me. It's bad news. But remember I've been running my "Don't Shoot" campaign for over a year now in schools - in Southwark, which covers Peckham, in Lambeth, which covers Brixton. We've been talking to people in Haringey, Brent but the people in these boroughs have not responded. Westminster, which is the best borough in London, they were the first to commission "Don't Shoot" - maybe this is why crime is down a lot in Westminster.

    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.


    Susanna Reid:

    Let's talk about initiatives, Ben Maffin e-mails us from the Wirral, Merseyside: Time and time again we see Parliament spring into action with far reaching statutes which seem to ban everything under the sun - are there any initiatives currently in operation that might be worthy of our attention?

    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?


    Ross Cranston:

    I think the sort of strategies that Charles has been talking about trying to address the problem with young people is one aspect of it.

    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.


    Susanna Reid:

    Charles, we've had a couple of e-mails about the link between music and guns and the whole culture surrounding, particularly garage music. Let me put a couple of these points to you.

    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?


    Charles Bailey:

    I would say that with So Solid Crew, in particular, three of them grew up four doors away from me - these lads I know very well. I was sort of a senior producer - someone they look up and know.


    Susanna Reid:

    Now this is a group that has been criticised because it seems to glamorise gun violence.


    Charles Bailey:

    Yes, yes. I'm disappointed because initially what people didn't understand - what they were doing, they weren't saying you should go around shooting, they were saying - this is what's going on in the flats in Battersea, in the flats in Brixton, in the flats in the East End - in Hackney. So they were just portraying what is actually reality to them.

    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.


    Susanna Reid:

    Do you think that modern music has gone too far now down that road of glamorising violence and potentially encouraging people to carry guns as a fashion accessory? Can we pull back from that?


    Charles Bailey:

    Yeah, yeah - let's get back to reality now. If you want to look at percentages, in terms of the music industry and hip-hop and rap music, I'd say that that's 20% of the problem. It's very easy for politicians to pick on pop stars because it makes good news. There's live footage of So Solid Crew doing 24 Seconds - there's footage for people to always go back to. So it's easy for politicians to say - oh the So Solid Crew etc. But that is not what they should be looking at. They should be looking at stuff like what I'm doing which is how do we stop the next wave of youngsters getting involved in crime.

    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.


    Susanna Reid:

    Ross, that's some warning isn't it?


    Ross Cranston:

    I think that's a very valid point actually. I think music would be only one very small influence. There's a whole culture that we have to look at but you haven't mentioned and Charles has just touched on the link with drugs. I don't know whether you've got e-mails on that because I think that that's fairly vital in terms of what we're talking about.


    Susanna Reid:

    We have got a couple of e-mails here about some of the proposals for tackling gun crime that have been announced by the Home Office this week. Let me put a couple of these to you, Ross.

    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?


    Ross Cranston:

    As legislators we have to look at the law and we have to look to the enforcement of the law. Now we banned handguns - it obviously hasn't had the effect that we expected. So the next solution would be to up the penalties. We talk about the five year mandatory sentence, in practise of course, that's about half that in terms of prison and then supervision once you get outside. I would hope both in prison and under supervision as well, if people are caught and sent inside then their culture is going to change because the prison service now is doing good work with longer term prisoners.

    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.


    Susanna Reid:

    Charles, as Ross suggested, we've had questions and e-mails about drugs and the connection with gun culture. Deon, UK: As someone who lived in South Africa, blaming the gun culture on anything other than crime and drugs is simply attempting to shift the blame. Face facts - crime and drugs are becoming a major problem in the UK; I see parallels with South Africa of 10 years ago.

    They're inextricably linked aren't they?


    Charles Bailey:

    Well yeah. If you come from Jamaica, for instance, everybody's black so if you're a thief you thieve from black people. But us who are born in this country and brought up here, if you were a thief, you don't thieve from black people, you thieve from big shops etc. We've had an influx of people from Jamaica coming here over the last 10 years and a certain element of them are a criminal element and they've seen us as soft targets. So what's been going on is that they don't go out and rob Abbey National or Lloyds Bank for example, they go and rob other dealers, people who are selling drugs. So the people here who sell drugs - wear a lot of gold or drive a nice car - they've found out they're having to get involved in gun crime to protect themselves and it is just spiralling from that.

    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.


    Susanna Reid:

    Ross, immigration as Charles is an extremely sensitive issue. Let me just put one point to you. Tom Attwood, Croatia: Many of the guns smuggled into the UK are used by criminal gangs from overseas, like Jamaica, Albania, China and the former Soviet Union. Most of the gang members are immigration offenders or bogus asylum seekers. How can we hope to keep our streets safe and set the right example to the young when we reward these evil people by letting them roam the UK at will?


    Ross Cranston:

    I'm not sure that that's the case. I think what Charles has said is valuable because he's got view from the streets. This point that he's made about dealers being targeted by people who are now robbing is a point that I wasn't aware of frankly before he made it this afternoon.

    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.


    Susanna Reid:

    Let me put one last point to you both and it's a very radical point indeed. Stu, Essex, England: Florida discovered that if you put guns back into the hands of the people then gun crime actually decreases; when will the people of this nation be able to defend themselves again?

    It's not a majority view - it's a minority view but what do you both make of people who say that?


    Ross Cranston:

    There's no evidence whatsoever to support that. You simply have to look at the murder rate in the United States to see that that is not the case. Also accidental deaths occur in the United States - young people who have disturbed minds and so on going out and spree-shooting. There's just no evidence to support the point being made.


    Susanna Reid:

    Charles, what do you say to people in your community who claim they have to carry firearms to defend themselves?


    Charles Bailey:

    Honestly I would say - pack up selling the gear, pack up selling the drugs. You used to have a lot of people who used to sell a bit of weed, a bit of this and that and it was pretty harmless in terms of violence. But my advice to anybody now is - find something constructive to do - don't sell drugs because it's dangerous now, people come and rob you. Find something constructive - you must be good at something whether it's music, sport - pursue something constructive because there are opportunities out there but you have to go for it.


    Ross Cranston:

    Even politics.


    Charles Bailey:

    Even politics.


    Susanna Reid:

    Well on that positive note, thank you both very much indeed for joining us. Our thanks to our guests Charles Bailey and Ross Cranston and to you for your many e-mails and messages.

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