(The following is a statement issued Jan. 6, 2003 by the British government regarding its latest anti-gun laws)
TOUGH NEW LAWS TO TACKLE GUN CRIME
Home Secretary David Blunkett today announced a major tightening up of gun laws, including plans for a five-year minimum sentence for illegal possession and use of a firearm.
He also announced that he will be holding a round table meeting later this week with top police, customs, crown prosecutors, immigration officials and community representatives to study how best to step up efforts to tackle the growing problem of gun crime.
The meeting, on Friday, will also look at guns and their use in drug crime and gang warfare, international lessons and how best to harness community involvement in addressing the problem.
The provision for a mandatory minimum sentence for possession of firearms will be included in forthcoming legislation and aims to help police and the National Criminal Intelligence Service (NCIS) combat gun crime and support ongoing targeted operations in the UK and abroad. As the Home Secretary indicated to Parliament in early December, the Government has undertaken a wide-ranging review of the problem of gun crime in order to produce a considered and coordinated response.
The Home Secretary said:
"While we already have some of the toughest gun laws in the world, there has been an unacceptable increase in the flagrant use of guns in crime across the country. The Government is determined to tackle this head on and is introducing new legislation that reflects the seriousness of the offence.
"We will not tolerate an escalation of the number of guns on our streets. Evidence from the Street Crime Initiative has shown that the problem of possession of handguns lies predominantly with young people who carry weapons for self-protection or as a means of gaining respect or revenge, often related to dealing in or the use of drugs.
"Protecting the public and police officers must be our paramount concern. Although the number of incidents remains relatively small, the impact of armed crime on communities is devastating. We're determined to support victims and their families by bringing to justice drug gangs and organised criminals who have no respect for human life.
"Introducing a tough minimum sentence for criminals caught with illegal firearms will send a clear message that serious, violent offending will invariably be dealt with in the strongest manner."
Representatives from the police, National Crime Intelligence Service, the National Crime Squad, Customs and Excise, the immigration service and affected community groups will attend the round table meeting chaired by the Home Secretary to share their experience of gun crime and ongoing initiatives to tackle it.
A number of police forces have developed effective operations to address specific local problems with gun crime. The Metropolitan Police have had significant success with Operation Trident, which has seen clear up rates for murder increase from 24 percent to over 70 percent during 2002 and over 200 individuals charged in connection with murder, firearms and drug offences since its launch.
Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir John Stevens said:
"I have made no secret of my support for mandatory prison sentences for firearms offences; it is essential that we make it clear to criminals that the use of guns will not be tolerated on our streets.
"The support of the judicial system is needed in delivering meaningful sentences if a real impact on gun crime is to be made. The growing culture of the casual carrying of handguns, both real and imitation, must be brought under control as soon as possible."
NCIS's National Firearms Tracing Service assists with investigations with overseas police forces and provide a central co-ordinating point between forces in the UK. The tracing service has prevented imports of imitation pistols readily convertible into dangerous weapons and supports operations in the UK.
Other successful police operations specifically targeting gun crime include Operation Goodwood, (Greater Manchester Police), Operation Safeguard in Leeds (West Yorkshire Police), Operation Stealth (Nottinghamshire Police) and Operation Ventara in Birmingham (West Midlands Police.) Each of these operations has effectively disrupted criminal behaviour and brought numerous prosecutions for firearms and drug related offences as well as significant weapons seizures, including handguns and converted imitations.
Notes to editors
The Government's aim is that a new mandatory minimum sentence will cover those guns most heavily used in crime, such as handguns and automatic weapons.
The sentence will apply to anybody convicted, on indictment, of possession or distribution of prohibited firearms or ammunition. It will not apply to regulatory and summary offences of possession or distribution.
In 2000/2001 there were 7,362 recorded crimes in which firearms other than air weapons were reported to have been used (0.1% of all recorded crime.)
In 2001, 757 people were convicted for possession or distribution of prohibited weapons, of whom 131 were sentenced to immediate custody.
In 2001, the average custodial sentence for individuals convicted of this offence was approximately 18 months.