Gun crime in Scotland at lowest level for more than 30 years

FIREARMS offences have fallen by almost a quarter to their lowest level in 32 years.

The fall is largely due to the reduction in offences involving air rifles. Excluding that, and offences involving unidentified weapons, the drop is only 1 per cent.

Concerns have been raised about the impact of guns on youngsters, with 21 per cent of those accused of firearms offences, and 52 per cent of victims, under the age of 15.

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Despite the fall in offences overall to 643, the number of firearm-related deaths remained at two, with attempted murders up from 11 to 13.

Air weapons still accounted for 233 offences – more than a third of the total – although this was down significantly on last year’s 427.

Justice secretary Kenny MacAskill said: “We have pressed the UK government time and time again to let us take action on air weapons, and it is encouraging that action is now under way to transfer responsibility for air weapons to the Scottish Parliament.”

He added: “I warmly welcome these statistics as they demonstrate that, year on year, the number of crimes involving guns on our streets is dropping rapidly and the number of recorded offences involving firearms is now at a 32-year low.”

Police believe the decrease is partly down to improved targeting of organised crime gangs, and they praised communities for the support they had given them.

Detective Superintendent David Bullen, of Lothian and Borders Police, said: “We’ve had a lot of success recovering weapons from people intending to use them in organised crime.

“We’ve had great support from the public. We had an operation in the Inch [in Edinburgh] where the public allowed us to search gardens without permits and we had success – we took a dangerous weapon off the streets.”

He said there was no intelligence to suggest firearms were being commonly used among youth gangs.

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John Lamont, Scottish Conservative justice spokesman, said: “It is unacceptable that over a fifth of those committing offences with firearms were under 15 and even more concerning that over half of victims in some cases were under 15 as well.

“We have a serious responsibility to our young people to provide them with a safe environment to grow up in, and these figures show that the Scottish Government is clearly falling short in this respect.”

Scottish Labour called for greater focus on knife crime.

Johann Lamont, its justice spokeswoman, said: “The overall decrease in gun crime is welcome and is testament to the hard work of our police officers across Scotland, but with the number of attempted murders involving a firearm increasing, there can be no complacency whatsoever from the SNP government.

“Let’s not forget it is knives that continue to kill more Scots than any other weapon. The SNP government must redouble its efforts to drive down violent crime, especially knife crime.”

A spokesman for Victim Support Scotland said: “Clearly, any offence involving a firearm is potentially very serious.

“At the top end, you are talking about automatic and semi-automatic weapons, capable of killing at vast ranges. Air rifles are at the bottom end, but anyone who has lived in Scotland for a few years knows that a number of tragedies have occurred involving air rifles.”

A spokesman for the Association of Chief Police Officers in Scotland, said: “There are still too many incidents in Scotland. We will continue to work with our partners to reduce the illegal use of guns in our society still further.

“It is disappointing people continue to disregard the message from the Scottish Police Service and persist in carrying guns and replicas in public.”