Page last updated at 00:16 GMT, Saturday, 28 June 2008 01:16 UK

Report questions gun crime policy

Rhys Jones' funeral
The death of Rhys Jones in Liverpool shocked the nation

Policies on gun crime are flawed because ministers overlook its root causes - poverty and inequality, a report by criminologists claims.

There is "no compelling evidence" that enforcement strategies would cut firearms-related offending, the King's College London researchers warned.

The study authors said much gun crime was probably unreported because people were scared of calling the police.

The Home Office said it had made tackling gun crime a priority.

The report by the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies at King's College London reviewed statistics and policies on firearms and offending throughout England, Scotland and Wales.

USA: 3.98
Italy: 0.81
Switzerland: 0.50
Canada: 0.4
Finland: 0.35
Australia: 0.24
France: 0.21
England/Wales: 0.15
(Per 100,000 people. Source: Kings College London)

While gun crime accounts for only a fraction of the total number of offences recorded by the police, it said the trend had been upwards over the past decade before recently falling.

But it also argued there was no evidence to suggest a strategy of banning weapons and mandatory sentences in England and Wales was having an effect.

It said ministers should instead address a "direct correlation" between economic inequalities and violent crime.

The authors said one study, based on data from Manchester, suggested jailing some young offenders could make gun crime worse because prison could lead to gang membership.

Turning to the figures, the authors said there was "substantial under-reporting" of gun crime. Intimidation victims were unlikely to come forward while a strong "no grassing" convention stopped gang members going to the police.

We recognise that an enforcement approach alone is not the most effective way to tackle the problem
Vernon Coaker
Home Office

But the report also said there was a gulf between reporting of gun crime and the actual facts - and it urged ministers not to be "hoodwinked" into panic measures.

"Alongside such tragedies, the news that, overall, 'gun crime' now appears to be falling often gets overlooked," said the authors.

"Against this apparent and very visible ratcheting up of the seriousness of gun crime, few commentators appeared to notice that the sharp increase in firearm offences recorded by the police had come to an end.

"As far as crime is concerned - perhaps gun crime especially - an unshakable pessimism appears to have set in.

"The public appears sceptical of claims about falling crime, and perhaps with good reason - there are some real issues about the under-reporting of violent crime."

Responding to the report, Home Office Minister Vernon Coaker said the government had made gun-related gang violence a priority.

"Gun crime is a complex issue and we recognise that an enforcement approach alone is not the most effective way to tackle the problem," said Mr Coaker.

"That is why, building on the work of the Tackling Gangs Action Programme, we have dedicated a further 5 million to build our combined approach of increasing educational initiatives, search arches in schools, mediation work between rival gangs, tough enforcement activity and greater engagement with parents who have a key role to play in steering their children away from gun-related gang violence."

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