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Wednesday, 2 October, 2002, 13:06 GMT 14:06 UK
Replica gun ban 'shelved'
Former minister Charles Clarke
Charles Clarke vowed to ban replica guns last year

Government ministers have dropped plans for a ban on replica firearms, BBC News Online can reveal.

In March 2001 then Home Office minister Charles Clarke pledged to bring about a ban after 29-year-old Derek Bennett was shot dead by police in Brixton as he held a gun-shaped cigarette lighter.

He said at the time: "Our aim is to get to a position where replica firearms are banned."


This is another example of the Government making a pledge which it then proceeds to quietly drop

James Paice, Conservative Home Affairs minister
But the Home Office said on Wednesday it had "no plans" to introduce legislation on fake weapons.

Opposition members and pressure groups have reacted angrily, accusing ministers of going back on their word.

The Home Office said it was felt that new laws would be too complex to put into practice.

Gun Control Network exhibits
Could you tell they weren't real?

Problems include defining when a toy gun becomes a replica gun, and ensuring the continued use of imitation weapons in theatre and films.

But James Paice, Conservative front-bench spokesman for home affairs, said: "This is another example of the government making a pledge which it then proceeds to quietly drop.

"There has been a lot of concern about replica handguns and ministers should fully explain this change of policy to a concerned public."

The issue caught the headlines in 2001 after Mr Bennett was shot dead by police as he held a gun-shaped lighter.

Derek Bennett was shot dead by police as he held a gun-shaped lighter

However, even before that, in 2000, a report by the Labour-dominated home affairs committee urged ministers to ban the sale of imitation firearms to anyone under eighteen.

Jan Berry, the chairman of the Police Federation - which represents rank and file officers - said the sale of such weapons should be stopped.

She said: "We would like to see two things.

"We want imitation firearms that aren't realistic, where there is a tell-tale sign, so it gives people a chance.

"We also believe that, if people are found in possession of an imitation firearm, it should be some sort of offence."

Macho posing

Peter Squires, lecturer in criminology at the University of Brighton, and a member of the Gun Control Network, said he was disappointed by the government's decision.

The Gun Control Network was set up to fight for the banning of handguns following the Dunblane massacre.

Mr Squires said: "Macho posing around imitation guns has become a real cause for public concern.

"This has to be tackled."

A spokesman for the Home Office said current laws penalised offenders for misusing replica weapons and gave police considerable powers to deal with anyone using them in suspicious circumstances.

But he said it was not considered possible to frame legislation without creating additional problems for the police and courts.

The spokesman added: "We will continue to look at further measures to control use of replica firearms but there are no plans, at the moment, to legislate for a ban."

See also:

27 Aug 02 | England
07 Mar 01 | Politics
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