(CNSNews.com) - Handgun-related crimes are up sharply in England and Wales despite strict gun-control measures that were implemented in the late 1990s, according to statistics released by the British government last week.
Crimes involving guns jumped 35 percent in the yearlong survey, while the use of handguns -- already illegal -- rose 46 percent.
Gun-control laws in the United Kingdom are some of the strictest in the world, but gun-related crimes have increased annually since a ban on handguns was imposed after the Dunblane Primary School massacre in 1996. Sixteen students and a teacher were left dead in the shooting.
Overall, crime rose slightly more than 9 percent in England and Wales, but violence stemming from guns soared the most. There were nearly 10,000 incidents involving firearms, including 97 gun-related murders and 558 serious causalities.
Pro-gun groups in the United States attributed the rise in crime to the government's restrictions on firearms. But British lawmakers immediately moved to tighten those laws last week, imposing a mandatory five-year prison sentence on anyone found carrying a handgun.
Home Secretary David Blunkett announced the new punishment last Monday, and then following a Friday summit released other initiatives, including an amnesty program that will allow citizens to hand in guns to police.
"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," Blunkett said in a statement, noting that the new mandatory sentence will send criminals a clear message.
But National Rifle Association spokesman Ted Novin said as long as British citizens remain defenseless and unable to protect themselves, gun-related violence will likely increase.
"The street gangs and the criminals there don't bother paying attention to any of the laws," Novin said. "So when the British government institutes laws that effect someone's right to have a gun for protection, the criminals are left with the guns and the law-abiding citizens are left defenseless."
The Conservative opposition in Britain called the crime report "terrible" and chided the government for making careless decisions that have led to the spike in gun-related violence.
Meanwhile, the Liberal Democrats said the statistics demonstrate the need for stricter gun-control measures.
Gun Owners of America spokesman Erich Pratt said some states and cities in the United States have taken an approach similar to the United Kingdom, only to find that crime almost always increases.
"We've seen the same thing in this country," he said. "In Washington, D.C., Chicago, Los Angeles -- wherever firearms have been strictly curtailed, inevitably there's an increase in crime because people can no longer defend themselves."
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