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Last Updated: Sunday, 5 October, 2003, 07:38 GMT 08:38 UK
Shootings spark calls for action
Gun amnesty was successful
Police received thousands of weapons in a gun amnesty this year
Calls for more effective action on tackling gun crime are echoing round the country after three shootings left two people dead and several injured.

While the government defended efforts to tackle the problem, political opponents pointed to rising gun crime figures and the increasing flow of weapons coming in to the UK.

Shadow Home Secretary Oliver Letwin even likened "Blair's Britain" to Baghdad.

And following the first incident - the fatal shooting of Nottingham jeweller Marian Bates on Tuesday - her bereaved family challenged ministers to "put their money where their mouth is" on crime.

'Unacceptable rise'

The calls came as Home Secretary David Blunkett heralded record numbers of police officers in his Labour Party conference speech.

The following morning 32-year-old David King was shot dead outside a gym in Hertfordshire.

Home Office officials issued a statement on Saturday, following a third shooting in Reading on Friday night, designed to reassure the public that gun crime was not out of control.

"While every incidence of gun crime is very serious, it is also a relatively rare crime, committed by a small number of people on a small number of people.

"The government has announced a range of actions to tackle gun crime which, although still low, has seen an unacceptable rise in recent years.

"The Criminal Justice Bill includes our proposals for the five-year mandatory minimum sentence for illegal possession of a firearm.

"This is a clear demonstration of our commitment to both deter criminals from using firearms and to ensure that those who do receive appropriately tough sentences.

Gun amnesty

"The Anti-Social Behaviour Bill will deal with misuse of imitation and air weapons.

One might have thought that this was Baghdad - in fact it is Blair's Britain
Shadow Home Secretary Oliver Letwin

"We have announced a strategy to support witnesses, to help bring more criminals to justice and we are working closely with the police to help them share good practice."

The statement said legislation alone would not solve the problem.

But it said it was working closely with community groups to stop the emergence of gun culture, funding some in the worst affected areas with money confiscated from criminals.

A gun amnesty in April was declared a success after 43,908 guns and 1,039,358 rounds of ammunition were handed in.

Although shocked at the shooting of three young men in his constituency on Friday night, Reading West MP Martin Salter conceded street crime had fallen in the town since it became one of 10 areas earmarked by a government initiative.

But Oliver Letwin said the shooting demonstrated the government's failure to tackle gun crime.

Drugs link

"One might have thought that this was Baghdad. In fact it is Blair's Britain," he said.

"Gun crime has nearly doubled since 1997, with no effective police presence on the streets... and no effective programme of intensive abstinence-based treatment for hard drug users.

"Too many of our estates are under the control of gangs instead of the police.

THE SCALE OF GUN CRIME
2001/02: Firearms (excluding air weapons) used in 9,974 recorded offences
The figure in 2000/01 was 35% lower
Firearm was fired in 24% of those offences
2001/02: Air weapons used in 12,340 recorded crimes
The figure in 2001/01 was 21% lower
Air weapon was fired in 95 per cent of those offences
Source: Home Office

"These shootings are the most dramatic symptom of that appalling state of affairs."

He said Conservatives were committed to a ten-fold increase in serious compulsory treatment for young hard drug addicts, and 40,000 extra police on the streets.

Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman Simon Hughes called for better controls on guns entering the UK.

He said: "Gun crime is all too often linked to drug dealing. The message to those who use guns to carry out their crimes must be clear and it must be tough."

Former police chief and government drugs tsar Keith Hellawell was in "no doubt" gun crime was becoming a more serious problem.

He said although the public was becoming more used to shootings in urban centres, rural areas were also likely to attract criminals.

'Grave concern'

"Criminality stretches far beyond the centres of cities. The people behind much of the serious crime in this country hide behind respectability. They live in leafy suburbs."

New police numbers would have "little impact" on gun crime because the increase "didn't keep pace" with demands on the force.

Drug and gun problems could not be solved by "bobbies on the beat", he said, as it was an international issue requiring better co-operation between nations.




SEE ALSO:
Three hurt in drive-by shooting
04 Oct 03  |  Berkshire
Man in court over boy's murder
04 Oct 03  |  West Midlands



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