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 Friday, 10 January, 2003, 17:07 GMT
Guns amnesty agreed at summit
Torch gun
Criminals have made guns out of torches
A new amnesty on people handing in illegal firearms has been approved by ministers after a "guns summit" in London.

Police chiefs were already planning an amnesty and now the idea has got government backing.

Disguised weapons
Cigarette packets
Belt buckles
Mobile phones
Home Secretary David Blunkett was joined by police, customs and immigration officers and community leaders for the talks.

News of the amnesty comes as police warned of a growing threat from guns disguised as everyday objects such as pens and torches.

Photographs of up to 60 different types of disguised guns - and knives - are about to be circulated to authorities across Europe.

After Friday's summit Home Office Minister Bob Ainsworth said a number of ideas had come out of the meeting that were "well worth taking forward".

This will be the sixth guns amnesty since World War Two, but Mr Ainsworth said measures to give witnesses to shootings better protection were among other ideas discussed.

Also on the agenda were gaps in firearms legislation and the rise in small arms imports from the Balkans.

Open in new window : Graphic guide
Crime at-a-glance, crunching the numbers

Another summit will be held in three months time to monitor progress.

Ministers this week proposed mandatory five-year jail sentences for people carrying guns, as well a ban on carrying a replica or air weapon in a public place without good reason .

Critics argued the summit was just a "gimmick"; listening to experts when decisions had already been made.

Pen guns
Guns have also been made to look like items such as pens and rings

That claim was denied by Mr Blunkett, who said: "If listening to people and drawing on experience is a gimmick, I plead guilty."

The talks were praised as constructive by Lee Jasper, who heads the community group advising the Metropolitan Police's firearms crackdown.

Mr Jasper said he had called for a complete ban on replica guns, as well as more help for regeneration and education in the worst-hit areas.

That long-term approach, on top of immediate measures, was emphasised too by Chris Fox, chairman elect of the Association of Chief Police Officers.

Mr Fox said the summit had agreed to circulate details of a Manchester scheme trying to break gang culture to other areas.

The talks failed to impress Conservative leader Iain Duncan Smith, who said ministers often held summits and "little happens afterwards".

How can guns be made less accessible?
The government should go for a complete ban on the import of all replica guns

Nick, UK
He accused the government of "ambivalence and chaos" over its attitude to prison for offenders.

New York showed gang and drugs culture would only be broken if criminals thought they would be caught and punished, argued the Tory leader.

Liberal Democrat spokesman Simon Hughes urged ministers to focus on long-term initiatives which worked rather than trying to grab short-term headlines.

The National Criminal Intelligence Service, which highlights the increasing sophistication with which weapons are being concealed, was one of the participants at the summit.

There is particular concern about the possible risk to airline security.

Guns have been disguised as screwdrivers, cigarette packets, pens, belt buckles and mobile phones, it says.

Weapons manufacture was previously limited to Central and Eastern European countries, but now intelligence suggests they are being made more widely throughout Europe.

However, most of these weapons have limited range and accuracy and so far only small numbers have been recovered in the UK.

Friday's summit comes a day after new Home Office figures showed gun crime has risen by 35% in a year to double the 1997 levels.

Mr Blunkett has denied his plans are a kneejerk response to the figures and to the New Year deaths of two teenage girls in a Birmingham shooting.

  The BBC's Daniel Sandford
"Make sure that we all learn from each other"
  Iain Duncan Smith, Conservative leader:
"The government has been almost utterly complacent"
  Lucy Cope, Mothers Against Guns
"It's a fashion accessory"
  Kevin Morris, Police Superintendents Association
"Pulling together all the agencies is the only way to solve the problem"

Key stories


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10 Jan 03 | UK
10 Jan 03 | England
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