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Last Updated: Wednesday, 5 November, 2003, 17:25 GMT
'Arm more police officers', MPs urge
Guns
MPs say the sale of imitation firearms should be banned
More police officers should be allowed to carry arms in an attempt to tackle rising gun crime, MPs have said.

They claim ministers need to work harder to find ways of cracking down on the scourge in the UK to prevent the situation spiralling out of control.

While the government has made attempts to tackle gun crime, Home Office figures show it rose by 35% in 2001-2002, and the law needs to be tightened to deal with it, a new report says.

But Home Office Minister Caroline Flint argued that it was better for forces to use specialist firearms units than "disparate" groups of individual police officers who happen to be able to use the weapons.

One of the key reasons for the rise in carrying of guns in the inner cities was due to a new breed of criminality based around the crack cocaine trade
APPG on gun crime report

The debate arose out of the publication of a report by the all-party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on gun crime.

It has heard from senior police officers how criminals were using the internet and postal system to get guns into the UK.

The findings come in the wake of a number of high profile shootings of members of the public.

Shopkeeper Marian Bates, 64, was gunned down during a robbery at the family-run Time Centre jewellers in Arnold, Nottinghamshire, on 30 September.

Earlier this year, teenage friends Charlene Ellis and Letisha Shakespeare were killed by gun fire outside a New Year party in Aston in Birmingham.

Challenging times

The MPs' group, set up in May, argue that even though gun crime makes up a small percentage of all UK crime, its effects "are devastating" and "could become a serious problem" unless they are tackled now.

While they rule out arming all police officers, they do call for the numbers of authorised firearms officers to be increased.

Firearms statistics: the reality of guns on our streets.

Liberal Democrat MP Simon Hughes, deputy chair of the APPG, said the number of police trained to use guns had fallen by 600 to 5,776 between 1997 and 2001.

Asked how many officers there should be, he said: "I can see no case for more than one in 10 officers being trained in firearms - so top whack will be 13,000."

But Ms Flint said it was for each police force to decide how many of its officers were armed.

She conceded that rising incidents of gun crime presented the government with "a challenge", but she argued the Home Office had been introducing legislation, enforcement and working in communities to address this.

Wounds

She was speaking as Labour MP Diane Abbott, chair of the APPG, outlined the group's other recommendations on tackling gun crime. These include:

  • Urging the government to consider banning the manufacture, sale, transfer and importation of all imitation weapons which can cause a dilemma for police who do not know whether a firearm is real or not.

  • Forcing hospitals and GPs to report gunshot wounds to the police.

  • Making 17 years old the minimum age for possession and use of airguns wherever they are used.

    Marian Bates
    Mrs Bates was shot dead by robbers

  • Extending witness protection schemes to include gun crime witnesses, thereby securing more convictions and gaining the trust of communities.

  • Increasing financial support to police, local authorities and social services to allow witnesses of gun violence to be offered relocation.

  • Supporting efforts to remove weapons from circulation from so-called "source countries" and tightening arms export controls in EU applicant countries.

  • Making Customs and Excise prioritise the issue of illegal importation of illicit firearms and parts with intelligence gathering.

  • Reviewing clearance by Customs of parcels, that could contain illicit arms, entering the UK via private companies.

  • Ensuring firearms officers return to work quickly following an incident.

  • Urging the police to explain and review their system of informants relating to gun crime.

    Horror

    The report, based on evidence from the police, victims and families of gun crime and community groups, found that the "glamorisation of gun use" has contributed to the problem.

    "The high profile arrests of some music artists, has led to the view that certain urban music styles are encouraging gun violence and an acceptance of carrying guns," the MPs said.

    Letisha Shakespeare and Charlene Ellis
    Charlene Ellis and Letisha Shakespeare were killed outside a New Year party
    Many witnesses said there was a "real problem" of gun violence in the inner cities, particularly within the black and other ethnic communities.

    "One of the key reasons for the rise in carrying of guns in the inner cities was due to a new breed of criminality based around the crack cocaine trade."

    Ms Abbott said: "My constituency in Hackney has one of the highest levels of gun crime in the country.

    "But we have seen the horror of gun crime spill out into communities all over Britain."

    She and her colleagues were committed to working with the government, police and the communities "to end the scourge of gun crime on our streets", she said.




  • WATCH AND LISTEN
    The BBC's Margaret Gilmore
    "Gun crime can strike anywhere"




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