By Andrew Hosken
Three-quarters of firearms used by UK criminals are converted replica and imitation guns, one of the country's most senior police experts has said.
Many smuggled weapons come from Eastern Europe or the US
Metropolitan Police Commander Cressida Dick told the BBC's Today programme the majority of guns smuggled into Britain were converted replicas or imitations.
Many came from Eastern Europe, said Commander Dick, who also speaks for the Association of Chief Police Officers.
Police were targeting the gun factories which converted replicas, she added.
"We've had some great successes in the UK in tackling gun converters.
"You can literally walk into a garden shed and find some fairly inexpensive tools and not a particularly high degree of technical knowledge for some replica and imitation firearms. It's not that difficult to convert them."
The sale or import of replica firearms will be banned under new legislation which comes into force next year.
But Commander Dick denied the police had lost control of the streets after a spate of shootings in recent weeks, adding: "We're putting an enormous effort in and we're getting some fantastic results.
"For example in London on Thursday last week, we seized six firearms in one particular operation. We're clearing up gun crime, the courts are supporting us with some very heavy sentencing and the results are improving all the time."
Over the last few weeks there have been a series of high profile shootings.
Two 17-year-old youths were shot in a packed Macdonald's restaurant in Brixton, south London. Another youth, Nathan Williams, also 17, was gunned down in Nottingham; and 15-year-old Jessie James was shot and killed in the Moss Side area of Manchester.
Later this month, the police will announce a new strategy to deal with gun crime, with three specialist forensic centres based in London, Birmingham and Manchester.
These centres will co-ordinate intelligence and efforts on gangs and other criminals who use guns.
Some community leaders in areas badly affected by gun crime believe it has become extremely easy for youths and children to acquire guns.
Mini cab 'trade'
Uanu Seshmi, who runs the from Boyhood to Manhood Foundation in south London, which works with young people in the area and helps them keep away from gangs, told the BBC he knew children as young as 11 who had carried guns.
He said: "A 9mm [pistol] is the choice of young people because it is small, you can stick it into your trousers. You must understand a lot of these people are living the dream, the hip hop gangster rap dream.
"There's no doubt that the majority of guns are coming from Eastern Europe, second from the United States, but the majority is coming from Eastern Europe. They're cheap guns and it's terrible.
"You can buy a gun in mini-cabs. The people running mini-cabs may not know there are people selling guns behind them, I'm not saying that these mini-cab people are doing that, I'm just saying it's easy for people who come here for work to sell guns on the black."
Few illegal guns are discovered by customs officials on entry to the UK.
According to the latest figures, from 2004\2005, officials working for HM Revenue and Customs seized 367 rifles and shotguns and 14 shotguns on entry.
Mike Yardley, spokesman for the Shooting Sports Trust, dismissed concerns that a tiny minority of rogue licensed gun dealers may have been supplying criminals.
He said: "You have two things which I think are very significant. One is the break-up of the old Soviet Union and all the troubles we've seen in the Balkans, which means that Europe is awash with illegal firearms at the moment.
"As well as that you have the changes in the EU frontier regulations which means it has never been easier to import illegal weapons into the UK and what is really sad that that very few illegal weapons are intercepted."
Paul Roberts, one of the country's top gun-makers, said it was extremely difficult to convert replica gun.
"I suspect that some of the handguns come from the United States. I think there are a lot of war souvenirs still around though not nearly as many as there were 20 to 30 years ago and I think that the Eastern Bloc countries are in a position to supply.
"I really feel that the police perhaps think they have the expertise themselves, but nothing beats experience and some of who've been in the business 30 or 40 years have a gut reaction, or an instinctive feeling about certain things, which I don't think the firearms officers in the police will have."
The latest crime survey for England and Wales published last July showed a drop in the number of people killed in gun crimes, but the figures showed that there had been a 10% rise in armed robberies, with guns used in 4,036 incidents.