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Last Updated: Wednesday, 30 April, 2003, 13:34 GMT 14:34 UK
Why gun amnesty left inner cities cold
Police have hailed the latest gun amnesty a success but critics say it has had little impact in inner cities. Mark Edwards runs a youth group in Birmingham and says the police have missed an opportunity to make inroads into the city's gun culture.

Charlene Ellis, left, and Letisha Shakespeare
Charlene Ellis, left, and Letisha Shakespeare's murders in Birmingham sparked the amnesty

He said: "I told the police - the gangsters with the guns don't want to go to the police station and drop off a weapon."

The flaw in the police's gun amnesty plan was glaringly obvious from the start to Mr Edwards, 30.

He runs the Young Disciples group for 16- to 25-year-olds in Birmingham's deprived inner city community of Aston.

He set it up when several friends in their teens and 20s died through gun violence.

One friend was shot dead in the street as he left a blues party. He was riddled with gunshot wounds from four weapons.

Until someone convinces them it's wrong, they're loose cannons waiting to explode
Mark Edwards

"I washed his body and I saw the damage.

"There must have been four people shooting him and no-one has been arrested. The police haven't done anything.

"That's why people take things into their own hands. Then the reprisals start."

Had they asked him, Mr Edwards would have told the police to set up the amnesty in a neutral venue.

"Somewhere people feel comfortable - social clubs or with their probation officers.

"Or maybe build a deposit like the one for money at the bank. Something anonymous," he suggested.

Blunt message

Mr Edwards is sure some of the young people he has talked to would surrender their weapons but it would not be easy.

"It's easy for people who don't live in inner cities to say they shouldn't carry guns but when you talk to them they have very valid reasons for carrying them.

"They say to me: 'How can you tell me not to carry a gun when I got shot at last week?'."

As much as he understands their reasoning, Mr Edwards has an uncompromising message for the young people he works with.

He said: "No matter what happens, no-one should be gunned down and murdered.

"Whether they're a drug dealer or innocent bystander - it's wrong.

"There's got to be some kind of values."

He said there were three reasons why the gun culture was so rife and growing.

  • As a lifestyle and they want to intimidate other people in the community

  • For financial gain, to stick up businesses and rob people

  • To protect themselves

While appreciating that getting 20,000 weapons off the street through the amnesty is a success for the police, he thinks the problem can only be tackled through education, both preventative and rehabilitation.

"Some of these kids' parents are too frightened to speak to them. They don't understand the affect of using guns.

"Until someone convinces them it's wrong, they're loose cannons waiting to explode," said Mr Edwards.

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