The female owner had been taken hostage but escaped when police rammed the car. Two men were arrested and a third was cornered in a house in Greater Manchester.
The incident, three days after the murder of 13 people by two teenagers at a school in Denver in the US, will reopen the debate about the availability of firearms in Britain.
Yesterday's incident began at 1.20pm, when a car at Garstang service station on the M6 near Lancaster failed to stop for a police patrol vehicle, prompting a chase. Outside Manchester the gang abandoned their car and seized a BMW at gunpoint, under the surveillance of a police helicopter. There were reports of shots. Three police Range Rovers pursued the car towards Rochdale.
Witnesses said a man was hanging out of the window, peppering passers- by with bullets. "The guy was leaning out of the passenger side (of the car) shooting at people. It's shocking, because Rochdale is usually quite a quiet little place; nothing really happens," said Martin Rhodes, 39. Shoppers said the car was speeding through the busy streets at about 90mph. Police rammed it into a bus-stop in Rochdale town centre at 2.11pm. Officers recovered an AK-47 assault rifle and a pistol. A police spokesman for said: "A number of police officers and members of the public had firearms pointed at them and shots were fired. Six members of the public have been injured.
"No police were injured. Rochdale town centre has been cordoned off ... Two men are being interviewed in connection with the incident."
Outside Rochdale Infirmary a woman, who asked not to be identified, said: "My husband has been shot in the shoulder as far as I know. I'm very worried about him." Robert Clegg, chief executive of Rochdale Health Care NHS Trust, confirmed three men had been admitted with gunshot injuries.
A 51-year-old man had injuries to his arm and was undergoing surgery. Two other men, aged 46 and 75, had gunshot wounds to the legs.
He added: "None of the gunshot injuries were life-threatening and the relatives who had been informed were at the bedsides. Two other gunshot victims were being treated in Bury and Oldham.
The spokesman said a 72-year-old woman, who escaped being shot despite being at a bus-stop which was sprayed with bullets, had been brought in with chest pains after witnessing the shootings.
A 27-year-old woman, believed to be the woman taken hostage, had been brought in with severe shock.
Bystanders' terror, page 5