Blunkett orders overhaul of outdated firearm laws

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The Independent Online

The Government will attempt to tackle Britain's gun culture with plans to be unveiled this week for an overhaul of outdated firearms laws.

The Government will attempt to tackle Britain's gun culture with plans to be unveiled this week for an overhaul of outdated firearms laws.

David Blunkett, the Home Secretary, will publish a consultation document which is expected to lead to tougher restrictions on the sale and manufacture of replica firearms as well as new age limits on gun ownership, especially for airguns, starter pistols and shotguns.

The consultation follows lobbying by the police and anti-gun campaigners who say Britain's gun laws are confused, out of date and in desperate need of reform.

Of particular concern are replica firearms which are popular with gun collectors and can be bought legally but are being converted by criminals into lethal weapons to fire live ammunition.

Police say that the greatest increase in gun crime is linked to a rise in the use of imitation weapons and converted airguns. In London alone, at least 70 per cent of weapons now seized by officers are converted replicas.

Last November, the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Gun Crime published a report calling for a complete ban on the import, sale and manufacture of replica firearms.

There has also been a rise in attacks on people involving airguns. Last week, a firefighter was shot in the face by an airgun pellet as he drove a 24-ton fire truck along a street in Dumfries, Scotland.

Ministers have already brought in some measures to curb gun crime in Britain. Last month, new anti-social behaviour laws came into effect which included a new imprisonable offence of carrying a replica gun in public. The legal age for owning an airgun has also been raised from 14 to 17 and it is now an offence to buy a weapon for someone under 17. But the ban on underage ownership only applies to Brocock-style airguns, which operate using a gas cartridge, and not to all types of airguns.

A Home Office source confirmed that the consultation document would cover all aspects of gun-control legislation. "We will be seeking people's views on all aspects of firearm legislation. We are looking at the whole issue, although replica and imitation firearms are of particular concern," the source added.

Anti-gun groups have welcomed the planned reforms, which are the first major overhaul of firearms laws since 1997, when the Government introduced a ban on handguns after 16 schoolchildren and their teacher were killed at Dunblane primary school in Scotland.

The Gun Control Network, which campaigns for tighter arms control, said Britain lagged behind other countries because it did not have a universal age limit on people buying guns. "In our increasingly violent world we need to ... tighten up on our gun laws," said Gill Marshall-Andrews, chairwoman of the GCN. "The world-wide pressures are for ... an increase in global gun violence."

But any restrictions on gun ownership are expected to face fierce opposition from the British Association for Shooting and Conservation, which represents gun enthusiasts.