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Last Updated: Wednesday, 7 July, 2004, 00:16 GMT 01:16 UK
Firearms foes unite on gun crime
By Cindi John
BBC News Online community affairs reporter

Shooting groups say licensed gun use does not affect crime
A leading shooting organisation and a prominent anti-gun crime group will host a joint conference on Wednesday.

Representatives from organisations on both sides of the firearms debate will discuss ways of cutting gun crime.

A spokesman said it was the first time such diverse groups had come together. Some groups from the two usually distinct camps have refused to attend.

The debate is being held against a backdrop of a growing number of gun offences in England and Wales.

Over the past five years the number of firearms-related injuries and fatalities have risen dramatically.

The conference's organisers, the British Association of Shooting and Conservation (BASC) and Mothers Against Guns, hope bringing their respective sides together will uncover new ways of tackling the problem.

However, their efforts have not been welcomed by all those involved in the guns debate.

Maureen Lynch of Mothers Against Guns told BBC News Online there had been a great deal of pressure put on them by others in their field not to get involved with the shooting lobby.

"I think it's because they feel the power of debate is in the fact that there's a big, thick line drawn down the middle, dividing the anti- and pro-gun arenas," Ms Lynch said.

'Common ground'

BASC spokesman Mike Eveleigh said his organisation also had faced criticism from other pro-shooting groups.

But he said discussions with Mothers Against Guns had revealed a lot of common ground.

"Broadly they're not anti-shooting as such, they are anti-gun crime which we all are, none of us want people to be killed with guns.

It's not the law-abiding citizens, the huntsmen, who are doing the drive-by shootings or contract killings - it's criminals
Maureen Lynch, Mothers Against Guns

"The main point of being in a shooting organisation is that we have very specific rules as to how you handle guns," Mr Eveleigh said.

However, Gill Marshall-Andrew of the Gun Control Network, one of the groups which rejected an invitation to the conference, believes there is a link between gun ownership and gun crime.

"The more guns there are - both legal and illegal - the more they are misused.

"This is what the gun lobby cannot accept and it is why we are unlikely to agree on how the guns laws of the future should be shaped," Ms Marshall-Andrew said.

Legislation

Home Office figures show firearms were used in less than 0.5% of all recorded crimes in England and Wales in 2002/03.

However, the number of injuries sustained by their use is rising.

FIREARMS FATALITIES
1998/99: 49
1999/00: 62
2000/01: 73
2001/02: 97
2002/03: 81
Source: Home Office

Fatalities due to firearms nearly doubled in the five years to 2002, though the figure dropped back the following year.

A key topic of discussion at Wednesday's conference will be the consultation paper issued by the Home Office in May on changes to firearms legislation.

The review has been criticised by all sides.

According to BASC spokesman Mike Eveleigh, increasingly restrictive gun ownership laws since 1988 have not stemmed the rise in firearms offences.

"Since that time the number of legally held certificates for guns has declined by about a third and over that time the number of people killed and injured through the criminal use of guns has rocketed," Mr Eveleigh said.

And anti-gun crime groups believe legislation is not the best way to tackle the problem in inner cities.

Firearms statistics: the reality of guns on our streets.

"It's not the law-abiding citizens, the huntsmen who are doing the drive-by shootings or contract killings - it's criminals, it's gang men and they're not going to register, they're not going to abide by the law," Maureen Lynch said.

Nor does the Home Office have any plans to ban ownership of replica guns - a key campaigning issue for Mothers Against Guns.

The conference's organisers say they plan to present a report to the Home Office which has declined an invitation to the conference because of "diary commitments".

"We are sure this will be a valuable event and wish the organisers every success," a Home Office spokesman added.




WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's James Coomarasamy
"Gun crimes rose by over a third in the UK last year"



SEE ALSO:
Birmingham hosts gun debate
19 Jan 04  |  West Midlands
New drive against gun crime
12 Aug 03  |  London
Manchester's gang busters
18 Jun 04  |  UK


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