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Last Updated: Monday, 10 September 2007, 23:05 GMT 00:05 UK
Gun crime feared 'across Britain'
Rhys Jones
Schoolboy Rhys Jones was shot dead on a Liverpool estate
The fear of gun and knife crime affects people across Britain, not just those in inner-city communities, a poll for think tank Policy Exchange says.

The survey of 2,156 adults found 45% felt their area was less safe than it was in 2002 because of such crimes.

Nearly a third of those living in urban areas said they or their family were at risk, compared to 23% in rural areas.

The Home Office said the risk of being a victim of gun crime, especially outside cities, was "extremely low".

But Policy Exchange say their survey disproves the government's claim that gun and knife crimes are restricted to certain urban communities.

Graph showing access to firearms by age

They also say that nearly a fifth of men (18%) who answered the online survey claimed they knew how to get hold of an illegal firearm.

Gavin Lockhart, research director of Policy Exchange, said: "It is clear that it is no longer just hardened criminals who have access to guns or deprived inner city communities which are affected by them.

"Britain's gun culture has become so endemic it affects huge swathes of the population, with millions of people saying they know how to get hold of illegal firearms and millions more feeling personally threatened by them."

Armed police

The poll of adults in England, Scotland and Wales is part of a report, Gun and Knife Crime in Great Britain, released on Tuesday.

It also found:

  • 88% of people want an increase in the penalty for possessing an illegal firearm

  • 72% want to see more armed police patrols

  • 82% believe the government has not done enough to tackle violent crime

  • One in eight men say they know someone who has, or has had, an illegal firearm

The fear of gun and knife crime was greatest in London, where 56% said they felt less safe than five years ago and 42% said they or their relatives were at risk.

But Policy Exchange say figures show "relatively little variation around Britain, with a large minority in all regions knowing how to get a gun".

Graph showing trends in firearm violence

The report also quotes Home Office statistics on gun crime, which the authors say show the number of fatalities and injuries has increased from 864 in 1998-9 to 3,821 in 2005-6.

Mr Lockhart said: "It is no surprise that gun crime casualties have quadrupled in the past decade, or that voters are demanding the government take a far more hardline stance.

"The British traditionally prefer having unarmed bobbies, but they have become so frightened of gun crime the overwhelming majority now wants more armed police patrols."

It is no surprise that both the police and the public are demanding that the government gets a grip on this burgeoning crisis
David Davis
Shadow home secretary

A Home Office spokesman said the government was committed to tackling gun crime and understood the fear it generated.

"However, it is important to remember that the chances of becoming a victim of gun crime remain extremely low - particularly for those living outside certain urban hotspots," he said.

But shadow home Secretary David Davis said the poll indicated illegal weapons were "all too easily obtainable".

"It is no surprise that both the police and the public are demanding that the government gets a grip on this burgeoning crisis," Mr Davis said.

On Sunday, Home Secretary Jacqui Smith announced that 1m would be spent on a specialist national police unit and a ministerial task force to combat gun crime.

The poll was conducted by YouGov on behalf of Policy Exchange between 3 and 5 September.

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