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Last Updated: Wednesday, 12 May, 2004, 14:33 GMT 15:33 UK
Gun legislation 'faces overhaul'
Replica weapon
Criminals' assets will be spent on tackling gun crime
The UK's gun laws are to be radically overhauled under proposals announced by the Home Office.

It has launched a comprehensive review of legislation in a consultation paper.

A total of 2m worth of criminals' recovered assets will be spent on helping communities tackle gun crime and gun culture.

However, the government has ruled out a wholesale ban on imitation firearms, saying it was too difficult to find a legal definition for replicas.

Home Office figures showed that firearm offences in England and Wales have risen from 13,874 in 1998-99 to 24,070 in 2002-03.

The number of recorded crimes involving imitation weapons has tripled from 566 to 1,815 during that period.

The consultation paper, published on Wednesday, said: "It has proved difficult to find a workable legal definition of an imitation firearm and we do not believe that the level of effort required by agencies to administer additional restrictions is offset by public safety gains."

There is statistical evidence that firearms incidents are increasing, and we should not be complacent
Assistant Inspector of Constabulary Tim Hollis

Home Office minister Caroline Flint said: "I can't envisage a wholesale ban on imitation and replica firearms".

She added that the UK's complex firearms legislation needed to be re-examined.

"We need to prevent guns getting into the wrong hands while allowing legitimate shooters to pursue their sport without danger to public safety".

A further 250,000 would be given to small community organisations tackling gun crime, "which blights too many of our neighbourhoods", Ms Flint said.

There was "a huge will across the country to make our streets safer", she added.

"The active engagement of communities is vital to tackle gun crime."

Routinely armed

A report by Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC), also published on Wednesday, calls for greater national co-ordination between police forces to prevent gun crime.

Assistant Inspector of Constabulary Tim Hollis said: "There is statistical evidence that firearms incidents are increasing, and we should not be complacent."

The report praises police officers skill and professionalism in resolving firearms incidents.

But Mr Hollis added: "We do not believe that the police should be routinely armed.

"Of greater importance is the level of experience, training and knowledge of police officers and recognition of the fact that the deployment of armed officers is only a partial - albeit important - part of the solution."

Mr Hollis added: "We were encouraged to find that at the local level a number of forces had developed positive initiatives to combat gun crime."

Ms Flint said the HMIC report was "timely and helpful".

"Specialist teams such as Operation Trident have shown that expertise gets results, not just in bringing criminals to justice but in challenging gun culture and actually preventing violence in the first place," she added.

The BBC's Andy Tighe
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