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 Monday, 6 January, 2003, 13:18 GMT
Tackling the causes of gun crime
Guns recovered by the Metropolitan police
Taking guns off the streets may not cure the problem

If ever there was a case for the government to live up to its "tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime" election call it must be over gun crime.

Despite all the measures taken after the Dunblane massacre seven years ago, the use of firearms in Britain has escalated.

It was always feared that the post-Dunblane ban on hand guns might not address the real issue of the growth in the use of firearms - both legally and illegally held.

Police collecting guns
A fashion accessory
And, while the recent killings in Birmingham are of a different order to the murders in Scotland in 1996, many believe those reservations have proved accurate.

Just about any minister you ask will agree that this problem is not simply about the ready availability of guns in Britain, although that is obviously of huge concern.

It is much more about attitudes amongst particular groups of, mostly young, people.

Drug use

Culture minister Kim Howells has controversially spelt out what many, particularly in the police force, have been suggesting for years.

Thanks to some potent cultural influences, often expressed through music and films, guns have become as fashionable and essential accessories for some youths as having exactly the right trainers.

At the same time, the growth in drug use has seen dealers increasingly using guns to protect their businesses.

Home Secretary David Blunkett
Blunkett must get to roots
Drastically reducing the number of guns available on the streets may make it more difficult for these people to arm themselves.

But it will not stop the demand and, while there is a demand there will always be a supply.

Home Secretary David Blunkett's move to slap a mandatory five year sentence on anyone carrying a gun is probably not a bad idea.

Where to start

But there is plenty of evidence to suggest that most of those responsible for the current rise in gun use will be undeterred.

What everyone does agree on is the need to tackle the causes of the epidemic But that is a huge and mind-bogglingly difficult challenge.

It appears to go along with a more widespread breakdown in traditional attitudes towards authority and criminality.

And where would any government start on tackling that trend?

Meanwhile, ministers have shown they are ready to tailor their response to different classes of crime.

On the same day as announcing the new crackdown on guns, Lord Chancellor Lord Irvine backed moves to stop sending non-violent burglars to prison.

His comment risked claims that the government was sending out conflicting messages - hard on guns, soft on burglars.

But the move was also widely seen as an attempt to get to the root cause of some crime through the rehabilitation of offenders.

And ministers insist they will adopt the same, tailored approach when dealing with gun crime.

So what many will be looking for from Friday's "guns summit" is not simply new laws to reduce the number of guns on the streets but measures to start tackling that more difficult issue - the causes of the crime.

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06 Jan 03 | Entertainment
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