Firearms, Crime and the UK Gun Debate

Peter Squires, University of Brighton

Since the handgun ban introduced in Great Britain following the Dunblane School Shooting in March 1996, firearm related crime has risen sharply, especially since 1998. Overall recorded gun crime has more than doubled and there have been almost 350 firearm homicides. Not surprisinly, such unprecedent figures have led to shooting lobby commentators to declare the gun control measures (a ban on the private possession of handguns) introduced in 1997 to be a failure. The New Year's Day shooting of two young girls in a gang-related incident in Birmiungham dramatically reignited the debates about gun control in the UK, prompting the Blair Government to respond to an offence trend that was, seemingly, out of control. In this ananlysis, however, I attemp to develop a more sophisticated assessment of the UK's emerging problem of firearm-related crime in part as a way of distinguishing the UK firearm related crime problem from that of the USA. This will draw particular attention to the role of replica firearms distorting the statistical recording of firearm incidents; the very tight connection between firearm involvement and trafficking and organised and drug-related criminal activity and finally the impact of intelligence-led policing operations against gun-involved criminal activity. In the context of these emerging crime and enforcement trends the politics of gun control has begun to take a new shape. During the UK gun debate in 1996097, representatives of the UK shooting lobby argued vehemently (not not entirely accurately) against any relationship pertaining between the legal ownership of firearms, sports shooting, and the criminal uste of firearms. In more recent years a newer and more assertive (US inflected?) ideology of firearm rights has begun to emerge arguing, inter-alia, the right to possess firearms and the related right to armed self-defence. The paper moves on to consider these issues in the context of a wider discussion of the politics of firearms.

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Updated 05/20/2006