Record levels of gun crime are being blamed on the fact that more people than ever are carrying firearms as fashion accessories.
Figures published this week by the Home Office are expected to show that offences involving guns have soared by as much as 50 per cent in some parts of the country.
The greatest rises have been in the number of people found in possession of firearms and in the number of attempted murders.
Nearly half of police forces surveyed by The Independent on Sunday report a rise in gun-related offences. Those questioned include the Metropolitan, Hampshire and Bedfordshire forces.
In London, a major area of concern is still black-on-black gun crime, despite huge efforts by the Met to combat such violence. According to Operation Trident, the Met's unit combating black gun crime, offences in the capital rose by more than 50 per cent during 2005, with 164 offences recorded between April and October. This is compared with only 108 the previous year.
Operation Trafalgar, which focuses on gun crime in other communities, saw a total of 536 people arrested last year, as well as 74 firearms, 354 rounds of ammunition and 5.5 kilos of class A drugs seized.
The Met has already increased the number of stop-and-search operations it carries out in boroughs where most of the serious firearms incidents take place.
Outside London, the figures also show a disturbing rise in the use of guns. In Bedfordshire, gun-related offences have risen by 20 per cent over the past two years, from 173 in 2004 to 207 in 2005. The number of cases where people were found carrying a gun more than doubled from 19 to 43 in the same period. There was also a rise in the number of stolen firearms seized - 18 compared with one the year before.
Gun violence has more than doubled in Durham over the past year and in Dorset the number of people found in possession of a gun has increased by 150 per cent, though the force's overall gun crime figures have fallen.
There have been widespread calls for tighter gun controls in Britain in the wake of the killing of policewoman Sharon Beshenivsky by an armed gang in Bradford in November. The 38-year-old died after swapping her shift so that she could be home in time for her daughter Lydia's fourth birthday.
Police chiefs have also singled out the music industry for criticism, as they claim it glamorises gun-related violence.
Last year, a music producer who had worked with the controversial band So Solid Crew was jailed for life after shooting dead his love rival.
Carl Morgan was ordered to serve a minimum of 30 years after shooting Colin Scarlett three times in a street confrontation the jury was told was "reminiscent of the Wild West".
Scotland Yard blamed the rise in gun crime not only on the fact that criminals, some as young as 16, are now more willing than ever to settle "trivial disputes" with a gun, but also on the belief that carrying firearms was fashionable.
"Clearly the Met finds this unacceptable and is determined to tackle the problem through enforcement, as well as proactive operations against the gunmen and gun suppliers," said a spokeswoman.
Weapons cost between £45 and £2,000. Converted replicas cost from £300 to £1,000. Popular models include:
LUGER, WALTHER P38 AND WEBLEY MK 4: All used in WW2 but many still serviceable. Often used by older gangsters. Cost: £150.
BROCOCK MAGNUM: Revolver. Originally designed as an air pistol. Can be converted to fire live .22 ammunition. Cost: £130.
9MM GLOCK 17L: Semi-automatic. Used by élite police and military forces around the world. Very reliable. Cost: £150-£400.
9MM BROWNING: Semi-automatic. Flooded the streets of London after the Falklands war, smuggled back by soldiers.
Fashion for deadlier weapons:
PUMP-ACTION SHOTGUN: Capable off firing up to 12 high-impact cartridges. Available to criminals for as little as £25.
MAC 10: submachine-gun. Fire rate of around 1,200 9mm rounds a minute. Usually sourced from Eastern Europe. Fully working model: £500.
AK-47 ASSAULT RIFLE: Iconic. Now seen in UK for first time. Used in a murder in Hertfordshire in 2003. Sourced from Eastern Europe. Cost: £1,000.
SKORPION CZ91S: Czech-made machine pistol. Fire rate of 750 rounds a minute. Increasingly seen in the UK. Cost: £600.