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Wednesday, 18 September, 2002, 11:46 GMT 12:46 UK
Families press for airgun crackdown
Air rifle
Incidents involving air weapons are rising
The families of youngsters killed or injured by airguns joined MPs and campaigners to press for a change in the law governing use of the weapons.

Members of the umbrella group Campaign for Airgun Control are calling on the government to make it illegal for under 17s to use "lethal" airguns.

My son had gone to see his friend and while he was waiting he was shot in the face

Linda Mitchell
They want the guns to be registered and a ban placed on the sale, import and manufacture of imitation weapons and their possession in a public place.

Hundreds of children are injured and some killed by airguns and thousands of birds and domestic animals are used as target practice, the campaigners say.

Victims' families, including Dr Mick North whose daughter Sophie was killed in the Dunblane shooting, made impassioned pleas for government action during a press conference on Wednesday at Westminster.

'Scarred for life'

Dr North's daughter was five when gunman Thomas Hamilton walked into the Dunblane Primary School gym on 13 March 1996 and opened fire.

"Many people in the gun lobby seem to dismiss airgun crime rather too easily - that's dismissing 10,227 offences in England and Wales in 2000/01," he said.

"Things just can't be allowed to continue the way they are.

Mick North
Anything that looks like a handgun should be banned, says Dr North
"Too many people are being scarred, injured and killed by weapons that some people choose to dismiss as no problem at all."

Dr North was joined by Linda Mitchell, whose son Micah was 12 when he was shot in the mouth a year ago.

Mrs Mitchell, 38, a leading light in the Survivors War against Airgun Terror (SWAAT), said her family will never get over what happened to Micah.

Kids with guns

"My son had gone to see his friend and while he was waiting he was shot in the face," she told BBC News Online.

"It took two of his front teeth out and of course, he faces a lifetime of dentistry. He had perfect teeth before.

"I thought he was dead. He was shot by another boy.

"Children just shouldn't have airguns. They shouldn't have any kind of access to them.

"My son is not as confident as he was. His peace of mind will only be restored when he can go out and not worry if children are carrying airguns."

Converted weapons

Mrs Mitchell, from Sunderland, who is pressing the government for a registration scheme, said: "We don't want to alienate responsible gun owners or sports people, we simply want to take guns out of the hands of children.

"It is youths that are using these guns irresponsibly."

In a statement read to the gathering, Mark and Wendy Sheffield, whose 14-year-old son Matthew died after being shot in the head by his friend, offered their support for the campaign.

Matthew Sheffield
Matthew Sheffield died in an airgun incident
"We find it incomprehensible that use of a fishing rod, the purchase of a new TV and obtaining a driving licence is subject to greater regulation than the purchase and use of a firearm that is capable of causing death," they said.

Reporters were shown 15 airguns that had been seized following robberies and threats of violence, many of which had been converted to fire real bullets.

Amnesty

Supt John Sweeney, deputy operational commander for Operation Trident, London's specialist team focusing on crime committed by black criminals against black communities, said more than 10% of the weapons seized were air weapons that had been converted into section one firearms.

"The use of air weapons and all other types of converted weapons, which is blank firing weapons, is recognised as a problem," he said.

Home Office Minister Bob Ainsworth is set to discuss with the Association of Chief Police Officers the possibility of restricting the age of ownership of airguns.

The government rejected proposals in April 2000 by the Commons home affairs select committee for certification and a minimum age limit for airgun possession and use.

Ed Chicken, of Middlesbrough Council, said 40 airguns were handed in during the first week of a localised amnesty on the weapons.

Ban call

Guns could be obtained by mail order to children as young as 12, he said. "We desperately do need that change in legislation," he added.

Labour MP Julia Drown questioned why airguns could not be banned altogether.

But Labour MP John Austin warned: "I think we shouldn't under-estimate the strength and power of the shooting lobby."

He added: "Unless the government is on board, the kind of major change we want to see is not going to happen."

See also:

17 Sep 02 | England
09 Sep 02 | England
27 Mar 02 | England
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