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Last Updated: Monday, 1 October 2007, 02:26 GMT 03:26 UK
Police gain new gun crime powers
A Beretta ball-bearing gun
More imitation firearms are being converted to fire bullets, police say
New powers to crack down on gun and knife crime have come into effect in England and Wales.

The government says the new legislation promises harsher punishments and tougher restrictions on the ownership and sale of guns and knives.

Home Secretary Jacqui Smith said tackling gun and knife crime was a "top priority", and said weapons on the street would not be tolerated.

The powers were introduced as part of the Violent Crime Reduction Act 2006.

The home secretary said the new law would send a strong message to criminals that knives and guns had no place on Britain's streets.

Threaten and intimidate

She said: "Tackling gun and knife crime is a top priority for this government and it is essential that we build on the tools and powers that police already have in order to make people feel safer and more secure in their communities.

"We are determined to prevent young people obtaining knives by raising the age from 16 to 18. We are also determined to crack down on the criminals who use realistic imitation firearms to threaten and intimidate."

The Violent Crime Reduction Act 2006 will:

  • Make it an offence to manufacture, import or sell realistic imitation guns
  • Double the maximum sentence for carrying an imitation gun in public without reasonable excuse from six to 12 months
  • Make it an offence for any person to fire an air weapon beyond the boundary of any premises
  • Make it an offence to sell a knife to a person aged under 18, raised from 16
  • Increase the age limit for buying or possessing an air weapon from 17 to 18.
Police will also be given powers to apply for a fast-track review of licensed premises, if they feel it could be associated with serious crime or disorder.

It will be an offence to sell, hire or make a gift of an air weapon to a person under 18, while In Scotland it will be an offence to sell a crossbow to a person aged under 18.

Outrage

GUN AND KNIFE CRIME FACTS
In 2005/2006 there were 3,275 offences involving imitation firearms, accounting for approximately 15% of firearm offences for the year
In 2005/2006 there were 10,437 crimes in which air weapons were used, resulting in 1,180 cases of injury, including one fatality and 119 serious injuries
The act will make suppliers of imitation air guns accountable to the police, and mean they will have to keep written records of all weapons sold

Britain has been blighted by a wave of gun and knife crime in recent months.

The killing of 11-year-old Rhys Jones outside a pub in the Croxteth area of Liverpool, in August, sparked outrage across the country, and led to increased calls for a crackdown on gun and knife crime.

Ms Smith said: "It is important to remember that the gun crime problem is concentrated in a few local areas which we recognise and which we are focusing our efforts on with the new Tackling Gangs Action Programme."



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