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Last Updated: Wednesday, 8 June 2005, 19:22 GMT 20:22 UK
Crime bill targets replica guns
Some replica guns can be converted to fire live rounds
Plans to ban the manufacture, import and sale of most kinds of replica guns have been outlined by the government.

The measures are included in the Violent Crime Reduction Bill.

The bill proposes an increase in the age limit for buying knives from 16 to 18, and search powers for head teachers who suspect they are being carried.

Metropolitan Police commissioner Sir Ian Blair backed the move as "very sensible", but called for new powers allowing licensees to search customers.

The bill applies to England and Wales, with the weapons provisions also applying in Scotland.

Binge drinking-related disorder will also be addressed in the bill, with proposed plans such as suspending alcohol sales in bars that persistently sell to minors.

Higher sentences

The proposals are part of the government's attempt to restore "respect" in communities, town centres, and schools, which it says is among its top priorities.

Home Office minister Hazel Blears said: "There is an increasing public concern around relatively low-level crime and anti-social behaviour escalating to more serious offences because people are under the influence of alcohol or carrying weapons."

Ch Supt Paul Robinson holding a real gun and a replica gun
It is often almost impossible to tell the difference between a real gun and a replica
Ch Supt Paul Robinson
Scotland Yard

Last year saw a 66% increase in offences involving replica firearms.

The planned legislation envisages higher sentences for carrying imitation guns, and tougher manufacturing standards to make sure replicas cannot be converted to fire real ammunition.

Sir Ian, the UK's most senior police officer, said: "The police service has been pushing for a change in the law in this direction for some time.

"We are particularly concerned for public safety in respect to the use of replica weapons. Police officers face a difficult job when they can't tell if a gun is real or not and have to make split second decisions."

Sir Ian, speaking at the launch of the Safer London Foundation, a crime prevention charity backed by the Met, said the police had also been calling for alcohol disorder zones.

Armed robberies

He said he hoped the bill could be altered to allow licensees of some nightclubs to search customers for knives and guns.

Chief Superintendent Paul Robinson, who heads Scotland Yard's special firearms operational command unit, welcomed the proposed ban on replica weapon sales.

"It is often almost impossible to tell the difference between a real gun and a replica," he said.

He predicted the move would result in a drop in armed robberies and firearms incidents.

The punishment should fit the crime but as it rarely does it rarely acts as a deterrent
Elliot, England

Although it is an offence to carry an imitation gun in public, ministers had previously resisted imposing an outright ban on sales.

It was feared that those who use imitation firearms in films and on television, and children who play with water pistols or toy guns, could be criminalised.

But the bill has been drafted so the ban will exclude people who fall into these categories.

Air weapons are also being targeted, with the age limit for buying or firing one without supervision being raised from 17 to 18.

It will also become an offence to use other people to hide or carry guns or knives.

Knives remain the weapon most commonly used in violent incidents, prompting the minimum age at which they can be bought to be raised from 16 to 18.

Drink banning orders

New powers to create designated Alcohol Disorder Zones, first aired in January, are being pursued in the bill.

The Home Office has said the "last resort" option would allow senior police officers and councils to pinpoint areas with binge drinking-related problems and levy an extra charge for policing on all licensed premises in the zone.

The law would give police the authority to ban the sale of alcohol for up to 48 hours in pubs where under-18s have been served.

They could also bar individuals responsible for alcohol-fuelled disorder from an area for up to 48 hours.

Drinking banning orders could see troublemakers excluded from specific areas and bars for up to two years.

Leisure industry representatives have attacked the proposal to levy charges on pubs and clubs, claiming some venues could face an unfair 100-per-week bill.

See the weapons facing a ban

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