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 Inside Out - Yorkshire & Lincolnshire : Monday January 12, 2004


Real guns handed in during amnesty
It is hard to distinguish a fake from a replica gun

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 incidents.

Inside Out investigates why replica firearms are a growing menace, and looks at what is being done to tackle the problem.

Replica Guns

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 incidents.

Fake Gun Issues

Fake guns are seen to be a problem by anti-gun lobbyists became:

* They create a feeling of uncertainty and fear in communities.

* Replica guns are often used in crimes such as robberies.

* 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 incidents.

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.

Police man holding gun
Police officers 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 guns

Air weapons are another potentially problematic weapon which can lead to serious injuries and even death in rare cases.

Air gun
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 in Ripley.

* A policeman was shot with an airgun whilst a gang threw petrol bombs during an attack on a housing office in Huddersfield.

* 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 an airgun.

* 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 May 20.

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.

Radical solutions?

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.

Real gun
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 their replicas.

• 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 and Bradford.

See also ...

Inside Out: Yorkshire & Lincolnshire
More great stories

BBC: Fighting Gun Crime
BBC: Death fuels armed police debate

On the rest of the web
Home Office
West Yorkshire Police
Gun Control Network National Rifle Association
Gun Site Club Register
Association of Chief Police Officers
National Criminal Intelligence Service

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Readers' Comments

We are not adding any new comments to this page but you can still read some of the comments previously submitted by readers.

Paul Eden
Bans just don't work. We have banned speeding and handguns, but neither situation has improved. We all know that much of the robbery crime is drug related. This is where we should be placing our legislative and enforcement emphasis.

J Holmes
The claims that these weapons are have proved to be vulnerable to conversion to take conventional ammunition is in fact true of only a tiny proportion of airguns, namely the 'Brocock' variety, which in any case are quiet difficult to convert without engineering experience, a lathe and access to "conventional ammunition".

It is unfair to refer to all airguns as weapons when only 0.003% of airguns are used as weapons.

David Morgan
The increase in gun related crime, when Britain already has just about the most strict firarm regulations in the world, just shows that the emphasis is being put in the wrong place.

It is not further firearm restrictions that are needed (if something is already illegal it is impossible to make it more illegal!) Simply have better policing of the existing legislation, with proper sentencing for the criminals when they are caught. Why penalise law-abiding sportsmen/women for the misdeeds of the criminals (who flout the laws anyway!)?

Rob Morton
The section which implies that any air guns can be 'converted' to fire real ammunition is blatantly untrue and will damage the image of airgun shooting as a sport.

It is so very difficult for anyone with a shooting interest to have a chance to reply or get a fair hearing these days.

Jools Forrester
It's a pity you didnt bother to get the viewpoint of the very many responsible airgun enthusiasts in the UK.

Eddie Prince
So if a woman was robbed by youths 'armed' with a cigarette lighter made to look like a gun, are you advocating control of cigarette lighters?

David Hampshire
There is a Sport/Hobby that uses Airsoft replicas. It is similar to Paintball and widely played on Private Sites across the country. Played by all age groups.

Luke Pitchford
If people do come up to you with a gun or replica, for instance if a kid of 13 like me did, then it would probably be fake because I doubt that kids could get hold of real weopans.

If you do send off for an air rifle, then it would be a little strange if a big package comes for you then your parents are bound to notice and want to know what it is. Even if you get a replica your mum will find it when she makes your bed and sorts out your wardrobe.

It was a bit stupid showing exactly how anyone can get hold of an airgun, with no proof of age.

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