April 1, 2007 – Nothing indicates quite clearly how intellectually bankrupt the Government now is on the subject of armed crime in our society than the recent fiasco involving statements made by Tony Blair.
Responding to public concerns over a recent spate of shooting incidents in London, Manchester and elsewhere, Mr Blair made one gaff after another on a BBC breakfast TV show. First he stated that the age limit for being subject to the mandatory 5-year sentence for possession of a prohibited firearm should be lowered from 21 to 18. Unfortunately, section 287 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003 already says that, and the Conservatives were able to make political hay out of the Prime Minister’s gaff at apparently not being aware of major provisions of legislation his own Government is responsible for.
The second gaff the PM made was to announce a “review” of firearms controls, without apparently being aware that the Home Office is already conducting one.
And then the PM fell back onto tired old rhetoric about gun crime “summits” and the usual platitudes. Unfortunately for the PM, this time virtually no-one finds any of it credible.
It’s the same old rubbish we’ve heard many times before, which is why laws like the Criminal Justice Act 2003, Anti-Social Behaviour Act 2003 and Violent Crime Reduction Act 2006 exist.
The Met police chief, Sir Ian Blair, then destroyed his own credibility by pulling another tired old idea out of the hat, i.e. a call for a gun amnesty. The Home Secretary, John Reid, appeared non-committal. Probably a good idea as his career will outstrip that of either Blair. Or there is the remote possibility he is aware of his department’s own guidance to the police, which says:
25.5 Anyone surrendering an illegally held
firearm should be questioned discreetly with
a view to establishing its history but, unless
circumstances exist to give serious cause for
concern as to its provenance (for example,
if it appears to have been stolen), the
person handing it in should not be pressed.
The emphasis should be on creating an
environment in which people hand in illegally
What this basically means is that there is a permanent firearms amnesty going on all the time. That the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police appears to be unaware of this is rather worrying.
The real picture
Home Office statistics on firearm-related crime paint a mixed picture, and it is possible to pull things out of them in isolation that support the view that gun crime is not as bad as it was, or alternatively, that it is getting worse, by picking on whichever category you want. For example, armed robbery is up, while firearm-related homicide is down.
However, to draw any conclusion its necessary to look at the complete picture, which of course no politician is going to do, especially on national TV, unless its overwhelmingly positive, which it isn’t.
What we see if we look at the statistics in total is that the most serious types of armed crime are indeed going down, such as homicide. On the lower end of the scale, such as offences involving the use of airguns, the statistics are relatively static. However, it is the middle tier of offences where things are getting worse, such as armed robbery.
This gives us a mixed outlook. There are various theories that fit these statistics. My own theory is that the use of firearms in the middle tier of offences is slowly broadening, and that is supported for example by the increasing use of firearms in robberies on public highways. This is not a good long-term sign, because although the total number of offences is still relatively low, the broadening of various categories of offence indicates an increasing reliance on the use of firearms in crime generally.
Also, firearm-related homicide is such a rare event it’s difficult to draw any conclusion on one year’s worth of statistics. Injuries caused with firearms are however down, but this is a small drop after several years of sharp increases. I wonder whether part of the drop in homicides could be attributed to the fact that hospitals and ambulance staff are simply becoming more skilled at dealing with firearm-related injuries?
Suffice to say however that there is no strong indication that any of the legislation in the past few years has caused any sort of massive impact on armed crime. Which is why we are now being treated to all sorts of politicians and policemen going through the motions with the same tired old rhetoric. They are, quite simply, out of ideas; but then that was obvious years ago.
France has recently amended their firearm laws in an intriguing way – to allow people “who are exposed to serious risks to their security” to have a Category 1 or 4 firearm for personal protection, (meaning basically a handgun).
The motivation for this has been to safeguard against terrorist attacks. It is similar to the provisions that exist in Northern Ireland, where it is possible for someone who is at risk of terrorist attack to obtain a firearm certificate for one pistol for personal protection.
France has had for many years a tightly circumscribed provision that allows people to have a Category 4 handgun on their own property for personal protection, but being allowed to carry a handgun around, and a military calibre one at that (Category 1) is a new phenomenon.
I have argued unsuccessfully for some time that Great Britain needs a similar provision, but it always seems to fall on deaf ears. I have never understood (and neither have many Northern Irish politicians) why a person who is able to qualify for an FAC for personal protection in Northern Ireland should suddenly not be deemed fit to even possess a handgun, let alone carry it around with them, when they set foot in Great Britain. Do terrorists not travel?
In this era of terrorist attacks by radical Islamic fundamentalists, it does seem odd that a provision equivalent to the new French law does not exist in Britain.
Calls for an airgun ban in Scotland, mainly by those on the far left, continue. The cynical view of this is that the sponsor wants to divert attention away from his allegedly seedy personal life, however there is more than that to it, with victims of crime also calling for a ban.
The Scottish Government has so far resisted calls for a ban, for two simple reasons – the Scottish Govt. doesn’t have the power to enact local firearm legislation, as this is reserved to Westminster. The second reason why is that they don’t want to ask because it would be politically embarrassing and patently wouldn’t work, because it could be easily evaded by simply crossing the border to acquire an airgun.
However, if you live in Scotland, it would be wise to contact your MSP to protest against calls for tighter airgun regulations. If for no other reason than the large amount of legislation that has been passed at Westminster the last few years.
The “Violent Crime Reduction Act”
Last, and by no means least, is the pending introduction of the Violent Crime Reduction Act 2006 which contains many firearm-related provisions. I will update the legal section when the regulations under the Act have been finalised, but the Act will come into force during 2007.
On Friday April 6th various firearm-related provisions will be commenced:
- enhanced application of mandatory minimum penalties to firearm-related offences;
- the new offence of minding a firearm;
- the requirement for dealers in air weapons in GB to be registered (note: this is only a limited commencement of these provisions to allow time for dealers to become registered, before the rest of the provisions relating to mail order bans, higher age limits, etc. is brought in);
- the requirement for transfers of primers or primed cases to be made only to people who hold a firearm or shotgun certificate, an RFD or who are otherwise exempt.
There is also lots of new firearms legislation in the Republic of Ireland, in the shape of Part 5 of the Criminal Justice Act 2006. However the Dept. of Justice is still trying to figure out how to implement the various provisions, so I shall update the legal section at the relevant time.
“Outside of the killings, Washington has one of the lowest crime rates in the country.” – Mayor Marion Barry of Washington, D.C., at a time when the city had the highest per capita murder rate in the US. Washington also has the highest per capita rate of handgun-related murders in the US, despite banning handguns in 1976. Only one firearm-related homicide has been committed in Washington with a firearm other than a handgun since 1976.