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Analysis: UK gun crime figures

By Dominic Casciani
Home affairs reporter, BBC News

Recorded firearms incidents, showing a recent downward trend

What do we really know about the extent of gun crime in England and Wales?

During 2007, nine young people lost their lives in shootings, including the killing of 11-year-old Rhys Jones in Liverpool.

According to Home Office figures, there were 59 firearms-related homicides in 2006-07 compared with 49 in the previous year. That is an increase of 18% in just one year. There were 507 serious injuries from firearms - more than one incident a day.

But at the same time, the trend in gun crime overall has been going down.

Overall firearms offences, including air guns, fell 14% in 2006-07 from 21,527 incidents to 18,489.

Age of gun crime victims

Just over half of all firearms offences occurred in just three major forces - the Metropolitan Police in London, Greater Manchester and West Midlands.

The trend in firearms offences is down in the West Midlands, Greater Manchester and London.

However, there have also been recent rises. In the 12 months to July 2007 the Met saw a 3.5% rise in firearms offences in London - up from 3,485 to 3,607 incidents.

Nottingham is a city that has struggled with a guns label after a number of killings in 2004, including schoolgirl Danielle Beccan - but its police chiefs say public perception is at odds with reality because the city witnesses far fewer incidents per resident than other so-called gun hotspots.

Figures show Nottinghamshire Police recorded one firearms-related death in 2006 and none as of August 2007.

Firearms offences by police area

Its overall rate of gun crime is only marginally above the national average - and half the rate of Manchester and London.

While there has been substantial concern in recent years over the use of imitation weapons in gang incidents - not least because some can be converted into real guns - the figures show there has also been a decrease here.

Police recorded some 2,517 offences in 2006/07 involving imitation firearms - down almost a quarter on the previous year.

What all of this means is that we cannot draw any simple nationwide conclusions about gun crime. What we can say with certainty is that gun crime is a problem that remains closely focused in some cities that have witnessed some terrible deaths.

The figures do not show that gun crime is prolific or widespread in England and Wales.

Knife crime

In fact, the most common weapon used in a violent crime in England and Wales is not a gun - but a knife.

CRIME FIGURES IN FULL

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There are four times more knife-related killings as firearms-related killings.

The Centre for Crime and Justice Studies at King's College London recently conducted some deeper analysis of the available Home Office's statistics.

It concluded that between 22,000 and 57,900 young people could have been victims of knife crime in 2004. However, it says without better official data it is impossible to know for sure - and that we need that data to improve the public debate.

The Home Office has pledged to change the way crime figures are presented to help the public better understand the impact on their area. One of the key changes is going to be separate knife crimes figures from 2008.

The question of youth

Figures show the number of young people killed year-on-year in violent crime is relatively small and volatile - apparently dramatic changes can be statistically misleading.

In 1995, 44 people between five and 16-years-old were victims of homicide. In 2005-06 the number was less than half of that - and during the in-between years it varied wildly. In the last year, it went up again. Crucially, almost half of all child victims are killed by a parent.

So what about perpetrators of crime? We don't have a figure for the total number of violent youth offenders because of the way data is collected. But we do know a little about where violence figures in youth crime overall.

Almost a fifth of all crimes committed by under-18s are violent offences, second only to theft - and the number of violent crimes has risen consecutively for four years.

The vast majority are minor assaults - frightening for the victim but usually dealt with by warnings from the police.

Of last year's crimes, 39,000 offences were committed by young men and 15,000 by young women. The number of offenders will be lower because one person is very often found to have assaulted more than one victim.

Only 1,500 resulted in some form of detention - nine involved a life detention order

A map of all the teenager shootings and stabbings in the UK in 2007

21st June 2010: Firearms pie chart removed due to mislabelling of percentage breakdown



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