Gun crime crisis dismissed as fiction
THE impression that Britain is drowning under a tidal wave of gun crime is a fiction promulgated by the government to create the illusion it is cracking down on crime, a former police superintendent claimed yesterday.
Colin Greenwood, who has previously been consulted by the Commons home affairs select committee firearms sub-committee and acted as a firearms consultant to West Yorkshire Police, accused David Blunkett, the Home Secretary, of conning the public and creating a panic about guns.
His comments came as Mr Blunkett and senior police officers yesterday approved a firearms amnesty in the latest of a series of new measures to curb the use of guns, prompted by the shooting dead of two teenage girls in Birmingham.
Despite growing concern over the availability of guns in Britain, figures supplied to the United Nations and collated by Canadian government researchers showed that the UK is one of the safest countries in the world in terms of gun crime. Only Japan - a country with some of the strictest gun controls in the world - Romania and Guinea have a lower rate of gun killings per head of population.
In March 2000, the United Kingdom had a gun homicide rate of just 0.13 per 100,000 population, compared with 0.31 in Sweden, 0.56 in Australia, 1.5 in Argentina, 3.61 in the Philippines, 6.24 in the United States, 25.78 in Brazil and 26.63 in South Africa.
Yesterday, Mr Greenwood said the latest figures available showed that just one in ten murders was carried out with a firearm.
In England and Wales, 97 people died as a result of gunshot injuries, while 265 died as a result of stabbings, 57 were beaten to death with a blunt object and 148 were beaten or kicked to death.
"The average person in the UK is unlikely ever to see a gun. You are more likely to choke to death on your food than be shot," he said. "We are being conned by dishonest politicians. They are using the figures to lie to us to create a sense of panic and then to say that they have done something about it."
He said the problem was not the number of guns available but the willingness of people to use them and he accused the Home Office of attempting to make political capital out of the shootings in Birmingham.
"It is unquestioningly a knee-jerk response. They want to convince people they have done something but it is purely political point scoring," he said.
"They talk of mandatory penalties for possession of a firearm but the problem is simply not on that scale. The main point is that you are very unlikely to walk into a gun battle on your way home from work. Most murders are domestic or committed by someone known to the victim."
He said gun ownership in 19th century Britain had been commonplace but the level of homicide involving guns was lower than it is today and he claimed this week’s political reaction bore similarities to the introduction of the original Firearms Act in 1920.
Then the reason given for the introduction of the act was that there had been an increase in armed crime and there was a need to control the number of guns on Britain’s streets. But Cabinet papers released later revealed that there had been no such increase and that shootings on the streets of London were down from 45 before the First World War, to 15 in 1920.
According to the Cabinet papers, the real reason for the introduction of the law was that the government was nervous about the possibility of revolution and wanted to control firearms.
The latest attempt by the government to cut gun crime was announced yesterday after Mr Blunkett spent nearly two hours talking to senior police officers.
No date has yet been set for the firearms amnesty and ministers also asked for recommendations for possible extra anti-gun legislation to be presented at a follow-up meeting in March.
The move to allow gun owners to hand over illegal weapons to police without fear of prosecution received "strong support" at the meeting, said a Home Office spokesman.
Mr Blunkett called the meeting after new government figures released earlier this week showed firearms offences in England and Wales rose by 35 per cent last year.
Afterwards he said: "A number of significant decisions have been made which will build on the work already being done by the government and other agencies and organisations.
"Coupled with the extensive measures we have announced this week, they will help tackle the scourge of gun crime which blights our society."
But Iain Duncan Smith, the Tory leader, dismissed the summit as a "gimmick".
"This did not suddenly rise this year. This has been rising year on year for four or five years," he said. "What worries me and angers me, in a sense, is that the government has been almost utterly complacent about this until finally this set of figures where they have another summit."
Other measures agreed included encouraging responsible people in the community - including people in the music industry - to voice anti-gun messages.
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