|It is hard to distinguish a fake from a
The increase in gun crime in Yorkshire
has led to calls for greater control of replica weapon sales. Inside
Out investigates the extent of the problem.
Escalating gun crime in Yorkshire has led to calls for
a clampdown on sales of replica weapons and air guns.
Gun crime has quadrupled since 1981, and crime involving
replica firearms is also on the increase.
In the first half of 2003, the number of firearms offences
dealt with by West Yorkshire Police rose from 1,756 to just over 2,000
Inside Out investigates why replica firearms are a growing
menace, and looks at what is being done to tackle the problem.
In the first half of 2003 the number of firearms offences
dealt with by West Yorkshire Police rose from 1,756 to just over 2,000
|Fake Gun Issues
Fake guns are seen to be a problem by anti-gun
* They create a feeling of uncertainty and fear
* Replica guns are often used in crimes such as
* They encourage an early interest in guns by young children.
* They cause problems for the police who cannot
tell if they are authentic or not.
If you pull out a replica gun during a serious crime
in Yorkshire, there's a good chance that you'll be met with an armed response
from police officers.
In most cases the replica weapons are indistinguishable
from genuine firearms by both victims and police officers responding to
There are many different types of replica firearms ranging
from toys to authentic-looking imitations of serious weapons.
The number of replica guns in circulation in the UK is
not known but best estimates put the figure at around 500,000-600,000.
A booming gun market
Since 1999 the replica firearms market in the UK has
doubled in value and is now estimated to be worth almost £10 million.
Replica guns are often used in crimes, and they pose
real problems for Yorkshire's police officers who have to decide whether
they are real or not in high pressure situations.
are faced with huge dilemmas when confronting a criminal with a gun
that looks real
Replica firearms were involved in 823 recorded offences
in England and Wales in 2000.
In inner city areas the police estimate that 50% of call-outs
of armed police result from the sighting of an imitation firearm.
Some criminals choose to use a replica gun rather than
a real one, believing that the sentence if caught would be lighter.
Lower level criminals may use replicas because they cannot
acquire, or afford, genuine firearms, while replica firearms are readily
available as they can be purchased legally.
There is also evidence that replica firearms are used
to threaten victims and that some owners, particularly in inner city areas.
There's also an increasing trend to carry replica firearms
as fashion accessories and to intimidate others.
Air weapons are another potentially problematic weapon
which can lead to serious injuries and even death in rare cases.
|This type of
air gun cannot be converted into a live weapon
In 2001/2002, there were 12,340 recorded offences where
air weapons were used.
Of these 166 involved serious injuries, and in two cases
the injuries proved fatal.
A small proportion of these weapons have proved to be
vulnerable to conversion to take conventional ammunition.
Because of this they have become popular with certain
criminals, and have been used in a number of serious crimes including
murders, hold-ups and muggings.
Scotland Yard said 75 per cent of the guns it seizes on
the streets are adapted air weapons.
Tough new measures
|Yorkshire Fact File 2003
* Two men were arrested by armed
officers in York after one was seen waving a gun at CCTV cameras
in a car park. Police recovered a plastic ball bearing gun from
the crime scene.
* A woman was robbed by two teenagers
with a 'pistol' at a petrol station in Huddersfield. When police
later arrested two youths, they discovered that the weapon was a
cigarette lighter made to look like a gun.
* Surgeons had to remove an airgun
pellet from under the skin of a man who was shot whilst walking
* A policeman was shot with an airgun
whilst a gang threw petrol bombs during an attack on a housing office
* A man was jailed for 20 years
at York Crown Court after committing 23 robberies. He admitted six
charges of robbery with a replica gun. He had been caught after
a five-hour armed siege in Scarborough.
* A Hull man was jailed for nine
years for manslaughter, after shooting and killing a woman with
* A 13-year-old girl suffered a
serious eye injury after being shot in the face by an air gun whilst
out walking in Huddersfield.
The Government has recently approved new measures under
the Anti-Social Behaviour Act 2003 to curb the use of replica guns.
This effectively bans individuals from possessing replica
firearms in public and contains tough new controls on some air weapons.
Replica guns are regarded as a menace rather than a danger.
It is an offence to possess any air cartridge without
a firearms certificate, with provision made for their possession up to
But will the new legislation go far enough?
Some lobbyists argue that it is still relatively easy
to acquire replica guns and airguns over the internet and via mail order.
Gun enthusiasts respond by saying that they are being
unfairly penalised for the anti-social behaviour of others.
They extol the benefits of official gun clubs as a way
of ensuring the proper and safe use of weapons, real or replica.
They also claim that law-abiding shooters are harrassed, when in reality
they actually promote the sensible use of guns.
Some gun owners believe that measures are needed to tackle
the glamourisation of guns by the media, and the illegal smuggling of
weapons into the country from abroad by criminals.
Research from Durham University reveals that sophisticated
replica handguns are available to UK citizens.
They can be purchased over the Internet, by mail order
from gun magazines, from Army and Navy style market stalls, gunsmiths,
and leisure pursuit clothing stores.
The only restriction for sale of such weaponry is that
the purchaser is over seventeen years of age.
A quick search of Internet shopping sites in the UK bears
this out, throwing up everything from replica Sten guns and Colt 45s to
flintlock pistols and countless American revolvers.
And then there's still the thorny issue of authentic
looking children's toys which look like real guns.
So what else could be done?
Opinion is divided but some of the following schemes
have been identified as possible ways forward:
France and Belgium have banned some uncertified
lookalikes and toys.
|Could you spot
the real from the replica? Clue: It's American
Thames Valley police recently
launched a scheme offering children free CDs in return for handing over
Los Angeles became the first American city to
outlaw the manufacture and sale of replica guns after the deaths of a
number of youths.
Tougher control of replica and air guns bought over the Internet
would help reduce the availability of fake guns.
Further gun amnesties would encourage owners
to hand in replica weapons and airguns.
Tougher legislation to outlaw the manufacture,
sale or importation of replica guns might also help.
Despite the new clampdown on replica guns, it appears
that the trade in copy weaponry is set to continue, albeit more covertly.
As for the new legislation, it's too early to tell whether
it will help reduce the problem.
It will be interesting to see if the new measures will
simply force replica guns underground, or whether it will effectively
reduce the problems caused by fake weapons in big cities like Leeds, Sheffield