Gun crime fear ‘across UK’

The government’s claim that gun crime is a localised problem has been contradicted by new research showing one in eight men know someone who has acquired an illegal firearm.

Following the public panic arising from a spate of shootings, including the killing of 11-year-old Rhys Jones in Liverpool, the home secretary Jacqui Smith said gun crime was largely concentrated in deprived urban communities.

However, a new report today by the Policy Exchange points to a continuing gap between fear of crime and reality, with people across the country complaining their neighbourhood is less safe, include nearly a quarter of people living in rural areas.

The think-tank said the report, Gun and Knife Crime in Great Britain contradicted the “reassuring” message spread by ministers.

Gavin Lockhart, research director of Policy Exchange, said: “It is clear that it is no longer just hardened criminals who have access to guns or deprived inner city communities which are affected by them. Britain’s gun culture has become so endemic it affects huge swathes of the population, with millions of people saying they know how to get hold of illegal firearms and millions more feeling personally threatened by them.”

YouGov research commissioned by the Policy Exchange found more than five million adults “know how to acquire illegal firearms,” including one in five men.

Nearly a third said they or their family are under threat from gun or knife crime and nearly half said their area had become less safe.

An overwhelming majority said the government has not done enough to combat gun crime, with nearly nine in ten agreeing the minimum sentence for possessing an illegal firearm should be increase.

Some three-quarters also said they now wanted to see the police armed against gun and knife crime.

Mr Lockhart continued: “It is no surprise that gun crime casualties have quadrupled in the past decade, or that voters are demanding the government take a far more hardline stance.

“The British traditionally prefer having unarmed bobbies, but they have become so frightened of gun crime the overwhelming majority now wants more armed police patrols.”

David Davis said the report showed that offensive weapons have become too easily obtainable, leading to a direct increase in the risk “ordinary people” will be victims of violence.

The shadow home secretary said it was “astounding” one in five men knew how to obtain an illegal firearm.

Mr Davis said: “It is not surprise that both the police and the public are demanding that the government gets a grip on this burgeoning crisis.”

The Home Office responded that figures from actual offences show gun crime is “highly localised”, with nearly half of all offences occurring in three police force areas – the West Midlands, Greater Manchester and London.

A spokesperson said: “This is why the home secretary has announced a £1 million crackdown in these areas, as well as Merseyside, to increase enforcement, encourage prevention and reduce fear – complementing the work already underway nationally to reduce the supply of guns on our streets, from abroad and over the internet.”

They continued: “It is a fact that crime and violent crime have fallen by a third in the last 10 years and you are less likely to be a victim of violent crime over the same period.

“We already have some of the toughest gun laws in the world including a five-year minimum sentence for possession of a prohibited firearm which has pushed the average sentence for this offence from 18 to 47 months and helped reduce firearms offences by 13 per cent since last year.”